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Why does the American man from "Hills Like White Elephants" want Jig to get an abortion?

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florambriz | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 21, 2012 at 1:29 AM via web

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Why does the American man from "Hills Like White Elephants" want Jig to get an abortion?

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 21, 2012 at 2:50 AM (Answer #1)

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From the conversation that takes place between Jig and the man called the American, it becomes clear that he wants her to have the abortion because he doesn't want to get tied down by a baby. It could mean that he would have to get a regular job, which could be very difficult unless he returned to America. They have been traveling all over Europe togeyther, enjoying the kind of footloose sightseeing, drinking and gourmandizing, that Hemingwzay describes at greater length in his novel The Sun Also Rises. The man keeps assuring Jig that she can have the baby if she really and truly wants it, but he makes it clear from his tone and general attitude that he doesn't want to assume the responsibillities of fatherhood and to give up his freedom and independence.

She has already agreed to have the abortion, under pressure from the man. They are on their way to Madrid to get the illegal procedure done, but the man seems to be afraid she will change her mind at the last minute. That is why he keeps talking, telling her it will be a very simple thing, assuring her that their relationship won't change and that they can go back to having fun together just as they were before; but she is skeptical and mistrustful. She thinks this is already the beginning of the end of their relationship. There is no mention of marriage. There seems to be some possibility that they actually are married already, since it seems unlikely that she would consider having the baby, back in the 1920s, without being married. Yet the American assures her five times, albeit without much enthusiasm, that she can have the baby if she realy and truly wants it.

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William Delaney | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 8, 2014 at 11:34 PM (Answer #2)

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Hemingway's story sounds autobiographical. He was accustomed to making up stories out of his own personal experiences. He admired authors like Stephen Crane and Joseph Conrad who got their inspiration in the same way.

If he wrote it he could get rid of it. He had gotten rid of many things by writing them.                                                                                                              -Ernest Hemingway

We know he was living in Europe while trying to get started as a freelance writer. He liked seeing new people and places, because these stimulated his imagination. He also liked the fact that it was possible to buy any kind of liquor in Europe when drinking was considered a crime in America. Not only was liquor fully available, but it was cheap. Everything was cheap relative to the American dollar, which was why so many artists were attracted to Europe in the 1920s. In “Hills Like White Elephants” it would appear that the couple is being charged the equivalent of about four American cents for two big glasses of beer.

Hemingway had a hard time selling his early stories. Editors considered them unfinished and pointless. They called them "sketches," "slices of life," and "vignettes." (If you compare a story like Stephen Crane’s “The Blue Hotel” with Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” you can see what the editors expected in the stories they were buying and why they were rejecting Hemingway’s.) John Steinbeck once said:

The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.

When Jig says, "Doesn't it mean anything to you? We could get along," she is addressing what she knows is at the root of their problem, which is money. She is obviously young and inexperienced. She only thinks they could get along in Europe with a baby and that everything else would be the same as before. The man knows the baby would change everything.

Hemingway didn't need much money to survive in Europe, but even getting small sums of money for his stories was hard. He confessed that he would sometimes break into tears when he received another rejected manuscript back in the mail. No doubt there have been many aspiring writers who have felt the same way.

Hemingway was married and his wife Hadley had a baby. No doubt this was a threatening event for Hemingway because it would mean having to settle down and earn more money. The American just isn't ready for fatherhood. He knows he will be giving up his freedom before he has had a chance to establish himself in his chosen profession. Hemingway does not specify that the American is an aspiring writer, but it seems likely. 

There are hundreds, thousands of youths who enter upon the hard calling of the arts with extravagant hopes; but for the most part they come to terms with their mediocrity and find somewhere in life a niche where they can escape starvation.

                                                                                                                  Somerset Maugham

Many people who read “Hills Like White Elephants” want to know “What happened? Did Jig go ahead with the abortion? If so, how did that affect their relationship? If not, how did that affect their relationship?” No doubt many of the readers who ask such questions feel like the editors back in the States who were so coldly rejecting Hemingway’s stories. 

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