The Theme of Abortion in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"

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Ernest Hemingway wrote the story “Hills Like White Elephant” which talks of a young couple and their inability to make decision on pregnancy but remain in the relationship. Although the term “abortion” has not been used in the story, it is clear based on the literary elements used such as setting and symbolism that the story is about termination of pregnancy. The story involves the couple drinking beer while waiting for the train. The man attempts to persuade the woman to get rid of the pregnancy but the woman remains undecided on the issue. The two, American and Jig, are at important point in their lives and have to decide on whether to have an abortion. Some themes have been identified in the story: the relationship between men and women, doubt and ambiguity, and choices and consequences. From the story, the couple must make a decision considered to have two distinct directions like the two rails which pass the station. The railway station implies that none of the two is backing out of issue. The two lines of rails symbolize inability of the couple to connect with one another. When the author introduced a beaded curtain, “to keep out the flies” (Hemingway 1), it means shifting of the girl’s state of mind. The curtain means conceiving the prevailing dilemma. The story notes that the two are “outside the building” waiting for the train which justifies their underlying purpose to wait for the decision to be made.

            When the girl views the long and white hills and says that “they look like white elephants,” she elatedly sees the unique birth of her baby  just like the white elephants which are uncommon to see. The chosen color, white, is symbolic of the innocence and purity of the unborn child. When they saw the Mediterranean sun, they were between Barcelona and Madrid which are the two main cities in Spain with “no shade and trees.” Such symbolism represents the crossroad the couple has reached in their relationship. They are stuck and coming from beauty into something they are unaware of; they must decide whether they go together or not. Throughout the story, the girl looks at the valley and hills from a distance which appears “white in the sun” and in a “brown and dry” country which reflects a hardly conducive life they find themselves. The fertile valley and hills represent the unborn child which is a potential for life. She notices that hills look over them severally, but the man failed to acknowledge and ignores the issue when she brings it up. This is evident later when the America notes of “the operation” which means potential abortion which is natural. With the beaded curtain, it means she does not agree with him which reflects the disagreement as nature foreshadow the impeding separation between the two.

            The American is represented to portray the behavior of a traditional masculine: rugged, knowledgeable, and always wants to take control of himself and the prevailing situation. Even though he seems confused, he still wants to maintain a relaxed exterior and feigns indifference. The man thinks of himself to be more reasonable than others even while identifying with other passengers, waiting reasonably” at the station. At this point, the American inherently fails to empathize with her and understand the gravity of the situation. Contrary to the way the American is presented, Jig is considered naïve, helpless, and indecisive. The story uses the name Jig reflecting inability to make a meaningful decision. Besides, the girl cannot even order a drink is Spanish which reflects high dependence on the man. The girl’s mind constantly changes as she receives new information, but still under pressure to decide the influence of the American trying to control her. Apparently, the American is portrayed to want abortion since he needs to maintain the current lifestyle. With the bags that have hotel labels, it is symbolic that he has vivacious spirit. If she maintains the pregnancy, the man would to settle down and begin raising a family which means foregoing certain things he desires.

            At the end of the story, the girl notes that their relationship is over in spite of her commitment and desire to see him happy. It is evident that even if she does the operation, the relationship will never return to how it used to be. Such realization gave her confidence and power over the man who does not understand that it is impossible to have “whole world” as they used to. The story also uses several imageries. For example, when she first tasted the Anis Del Toro, she felt “it tastes like liquorice” which is popularly sweet but medicine used in inducing vomit. After forty minutes, the train comes back to pick them which implies that, once the train comes, it goes. This is a representation of the decision that she must make. Just like the coming of train, if Jig chooses to abort, there is no turning back. As soon as the couple begins to talk of the hills that looked like white elephants, Jig ordered more drink. This significantly means that the two drink to avoid talking about issues they are facing. Besides, the girl noted that they only time they do things together is when trying new drinks.  

Work Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants."School of English and American Studies, Eötvös Loránd University, School of English and American Studies, 1927, Accessed 10 Apr. 2018.

November 24, 2023

Art Literature

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