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In the ending of the story "Hills Like White Elephants," does the woman get an abortion?

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beckybee | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 6, 2011 at 9:58 AM via web

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In the ending of the story "Hills Like White Elephants," does the woman get an abortion?

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 18, 2013 at 9:54 PM (Answer #6)

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The dialogue between the American and Jig makes it clear that she doesn't understand a word of Spanish. This means that she is most likely a native English speaker but probably not an American. Here she is in a foreign country, pregnant, perhaps without any money of her own, and completely dependent on this man who is taking her to Madrid to have an abortion. Instead of asking whether she actually had the abortion, one might ask if she actually got on that train.

Towards the end of the story the woman who is waiting on them tells them, "The train is coming in five minutes." If the girl gets on the train we can assume she is going to get the abortion. But if she refuses to get on the train, what will happen next? If the man leaves her behind at this station in what appears to be the middle of nowhere, and she has no money and can't speak a word of Spanish and is still pregnant...???

It seems that it is not up to Jig to decide but up to the American. If she can't persuade him to let her have the baby, she will have to havethe abortion (el aborto). However, he does seem open to persuasion. He tells her no less than five times in thirty-five miinutes that he is perfectly willing to let her have the baby. For example:

"Well," the man said, "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."

It seems that what she can't persuade him to do is to want her to have the baby. She must sense that having the baby without his wanting it would lead to a rupture in their relationship. Then she would be a single parent with no reliable means of support.

Hemingway and his first wife Hadley had a baby they called Bumby in 1923 and they were divorced in 1929, about two years after "Hills Like White Elephants" was published. No doubt the short story is largely autobiographical, like so much of Hemingway's fiction.


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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 6, 2011 at 9:45 PM (Answer #2)

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I think that if you read the story carefully, although we are not specifically told whether Jig does or does  not get an abortion, it is pretty clear that she gives in to her partner's demands and does what he wants. One way that this is suggested is related to the title. Note the way that towards the beginning of the story Jig suggests that the hills look like white elephants. When this is obviously not looked upon favourably by her partner, she later changes her mind, apparently, saying that they do not look like white elephants. We see she is trying to change herself to make herself more acceptable to her partner, and thus I think it is clear that she will get the abortion because that is what he wants.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 7, 2011 at 8:15 AM (Answer #3)

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Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" is clearly one of his narratives that have the "iceberg effect" as critics have termed Hemingway's method of not saying what is being said.  The connection between the hills that Jig likens to white elephants comes from their shape and the denotation of a white elephant, something that a person is burdened with and cannot easily be rid of.  For, she is actually referring to the unwanted baby of the man that she is carries. It has become a burden to their relationship since Jig does not really want to have an abortion, but she knows that she will lose her lover if she does not.  Through the use of dialogue the reader uncovers their disagreement about her condition:

"I know you would mind it, Jig.  It's really not anything.  It's just let the air in."

The girl did not say anything.

"I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time.  They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural."

"Then what will we do afterward?"

"We'll be fine afterward.  Just like we were before."

"What makes you think so?"

"That's the only thing that bothers us.  It's the only thing that's made us unhappy."...

"And you think then we'll be all right and be happy."

In the end, after the man goes to the other side of the tracks with their luggage and returns, Jig smiles at him.  When he asks her if she feels better, Jig says, "There's nothing wrong with me.  I feel fine." 

Certainly, these last lines are ambiguous.  Jig's little "hill" is also like a white elephant, something one is burdened with. If she does have the abortion, hers and her boyfriend's relationship will still not be the same.  If she keeps the baby, she will lose the man.



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ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted June 9, 2011 at 12:48 AM (Answer #4)

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Whether or not she gets an abortion is a secondary consideration. Clearly, regardless of whether she gets an abortion or not, the relationship between Jig and the man will never be reparable. The unwanted pregnancy has changed the relationship. Despite what the man says, "That's the only thing that bothers us.  It's the only thing that's made us unhappy." The pregnancy is  just a symptom of what is plaguing their relationship.

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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 6, 2012 at 7:01 AM (Answer #5)

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I agree with the initial statement of poster 4 - the couple in the story will not be able to stay together. Their trouble is irreparable. I disagree, however, with the interpretation that the pregnancy is merely a symptom of the couple's problems.

There is something to say for that interpretation, certainly, but it seems to me that the fact of the pregnancy is central to the conflict between this man and woman. Each of them would like to stay together as they were. There is no going back to that after the pregnancy.

What Jig clearly understands is that not even an abortion can put things back to the way they were. The past is gone. And it is the pregnancy that has killed it. If an abortion could bring back the past, then she would choose to go that route. Because the abortion cannot achieve that end, she sees no point to choosing to have that done.

The relationship and the past are both over and gone. The man and the woman are powerless to change that fact, just as they are powerless to change the fact of the pregnancy.

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