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Are Jig and the American married?Most readers seem to take it for granted that the...

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 29, 2012 at 1:12 AM via web

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Are Jig and the American married?

Most readers seem to take it for granted that the couple in "Hills Like White Elephants" are unmarried. But what evidence is there in the text to indicate that they are just lovers? Or is there anything to suggest that they might in fact be married? Married women have abortions too. And there are many husbands who don't want children because they're not ready to accept all the responsibility. I myself had always assumed that the couple were not married to each other, but it suddenly occurred to me that I might have been mistaken. One clue that they might have been married is that it was awkward, if not impossible, for unmarried couples to share hotel rooms, especially if they both had to show passports. But these two people have been traveling all over Europe together.

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

Posted January 29, 2012 at 1:43 AM (Answer #2)

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I think the most compelling evidence for their not being married is the line introducing them: "The American and the girl with him ... outside the building." This has two parts and, since Hemingway relies heavily upon symbolism, both parts must be analyzed as having meaning. Since Hemingway's narrator is a distanced, objective narrator, the first part ("The American and the girl with him") indicates that either (1) the American counts his wife as no more important than a "girl" who is "with him" or (2) they are unmarried and precisely because Jig is no more important than a "girl" who is "with him." The second analysis here seems stronger.

The second part, "outside the building," can be analyzed as a symbol wherein the "building" they are outside of represents the institution of marriage (Why? Because of proximity: it follows closely behind "The American and the girl with him."). Being "outside" marriage is a euphemism for being unwed.

Introductions are crafted so as to deliver information critical to comprehending the deeper currents of a story along with the basic information of characters. Therefore anything revealed in a character introduction carries significant weight, and Hemingway is noted for loading a short, minimalized sentence with a big punch, so to speak. If he succeeded here with this introduction, and I think he did, then readers will recognize the "American and the girl with him" are not married, are "outside the building" of the institution of marriage. [Interesting question!]

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 29, 2012 at 3:50 AM (Answer #3)

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Like much else in this story, this matter seems ambiguous, but I agree with the analysis above -- especially the reference to "the girl with him" (which almost seems to imply "the girl with him at this particular moment in his life"). I suspect that if they were marriaged, Jig would somehow have mentioned that fact, but this is pure speculation on my part.

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

Posted January 29, 2012 at 8:16 PM (Answer #4)

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I would agree with the excellent analysis given in #2. There is so much about their relationship that speaks of impermanence, and one sign of that is the way in which they are introduced and the obvious issues that are going on in their relationship. References made to the future of their relationship also seem to indicate that they are not married, though you have correctly identified this is not specified.

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 29, 2012 at 10:49 PM (Answer #5)

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I, too, support the wonderful answer provided by kplhardison. If the narrator would have introduced them in a different way, one may be able to support that the couple is married, but the introduction alone speaks to the relationship being only one of dating or seriously dating. The references to Jig's concerns about him staying around and still loving her speak more to a dating relationship than one of a marriage.

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 30, 2012 at 7:19 AM (Answer #6)

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The significance of the name Jig may also indicate impermanence in the relationship between the American and the "girl with him." For, during Hemingway's time, there was an expression, "The jig is up," meaning that "the fun is over" or "you've been caught in your ruse."

The American has evidently been with Jig and enjoyed their relationship as long as there has been no obligation attached to it. But, now that he is faced with a different situation, he looks for an avenue of escape to return them to their former irresponsible relationship. "We'll be like we were before" suggests that there were no real ties between Jig and the American.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 31, 2012 at 4:51 AM (Answer #7)

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I am not saying that I think Jig and the American are married. I am suggesting that it is a possibility and wondering how it would affect the reading of the story if they were. One reason I think they might be married is that the American keeps insisting that she can go ahead and have the baby if she positively wants to, but he doesn't say anything about getting married. She wouldn't consider having the baby unless they were married, would she? Another reason I think they might have been married is that it wasn't long before he wrote the story that Hemingway was married himself, and he and his first wife actually had a baby they nicknamed Bumby. It seems possible that Hemingway could have been distressed when he learned that his wife Hadley was pregnant, because he was trying desperately to make a living as a writer and they were already getting by on a very low income. It seems possible that something very much like what happens in "Hills Like White Elephants" could have happened to Hemingway in real life. But I'm only asking for opinions.

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted February 11, 2012 at 9:53 AM (Answer #8)

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Yes, I think you could make the argument that they are married. The fact that nothing is directly stated about the matter seems to mean to me that we are meant to wonder about it, and we are meant to ask these same questions of ourselves as we read, regardless of what decision we actually come to.
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e-martin | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted March 12, 2012 at 8:01 AM (Answer #9)

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An insightful and interesting question...

The second post offers some really compelling insight, but would venture to wonder if Hemingway might be presenting some irony with the phrase "and the girl with him", suggesting that even though the couple is married, they are not "together".

Regardless of the marital status of the couple, the relationship is clearly quite vulnerable, if not broken. The bond that was keeping the pair together will be certainly be broken by a baby, and is most likely already damanged beyond repair. To go all in with an intepretation, I am going to say that they are married in the context of the story and are centrally concerned that entering a parenthood phase will destroy the relationship.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted March 12, 2012 at 8:41 PM (Answer #10)

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On one page of the story the American says, not once but three times, that Jig doesn't have to go through with the operation if she doesn't want to.

"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."

"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."

"I don't want you to do it if you feel that way."

Then on the last page:

"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."

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

That's five times in a very short story that the man says she can have the baby if she really wants it. He obviously, though reluctantly, is saying that he is willing to support her and the baby, which seems to mean that he would give up the nomadic, irresponsible life they have been leading, get a job, and become the breadwinner. She wouldn't consider having the baby unless they were married. Maybe young women have different views now, but they didn't in the 1920's. Since he is an American, he would very likely have to move back to America. He doesn't say that they would get married, and the fact that neither of them mentions marriage makes me think they are married already.

Jig is apparently not an American. If she moved to America with the man, she would have to be married to him in order to stay in the country. Maybe she couldn't even get into the country unless she was married to an American.

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William Delaney | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 6, 2012 at 9:11 PM (Answer #11)

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It occurred to me that some people who followed this discussion assumed the couple were not married because Hemingway calls her "the girl." But notice that there is a third character involved in the little sketch. That is the woman who brings them drinks. Hemingway calls her "the woman." He is trying to be completely objective in this story. We only know that "the girl" has the nickname of Jig because the American calls her Jig. But the author had to differentiate between the woman who waits on them and the woman with the American, so he calls her "the girl" and thereby may be creating a false impression about her and about their relationship. I suppose he might have called Jig "the young woman," but how do we know the waitress isn't a young woman?

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