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I need help with this quote from "Hills Like White Elephants": "Yes, said the girl....

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shahanb | Student, College Freshman | eNoter

Posted July 1, 2013 at 7:23 PM via web

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I need help with this quote from "Hills Like White Elephants":

"Yes, said the girl. "Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe."

"Oh, cut it out." 

Why does the girl say that everything ends up tasting like licorice, and why does this annoy her companion? 

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amarang9 | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted July 1, 2013 at 8:42 PM (Answer #1)

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The girl (Jig) says that the drink tastes like licorice because it is made with anise and might have a licorice taste to it. She notes all things that one (she or the American) might wait for, such as absinthe, also taste like licorice. There is nothing obvious or plainly telling about this section of dialogue. This is a great example of Hemingway's minimalist style which can be admirable but also frustrating. 

Upon a closer reading, considering the main dilemma of the story (arguing about having an abortion), we can make a few interpretations as to what the girl and the man are talking about in this section. The girl compares the drink (Anis del Toro) to licorice and to absinthe. Absinthe can have a bittersweet flavor (like licorice). This insinuation might refer to their predicament: she wonders if she has the abortion, if they will continue to be carefree lovers as they had been before she got pregnant. Since she is on the fence with having the abortion at all, she also wonders how having the baby would affect their lives together. The complexity of the situation and the difficulty of her decision is analogous to the complexity or paradoxical flavor of the absinthe, being both bitter and sweet. Thus, this is a bittersweet moment in their relationship, perhaps more bitter than sweet for Jig.  

Absinthe is also known as an aphrodisiac and an hallucinogen. Her comparison of the Anis del Toro to absinthe might be some inside reference to a previous night when the two of them drank absinthe and it augmented their feelings for each other. Perhaps, and this is also just a supposition, they were drinking absinthe when the baby was conceived. Therefore, they drank and made love and the baby was the unintended result. In this case, the man is annoyed that she even made a veiled reference to the situation (be it the conception or their current argument). The man simply wants the situation to be over and that's why he continues to passive-aggressive in encouraging the abortion. Jig, on the other hand, wants to think it through. 

Further on, Jig says, "I wanted to try this new drink. That's all we do, isn't it--look at things and try new drinks?" She and the man are, at this point, thinking primarily of whether or not to have an abortion. So, it is likely that, for the two of them, other seemingly odd references (absinthe, licorice taste, hills like white elephants) will signify or spark some symbolism referring to the pregnancy. (In her imagination, Jig sees the hills becoming something else, like a child emerging from a womb.) But Jig is also being passive-aggressive herself and intimates that this pregnancy is the first serious issue they've faced whereas prior to it, all they've done is look at things and drink. The man is annoyed that she is having second thoughts about the abortion and wants the matter closed. Jig is unsure and much more thoughtful about what having a child or an abortion could mean for their futures together or apart. Since Jig is thinking more deeply about things, she recognizes that their carefree lifestyle is missing a serious aspect; therefore, everything is good and bad, like licorice, bittersweet. 

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