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The couple in Ernest Hemingway’s story “Hills Like White Elephants” are protagonists who find themselves in a life-changing situation. Their unplanned pregnancy turns into a subject for discussion about whether to keep it. The issue develops into a passive-aggressive one when it is revealed that Jig wishes to remain pregnant and the American man refuses to make concessions. “Hills Like White Elephants” is a vivid story about how communication barriers can affect decision-making. Hence, the story is narrated through a choice and how the failure to communicate influences its outcome.
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Communication barrier as the main theme of Hills Like White Elephants
“Hills Like White Elephants” as a story is composed chiefly of dialogues between an American man and Jig. Apart from the interactions between the couple, the reader is not aware of anything about the individuals and their lives beyond the conversation. During the couple’s dialogue, there is no dispute and no expression of love other than a complicated conversation. Both characters appear incompetent to make headway to negotiate what exactly they want and why they are building a communication barrier. The lack of consent about the future child dominates them until the very end of the story. Although the couple’s dialogue might appear empty, a closer examination uncovers what feelings are struggling to emerge. Jig’s last words imply that she is not okay at all, but she tries to act as if she does not comprehend what her husband is talking about. Their inability to communicate results in an unsettled finale and a decision to abort.
The reader has no idea where this couple is going from, how they appear and how they got into this predicament. From the story we can conclude that these are two absolutely separate people. We can observe that Jig is a pregnant woman who has knowledge about abortion, does not wish to have an abortion, and she is extremely young to be considered a girl, and she is consuming beer. The American man has made it obvious that he doesn’t definitely want to be married, and Jig has made it understandable that she is reluctant to abort the baby. She affirms: “Then I’ll do it because I don’t care about me”. While Jig evolves over the course of the dialogue, we notice that her man doesn’t change. The only insight we gain into his personality is that he doesn’t want to marry Jig, but is ready to do it and doesn’t consider abortion to be a huge issue. Since Jig and the American are not able to achieve a mutual understanding, it has caused awkwardness and emotional tension.
The couple tries to negotiate from opposing points of view and gets addicted to what the future move in their relationship will be. Hemingway’s topic of communication and options corresponds wonderfully with this story. Jim and the American find themselves at a train station, where they stand at a literal crossroads as to where to move on. And though we do not learn about their ultimate solution, it remains the driving force of the plot. The couple deals with a disconnect that endangers their relationship. There is likewise a feeling of being neglected by the American man. Jig makes a remark about the hills that look like white elephants, but she is completely overlooked. She reiterates: “I said the mountain looks like white elephants, wasn’t that bright?”. He replies: “Should we have another drink?”. She tries to maintain an enthusiasm for their lifestyle and is disillusioned that the American man is not interested in her. They are on two entirely separate chapters of their lives, and this generates pressure in their relationship.
Hidden symbolism as the theme of Hills Like White Elephants
The train track represents the most crucial symbol that reflects the topics of communication and making choices in the story. The American and Jig are sharing a beer at this train station, as they expect the train that will transfer them to Spain. Metaphorically, the restless couple is debating which way to move forward, under time pressure as the pregnancy develops. Hemingway goes on to insert another vivid symbol that embodies the light and darkness of abortion. Considering the railway station’s location, there are no trees nearby to provide shade. The sunlight at sunset indicates how contrasting the worldviews of these couples are. According to Jig, during the day, the hills look like white elephants and the countryside reminds of a desert. The hills and shadowless land might represent Jig’s feelings that she wishes to preserve the pregnancy. The deserted rural area could also symbolize the American man’s opinions about the act of abortion. At long last, Jig gets frustrated with his harassment, and she gets out of the direct sunlight. Nevertheless, he is sitting in the darkness of the shade and attempts to persuade her to sit with him, trying to push her one more time.
Both man and woman are trapped in a strained situation, desperately seeking to escape the “white elephant” in the room. From an American’s viewpoint, the hills are definitely not like white elephants. However, Jig has moved away from his perceived reality and immersed herself in her fantasy of what the future may be like. This develops disillusionment in both as they find themselves at a literal crossroads. Hemingway employs his storytelling techniques to construct a dialogic tale with underlying symbolism. He forces readers to immerse themselves in the simple lines of “Hills Like White Elephants”. Through Jig’s longing to save her child and the American’s desire for an independent life, they are attempting to overcome communication barriers that impact their subsequent decisions.