How does gender influence the direction of the conversation in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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In "Hills Like White Elephants," Hemingway has constructed a traditional gender relationship between Jig and the man with her. Jig acts on intuition, which traditionally is an attribute assigned to females: "I don't feel any way," the girl said. "I just know things." On the other hand, the man acts from a motivation of reasonableness, which traditionally is an attribute assigned to males: "You’ve got to realize," he said, "that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to ... He...looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train." These gender traits influence the direction of the conversation because, since Jig knows things, she isn't persuaded by the man's reasonable points of discussion that oppose her point of view, because what she knows cancels the validity of the points of reasonable discussion, thereby making them moot (of no practical value).

In addition, Jig has a sense of interiority, looking inward, that traditionally goes hand-in-glove with female intuition, whereas the man has a sense of exteriority, looking outward, that traditionally goes hand-in-glove with male reasonableness. Jig's interiority elevates the simple operation that the man is advocating to a life-changing event, while his exteriority relegates it to a mechanical procedure. In Jig's point of view, there will be no coming back to life as she has known it ("once they take it away, you never get it back"), whereas in the man's point of view, their happy lives will be preserved ("We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before. ... I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else.").

Also, based on Hemingway's characterizations, gender influences the development of discussion in the conversation. Jig's interiority leads her make a private decision about occurrences while the man's exteriority leads him to continually press (in a very polite and reasonable way) for a mutual decision based on exterior facts. They cannot come to an agreement, as Jig's point of view leads her to fully realize, because an internal event, such as she is experiencing, cannot be externalized, which is the aim and focus of the man's point of view.

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