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In "Hills Like White Elephants," did the woman go for an abortion?

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win123 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 8, 2008 at 9:18 PM via web

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In "Hills Like White Elephants," did the woman go for 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.

Sources:

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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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renelane | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted January 21, 2008 at 4:55 AM (Answer #1)

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The reader is meant to be unclear on the end of the story. Hemingway purposefully left the reader to wonder what Jig's decision would be. It is fairly obvious that there would not be a happy ending for Jig no matter what decision she made. If she chose to keep the baby, she would surely lose her American lover. If she chose to abort the baby, she would most likely resent the lover.

The smile that Jig gives the man at the end of the story is puzzling since it follows an angry outburst. The reader is left to ponder the possible ending, but there is no true way to know for sure.

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sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 21, 2008 at 6:28 AM (Answer #2)

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Most of my students have argued that the evidence supports the idea that the girl decides to abort the baby.  Hemingway carefully withholds the choice as not being important to the theme of the story, but if you are writing a paper trying to prove one or the other, consider this evidence:

When discussing the issue with her American, Jig says she'll do it, she'll have the operation.  She says so because she believes that it will solve all the couples problems. 

She asks, "'And if I do it you'll be happy and things will be like they were and you'll love me?'"  

Jig wants things to be perfect, with no problems.  She goes on to say that she doesn't matter, meaning her feelings and desires don't matter. 

"'Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me.'"

At the end of the story, the man comes back from moving the bags to the train track, and asks Jig how she is doing.  She says:

"'I feel fine,' she said. 'There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.'"

Readers know that she is not fine.  How could she be with such a decision to make?  She is upset and conflicted.  However, by saying she is fine, Jig is devaluing her emotions.  She is making a statement that her feelings don't matter, that she doesn't matter.  By making that statement, she is suggesting that she has chosen to have the abortion - so she can have that perfect ending she spoke of.

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eneihsaj | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 8, 2008 at 2:04 PM (Answer #3)

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hello everyone... I'm from the Philippines and recently we had a debate(world literature class) about this story on what really happen to the two if they really agreed to do the "operation" thing. as we debate about the story, we discover that even though the girl was really persuaded to the thing that the man wanted to do to her. but in the end of the story, there is a twist that some of the readers will conclude that they really do the operatiom. But! in line (3rd line to the last)

" He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks."

it means that the guy who persuade the girl to do the operation is the one who give up not to do it at all. because it only means also that they will no longer going to madrid coz the luggage that he brought outside the station was on the other track of the railway. which also tells us that they will no longer going to madrid.

so that's it..!! 

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linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted May 9, 2008 at 6:44 AM (Answer #2)

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You're going to have to use your imagination to answer this question. Hemingway leaves the story with a cliffhanger ending: the couple is waiting for the train, and the woman says, "I'm fine."

You need to decide what you think she will do. In order to make that decision, you'll need to judge the story based on the era in which it is set, not by what is possible in our own time. Keep in mind these things:

  • the social mores of the era (just after WWII)
  • the social and economic challenges faced by single parents (you can bet he won't marry her)
  • the legality of abortions in that era

I hope this helps. Your teacher has given you this assignment to exercise your critical thinking skills. No matter which side you take--for or against her having an abortion--you can't go wrong as long as you back yourself up with some good reasons why you feel that way.

Good luck!

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maya-rene | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 25, 2008 at 10:27 PM (Answer #3)

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     I believe the woman did NOT ultimately decide to have an abortion because of Hemingway's diction. He makes it clear that the woman is hesitant about the procedure. She actually wants to keep the baby. This is evident when she says, "...once they take it away, you never get it back." She has doubts about losing her child and the possibility of ever having another one. And at the end she says, "I feel fine. There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine," indicating that she doesn't see the baby as a problem, a burden. She decides she wants to be pregnant so there's nothing wrong with her.

     Although Hemingway leaves it up to the reader's own imagination, I felt that she would not gt the abortion after their discussion and her change of heart.

 

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dannywayne | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted May 28, 2008 at 12:50 PM (Answer #4)

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You're going to have to use your imagination to answer this question. Hemingway leaves the story with a cliffhanger ending: the couple is waiting for the train, and the woman says, "I'm fine."

You need to decide what you think she will do. In order to make that decision, you'll need to judge the story based on the era in which it is set, not by what is possible in our own time. Keep in mind these things:

  • the social mores of the era (just after WWII)
  • the social and economic challenges faced by single parents (you can bet he won't marry her)
  • the legality of abortions in that era

I hope this helps. Your teacher has given you this assignment to exercise your critical thinking skills. No matter which side you take--for or against her having an abortion--you can't go wrong as long as you back yourself up with some good reasons why you feel that way.

Good luck!

The text were published in 1927, so the era must´ve been between the two world wars.. 

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thisismyacct | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 15, 2008 at 11:25 PM (Answer #5)

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Hemingway did sort of leave this story for you to make up the decision on your own.  The fact that the man keeps repeating that it is a "simple" operation means that he does not understand the emotional experience that is tied to it.  She does.  Although this does seem like a casual conversation, like soemthing that they had discussed many times before, she still does have time to discuss that side with him.  I bet that if they did keep the baby there is a chance that the man will not remain with her because he seems to be in control during the whole scene.  Meaning that he travels around more and this seems like a relationship that is longer than what he is probably used to. 

      It's really up for you to decide, but I think that when he gets up and moves the bags at the end of the story it is signifying that he has changed his mind.  They were going on a train to go to a larger city, where they could find someone to perform an abortion, and by moving the bags I felt that he had decided not to go in the originally intended direction.  Why would he need to move the bags?  Everything written here was written for a reason, especially using the style that Hemingway chose to use.

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

Posted December 1, 2010 at 2:09 PM (Answer #6)

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Unfortunately, I have a much more pessimistic view. I think the pressure that the man exerts on Jig and the way that she bends herself to fit in with his views indicates that she will definitely have the abortion. The conversation at the end when Jig again and again repeats negative comments about what they will "have" seems to be her acceptance of the kind of life she is accepting by having the abortion - one that is devoid of joy and full of terrible grief.

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