In 1920’s society, the time period of Hills Like White Elephants, a man and girl prove their gender roles in that society. The characters in the story seem to fit in and challenge their 1920’s society at the same time. In Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants, The man and the girl named Jig start to fit in to what their own society’s expectations are. These expectations have to do with men being able to control women very easily, and women constantly obeying what they say. Then we see how the man and Jig evolve in the end.
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Gender roles change throughout just this story, and Hemingway makes it very clear, with small hints throughout. This story challenges societies stereotypes and proves that not every woman is going to follow what the man says in the end, no matter how their society will take it. In the nineteen twenties, gender roles were and always are a big part of society. Men were generally more superior to women. Women were starting to be more independent, after years passed of men being superior. Jig does this as well, showing the difference in women of this time period.
In Hills Like White Elephants, Jig starts out as a dependent, and reliant young girl to an independent and decision making young woman in just a short conversation. In Hills Like White Elephants, there are many moments where we can see that the girl is placed in a position where she has to make a decision that can either benefit her, or change any hint of stability she has in her life. The girl is clearly very young and is having a difficult time making her own decision about the abortion procedure. She is actually told by the man, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig ”(Hemingway 574).
Which proves that he is used to making her think that things are easier than they really are. He expects her to listen, but she starts to fight against the fact that he wants her to go through with this abortion because she
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is not sure if he will still love her afterwards. Another example where she has to ask his opinion before making a decision is when Jig asks the man “Is it good with water? ” (Hemingway 573). This may seem vague, but no matter what the question is, she still wants to check in with this man before she makes a decision.
She has to depend on the man to help her make decisions, and reading the story it is clear that this isn’t the first time she has acted this way. He has been controlling her for a certain amount of time. Her action of constantly asking his approval continues when the girl asks the man what they should drink or what tastes good. She asks, “What should we drink? ” (Hemingway 573). This seems like a simple thing for anyone to ask, but it is the first part where it is clear that she is going to ask for approval of everything before she makes a decision.
She continues asking him things every time it comes to making a decision, and she seems more and more dependent through the story. The gender roles in this society have to do with how the man thinks he will control Jig’s decisions. Later in the story, the man says to the girl, “ It’s really a simple operation, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in” (Hemingway 573). This is evidence of him trying to persuade her into having this abortion. This is another portion that proves how Jig starts to think about his opinion on the abortion when it is entirely her decision, according to her mind, not her society.
This society doesn’t expect a young girl to be pregnant with a much older mans child, which could be why the man is attempting to get her to have the abortion. She gets nervous about what could be her future with the child, and if she should really go through with this “simple” operation. She gets more nervous the more the man talks about it, and wants him to stop talking about it. She gets stressed about it the more her brings it up. This seems extreme when she wants to stop talking about it, but it is a common thing for women to get nervous quickly, or society says we do.
One person who has given their opinion on how gender roles are displayed in Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants is Joseph R. Urgo, who states that “ In all, the mans power in the story is based on cultural sources of authority: Language, means of exchange, science and reason. By use of these resources, the man attempts to exert control over his girlfriend. ” (Urgo 36). This means that the man in the story uses almost every practical way he can to make the girl think she should do what he says and what he wants. He is not a dumb man, and he uses these extra ways to manipulate her into doing what he thinks is right.
Urgo describes how the American is being portrayed as the typical manipulative and demanding boyfriend in the story. Hemingway and Urgo both explain and analyze how the man knows the girls mind and how it works. This way the man can control the way she thinks and acts in an everyday situation. Another point made clear about gender roles in society is the man himself. The girl is given the name Jig mid-story, when the man is either called The American, or the man. This generalizes the man to be anyone, as long as we know he is significantly older than the girl.
This shows how the man is simply there to show how society would expect an older man to react when he is in this situation. Jig is given a name, because she is more of a personal human being, she challenges societies expectations in the end when she chooses to keep the child and let the man leave. This is important because it shows that the girl makes an independent decision, making her a true individual. The man is not given a name because he is what the society in the twenties expects, or assumes every man is going to be like.
He is generalized into many men, when we see Jig become more and more independent. Ultimately, with Joseph Urgo’s statement and information from the story itself, Jig is seen as a girl who is extremely dependent on this man, and knows no other way to make him happy, but to do what he wants. She doesn’t stay like this through the very end, because luckily she clears her mind a little to realize what she wants for once. The man is what his society expects him to be, and Jig is the character that challenges these expectations.
To tie back to how Jig is manipulated by the man, this is something that can easily define how this man expects to win the invisible battle between their opinions. He is determined to try over and over to get her to realize that she should go through with the operation. As the man, he expects her to listen to him, and leave with him to move on in their travels, but she doesn’t, which can show how gender roles change throughout this story. At first, the girl is hesitant to even make a simple decision without checking in with the American. By the end of the story, she makes the decision to keep the child herself.
At the very end of the story, Jig does something that not many people notice, because we read into the decision she makes, not every simple action. Hemingway places a part in the story where, “ She was sitting at the table and smiled at him” (Hemingway 575). Readers get confused at the end wondering what her decision is, but with this smile that she makes, they can tell that it ends with a positive outcome, assuming that she keeps the child. This shows that in the end, Jig chooses herself what she wants to do, without any input from him.
This proves how this societies gender roles change in just this short story and how the society expects women to listen to men, and men to approve of the decisions women make. Again, this story challenges societies stereotypes and proves that not every woman is going to follow what the man says in the end, no matter how their society will take it. Jig starts out following the expected role in society, and eventually starts to challenge 1920’s society expectations, showing that a man cant push her around and manipulate her to make decisions about her own child.See More on Gender