White Elephants” is a short story written by Ernest Hemingway that was
published in 1927. The story takes place in a train station in Spain. There are
two central characters, the American and Jig. They are having a very serious
conversation about a pivotal point in their relationship. They are discussing
about a certain operation that is not specifically explained in the story, but
it is implied to be an abortion. There are themes of doubt and ambivalence as
well as the consequences that result from difficult choices.
Jig is pregnant with
the American’s child. The story focuses on the pregnancy, and the topic of
abortion. Jig was probably a creation of Hemmingway’s thoughts on abortion. It
could also be about how us as humans trying to please others while going
against our own beliefs. The American comes off as impetuous towards Jig despite
his kind words. He seems to not care about Jig’s feelings and thoughts and only
seems to care about his own. “The man seeks to neutralize be depicting the
operation as a natural process of healing and restoration” (Grant 271)
“It’s really not anything, It’s just to let the air in… they just let
the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural” (Hemingway 2).
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The setting introduces a tense
atmosphere that keeps up throughout the entire story. The first use of imagery is
in the introduction of the story, “The hills across the valley of the Ebro
were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the
station was between two lines of rails in the sun.” (Hemingway 1). The two
rail lines represent the two choices that face the couple. Jig seems to care a
lot for the American, so much so that she is torn between the two difficult decisions.
The surroundings of the train station plays a crucial role in the story with
its symbolism. ” Immediately the symbolic significance of the title and
the reason for the frequent mention of the hills becomes apparent”( Weeks
Jr. 76). Jig says that the long and
white hills “look like white elephants”. A white elephant could be
representing an expensive item that could be a burden financially. The color
white could symbolize the innocence of her unborn child.
American wants this abortion because he wants to keep the lifestyle he
currently has. He realizes that if Jig were to go through with the pregnancy,
he would have to settle down, which he does not want. Therefore, the American
thinks an abortion is the best answer. This is clear due to his belief that an
abortion is an “easy” process, and that things will be normal after
the operation is complete. His comments of “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay
with you all the time” (Hemingway 2), referring to the abortion, shows his
true desire to keep their relationship the way it is by not bringing a child
into their life. Jig has many doubts about the situation, but she goes along
with it so they can keep the lifestyle they’ve always had.
is a particularly significant story for
our times when radical changes in traditional sexual morality and the issue of
legalized abortion seem to emphasize the age old problem presented in ‘Hills
Like White Elephants'”( Weeks Jr. 77). The story shows the reality of
people’s lives around the world. The struggle to choose what people believe is
right or wrong. Hemmingway presents a piece with truth behind the ink. It allows
the reader to possibly relate to what he is trying to convey. He really brings
up an issue that was not talked about enough during the time it was written.