Hills Like White Elephants Essay

1 January 2017

During the 1920’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, a short story by Ernest Hemingway, presents many interesting insights into relationships between men and women from the era when it was written. During the 1920’s, an era referred to as the Roarin’ Twenties, women were slowly progressing out from their stereotypical household roles to lives of entertainment and partying. In this short story, Hemingway’s characters reveal the lingering differences in stature between men and women in this period.

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Hemingway, in this story, provides detailed descriptions and well thought out dialogue between his two main characters, an American man and a girl called Jig. The dialogue in the “Hills Like White Elephants”, allows the reader to understand the interactions between men and women who were in relationship during the 1920’s; the characters’ speech gives insight into their inability to communicate with one another, their differences in status, and a woman’s reliance on a man. Throughout the story, both the man and the woman are unable to adequately communicate with one another.

Although they face a major issue that can dramatically affect both their lives, both seem to evade the “elephant in the room,” her unintentional pregnancy. When they first sit down at the table in the train station, the couple simply engages in meaningless small talk in order to avoid the important matter of the woman’s pregnancy. Their initial dialogue shows how neither one wants to bring up such an uncomfortable topic, revealing their unease with each other. Rather than simply communicate what he wants the girl to do, the man takes a passive-aggressive approach to the matter. He says, “If you don’t want to you don’t have to.

I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple. ”  By saying this, the man appears to care for the girl, when really he is attempting to coerce her into having the operation by making it seem simple and implying it is the only option for happiness; he is passively aggressive. His tone and underlying message frustrates Jig, leading to anger and her threats that “[She]’ll scream. ”  The conversations that take place in “Hills Like White Elephants” are cyclical in their nature. The couple will have a fleeting moment of happiness, which is soon marred by a quarrel over an issue in their relationship.

In the beginning of the story, the couple is having a drink without any issue, but then, they begin to argue over the taste of their drinks. The woman complains, “Everything tastes of liquor ice especially all the things you’ve waited so long for. ”  This irritates the man, so he snaps back, saying, “Oh, cut it out. ”  After quelling the tension, they begin to look out at the hills, they once again begin to argue, this time about possibly aborting her pregnancy. As the cycle continues, they become calm, and then proceed to continue the argument another time.

Finally by the end of the story, the couple has calmed themselves once again, but the cycle foreshadows further arguments in the future. Their constant arguments are a result of an underlying problem in their relationship- their inability to communicate with one another. The American and the girl are unable to resolve the dilemma in their relationship, and rather than come to a conclusion through communication, they attempt to cover up these issues with bouts of apparent happiness. The man and girl in “Hills Like White Elephants” are unable to communicate well with one another leaving an important issue unresolved.

In the story, there appears to be a major difference in status between the man and the girl. In the opening paragraph of the book, Hemingway refers to the couple that is waiting for the train as, “The American and the girl with him… ”  In this description Hemingway seems as if it is the man who is travelling in a foreign country and that the girl is simply his accessory. More notably in the line, he refers to Jig as a girl rather than as a woman. Though she is clearly a woman if she is pregnant, Hemingway’s choice in pronouns is most certainly something he intended, allowing him to connote a childish and naive personality to the woman.

He adds to this characterization through the woman’s actions and especially her dialogue. While ordering drinks, the girl asks permission to try a new drink. She asks, “Could we try [the Anis Del Toro]? ”  Here she must ask permission to order a new drink almost as if she is a child asking a parent to try something new. Jig feels the urge to ask the man for everything she desires and does not make any decisions on her own. When she claims that the hills resemble white elephants from a distance, she later asks the American man, “I said the mountains looked like white elephants.

Wasn’t that bright?  In this dialogue, Jig is appears to be asking for approval as if a child is asking for the compliments of an adult. This invokes an image of the woman looking up to the American man as almost a wiser, more intelligent peer or even as a father figure. After much arguing over the operation the woman finally asks, “Can we please please please please please please please stop talking? ”  The repetition of the word please is reminiscent of children asking for something they want from a parent. The childish tone of “please please please” makes the girl seem younger than she really is.

In contrast to this, the man seems far more experienced and wiser than his partner. When she claims that they as a couple could “have everything,” “have the world,” and “go everywhere”, he replies with logical pessimism, saying, “No, we can’t,” multiple times during her fantasies. Such responses are akin to those of an adult advising a child when their dreams are ridiculous, such as having everything, having the world, or going everywhere. These subtle hints at the childish nature of the woman allow Hemingway to reveal the stature of women during the time.

Jig, the woman characterized as a girl, is constantly dependent on the American man for support and decision-making. When they are sitting at the table, the girl must rely upon the American to order drinks. Not only does she ask permission to try the drinks, she also is incapable of ordering because she does not speak the language. Even when she is trying to decide whether or not to have the drink with water, she must ask the man, “Is it good with water? ”  Eventually the man makes the decision for her and orders the drinks with water.

This demonstrates some instances of how the woman is reliant upon the man to do even the simplest of tasks. The most obvious example of her reliance upon the American is seen in her indecisiveness about the operation. Rather than simply decide that she wants the operation, the woman goes back and forth for although she must want to have the child, her tendency is to do what the man says. As seen in the dialogue, the woman completely relies upon the American for everything she does and all the decisions she makes. The dialogue in “Hills Like White Elephants” allows Hemingway to convey the intricacies of relationships in the 1920’s.

He reveals how the couple is unable to communicate effectively, the difference in stature of men and women in relationships, and how the woman relies upon the man for all her needs. The chasm between man and woman is clearly illustrated through masterful use of dialogue. The man is presented as superior in knowledge and the woman as childish. Hemingway sets up what seems to be an unequal relationship from the start- she is just a girl, while he is a man. In ”Hills like White Elephants” Hemingway has effectively portrayed the relationship between men and women from the Roarin Twenties.

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