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In "Hills Like White Elephants," how sincere is the man in his insistence that he would...

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kabayan | Student, College Freshman | (Level 1) Honors

Posted October 19, 2011 at 11:38 AM via web

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In "Hills Like White Elephants," how sincere is the man in his insistence that he would not have the girl undergo the operation if she does not want to?

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

Posted October 19, 2011 at 12:52 PM (Answer #1)

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‘The beer’s nice and cool,’ the man said.

‘It’s lovely,’ the girl said.

‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

‘I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to 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 afterwards?’

‘We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before.’

‘What makes you think so?’

The problem with analyzing Hemingway's minimalistic style is that answers to questions like this can only be inferred from the text. As a result, one has to scrutinize the text for indications of sincerity or lack of it in either the dialogue or the narrator's remarks. One remark that might help determine the man's sincerity is made by the narrator at the beginning of the narrative:

On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun ..

This description of setting has symbolic reference to the present relationship between the American man and Jig--now that "the only thing that bothers" is an issue between them. They are now like the setting, living on the side of their relationship with no symbolic shade and are at a symbolic station between two separate sets of symbolic tracks.

This symbolic setting suggests that their relationship has come to an end and that they will take divergent paths soon hereafter. What this suggests about the man's sincerity is that he is insincere in his insistence that he will accept either option: she has the operation or she does not have the operation. If he were sincere (the story wouldn't be postmodern), Hemingway might have chosen a symbolic setting in which two rivers converged at an oasis shaded by inward leaning palm trees.

Dialogue might also help to illuminate the man's level of sincerity. In the opening dialogue, which really seems a little nonsensical, the man speaks with abruptness and is testy. For example, he nonsensically snaps:

‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’

Further, when he brings the topic of the operation up, the topic almost explodes (if minimalism may be said to explode) at the tail-end of feigned chat about the beer being cool:

'It’s lovely,’ the girl said.

‘It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,’ the man said. ‘It’s not really an operation at all.’

This further indicates insincerity because if he were sincere in being equally open to both options, he wouldn't have been quarrelsome; he wouldn't have been abrupt; and he wouldn't be insistent upon repeating what the operation isn't. He also would have more compassion for her feelings and not have said anything like; 'That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.’

The conclusion from this examination of the narrator's remarks and the dialogue indicates that, indeed, the American is not sincere in his insistence that he does not want Jig to do anything she doesn't herself wish to do.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 7, 2012 at 5:15 PM (Answer #2)

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While it is certainly obvious that the American wants the girl to have the abortion, he is not totally insincere in telling her that he will accept her decision. Proof of this is to be found in the fact that he actually tells her so no less than five times in this minimalistic story.

The first time he gives her this half-hearted asssurance he immediately repeats it.

"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."

"And you really want to?"

"I think it's the best thing to do. But I don't want you to do it if you don't really want to."

He is clearly giving her an opening to tell him that she definitely does not want to have the abortion, that she positively wants to go ahead and have the baby, and that it means a great deal to her.

A little later he says:

"I don't want you to do anything that you don't want to do--"

And then just a few sentences later:

"You've got to realize," he said, "that I don't want you to do it if you don't want to. I'm perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you."

That's four times. And then finally:

"But I don't want you to," he said. "I don't care anything about it."

Jig could have the baby if she insisted, but she knows he doesn't want the baby and everything that having a baby would entail. He doesn't say that they could get married--which makes me suspect that they are already married. He would have to give up his nomadic life and get a job. Since he has been identified as an American, getting a job would probably mean moving back to the U.S. He would probably become a white-collar worker in New York City, rushing to work every morning with hordes of others and returning to a little apartment in the evening, worn out from meaningless toil like so many other wage slaves.

 

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