From a feminist point of view, what does it mean to be Jig in "Hills Like White Elephants"?
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Jig is faced with a choice - have an abortion or keep a baby conceived out of wedlock (even though the word abortion is never used, it is clear that this is the crux of the situation. When this piece was published in 1927, women were beginning to have "rights" but the right to an abortion was still not really one of them. In fact, womwn had only been granted the right to vote a mere seven years earlier. Abortions happened, of course, because an unmarried pregnant woman was subject to scorn. But, they happened in silence, and they often ended in death or permanent damage to the women who sought them.English law allowed abortions in the 1920's only when medically needed to protect the mother. In America at the time, abortion was illegal. Yet the man is clearly willing to violate the law to impose his will (to be rid of the baby) on the body of the woman he "owns" by virture of his status as boyfriend.
From a feminist perspective, the aspect of choice is what matters the most in this piece. Does she control her own body? If so, does she have a right to abort a child or, more to the point, to choose to carry that child to term and raise that child with or without the man's involvement. The right for a woman to own her own body is a common theme of feminist literature. Jog clearly is torn, but the American boyfriend seems ti have made the decision for her. He is responsible, at least in part, for the life growing inside of her, yet he wants to decide for her that she will abort the baby. She does not, in society's eyes, own her own life or the life of her baby.
Interestingly enough, abortion was a theme that Hemingway was intrigued by. His six word short story says it all :
For sale: Baby shoes, never worn
While this could mean the baby died, it could also be a child lost to abortion. The woman must make a choice - do as the man tells her to do (and keeping him happy and, presumably, with her in the bargain) or do as she wants and keep the baby. The ability to choose, often taken away from women during this time period, but less so than in prior decades, is a main argument posed by feminist criticism.
In Hemingway's story, "Hills Like White Elephants," Jig finds herself defined and differentiated with reference to her lover. For while she "just know[s] things," the man presents reasons to her for the "awfully simple operation." He externalizes their discussion and reduces the abortion to a mechanical process--"They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural." Nor does he recognize Jig's comments such as "once they take it away, you can't get it back," contradicting her, "But they haven't taken it away."
That the man perceives things in the rational here and now and not the intuitive sense of how their lives will be altered as does Jig is evinced in his inability to notice their surroundings. For instance, when she points to the hills that look like white elephants, he dismisses this observation with a curt, "I've never seen one." He looks up the tracks, "but could not see the train." But, when he looks at the people, he sees that "[T]hey were all waiting reasonably for the train."
Jig, however, is sitting on the other side of the bead curtain. She smiles and tells the man, "there's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine." With this statement, Jig has broken free of the man's reasonable restrictions upon her. She now has defined herself, "I feel fine." From this statement, the suggestion that Jig has broken free from her male-dominated relationship.
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