Hills Like White Elephants
The most striking feature of this short story is the way in which it is told. It is not a story in the classical sense with an introduction, a development of the story and an end, but we just get some time in the life of two people, as if it were just a piece of a film where we have a lot to deduce. The story is of a woman and a man on their trip to a place where she can have an abortion. In the title Hills like White Elephants, Hills refer to the shape of the belly of a pregnant woman, and White Elephants is an idiom that refers to useless or unwanted things. In this case the unwanted thing is the fetus they are going to get rid of. Everything in the story is focused around the conversation and the decision The American and Jig must make.
In the first paragraph we have a short and concise introduction to the characters, the narrator refers to them as The American and the girl. The narrator doesn’t give names to them, because they may be symbols of many couples in the same situation. We can deduce the difference in age as she is considered as The Girl and he is The American. Later on we will know that her name is Jig, but we don’t learn his name. The name of the girl is not a normal name, and is also very symbolic. It is the name of a lively dance, or it can also refer to a particular sort of behavior or activity, which varies according to the situation that someone is in (Collins Cobuild dictionary). What this name implies that she can change her mind about the abortion. He is afraid of her changing her mind about this and is continuously trying to reassure her in the decision.
A narrator describes the setting. We learn the story happens in Spain, in the Valley of the Ebro. The train the characters are going to take is an express train from Barcelona to Madrid. We don’t know exactly where they are, or the time and date it takes place. We don’t even know if they really take the train. We must take into account the fact that the train is stopping only for two minutes, a very short time. This limited time symbolizes the time Jig has to have the abortion .She cannot think it over for a long time. The later she has the abortion the more risky for her health it becomes. She is nervous because abortion has not been legal in Spain till very recently and in a dictatorship time it was a very punished practice (killdevilhill.com). The abortion had to be done before noticeable.
After the first introductory paragraph we find a dialogue between the couple. This dialogue is presented as being very natural, but it was carefully written, because through it we are going to deduce the kind of relationship they have. The real theme of the conversation is not clearly stated but is underlying. They are talking about love, feelings, and her pregnancy. There is tension in the air at some moments but they cannot express it openly. Maybe they don’t want to be heard, or maybe it is just a problem of communication and of sharing feelings. There are also references to sexuality in the form of phallic symbols, the first one is related to the title, the trunk of the elephant, then we find another one in (An?s del Toro), the bull as a symbol of virility.
The decision for the abortion in the end will be Jigs. She is the one who starts the conversation and she is the one who is making the decision. She is very straightforward. She takes her hat off and puts it on the table. She is getting rid of what covers her. She wants to speak out about the situation clearly and put the feelings, as she does with the hat, on the table to be talked about openly. In his turn to answer instead of answering her questions, he changes the subject and answers It’s pretty hot. This implies that he wants to change the subject and talk about simpler things such as the weather. Men have problems showing their feelings.
The characters are really mysterious to us. We know nothing about their lives, but they seem to have nothing to do in life apart from sex and drinking. Alcohol is considered an aphrodisiac. They order An?s because Jig wants to try new things. Maybe she is considering the possibility of having a new relationship or a new experience in life. When she tastes it she says, it tastes like licorice, which is a very common and not exotic taste, and she adds, Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for. This implies that when you wait for something for a long time, for instance a relationship, once you get it, it loses your interest and appeal.
As the conversation goes on, the man openly refers to the operation. He says, It is not important, but very easy, like opening a window. It’s just to let the air in. He wants her to have the abortion but she insists their relationship is going to change. He wants to convince her that the decision has been hers by means of saying thing like, If you don’t want to you don’t have to, but I know it’s perfectly simple. She is having the normal doubts a woman can have in a situation like that. He feels that the pregnancy is a nuisance in their lives. The baby would mean settling down and starting a family. This would be a change in their lives.
At the end of the story he says, We can have the world and she replies, No, we can’t. It isn’t ours anymore and once they have taken it away, you never get it back. Here we can see that she wants the baby and she knows that once she has the operation she won’t be able to get the child back. At the very end in the last sentence he asks her if she feels better, but what he is really asking is if she has made a decision. She replies, I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine. I think she decides to have the baby.