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Early in his career as a freelance creative writer Hemingway was having much trouble getting his stories published because editors considered many of them to be "sketches" and "vignettes" rather than short stories. "Hills Like White Elephants" doesn't have much of a plot, and it lacks any definite conclusion. In fact, many readers have wondered whether Jig went ahead with the abortion or changed her mind.
The plot, such as it is, is simple. A man is taking a young woman to Madrid to get an abortion. She has reluctantly agreed to go through with it, but she obviously doesn't like the whole sordid idea. The man is afraid she will back out. The alternative is for her to have the baby and for them to get married (if they aren't already married) and settle down to domestic bliss. The man wants to keep his freedom. He doesn't want to have to get an eight-to-five job and become the breadwinner for wife and child. Since he is called the American, he would probably have to go back to America to find a job. Evidently he prefers Europe. Throughout Hemingway's story the American keeps subtly trying to pressure the woman to stick to her agreement to have the abortion in Madrid. The story ends rather inconclusively. The reader feels that the former loving relationship between the two has been destroyed regardless of what happens when they get to their destination. She has become disillusioned with him. The reader feels contempt for the man and great pity for the young woman called Jig.
It is easy to see why many editors would consider "Hills Like White Elephants" a sketch, or a vignette, or a slice of life, and why Hemingway had to suffer so many rejections during his early career. Living was cheap in Europe, but he was having a hard time even earning a bare subsistence through his writing.
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