Summary (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
An unnamed American man and a young woman, Jig, are waiting for the express train from Barcelona; they are on the terrace of a small station-bar and seem to be on their way to Madrid. The story consists entirely of a seemingly objective documentation of their words and actions during their forty-minute wait for the train. The surface events are very simple. The woman looks at the hills across the valley of the Ebro, suggests that they order a drink, tries to engage the man in light conversation, responds briefly and unhappily to his assertion that an operation that she is to have is “really not anything . . . it’s all perfectly natural”; she then stands up, walks to the end of the station, looks at the hills again, speaks angrily, sits back down, demands that he “stop talking,” drinks in silence, and finally assures him that she feels “fine.” The only actions of the man not accounted for in this detailing of the woman’s movements occur after she asks him to “stop talking” and before she asserts that she is “fine.” During that brief period, he carries their bags “around the station to the other tracks” and stops to drink an anisette at the bar alone.
Clearly, little happens and not much is said, but just beneath the surface of these spare and dull events, a quiet but crucial struggle between these two characters has been resolved. The future course of their relationship appears to have been charted in these moments, and the fate...
(The entire section is 790 words.)
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“Hills Like White Elephants,” written in 1927, is told largely through dialogue. The story opens with a description of the setting, in rural Spain. We see a railway station between two lines of rails. It is hot, and there is no shade or trees.
The two central characters, an American man and a girl (whose nationality is not disclosed), sit at a table waiting for a train to Madrid. As they sit drinking beer, the girl notes distant white hills against the warm, dry country, and comments that they look like White Elephants. The man’s response and her reaction to it hint at tension between the pair.
This tension continues to simmer trough various attempts at small talk and the ordering of more drinks. Eventually, on the third drink, the man raises the subject of an operation he is encouraging the girl to have. It becomes apparent that the operation is an abortion. The man assures the woman that it is natural and that he will be there to support her if she goes ahead with it. Afterwards, he tells her, they will go on as before.
The girl seems unsure about having the abortion. When the American says he’s known lots of people who’ve done it, she says she has too, and adds with a hint of sarcasm that they were “so happy” afterwards.
When the man tells her she doesn’t have to do it if she doesn’t want to, she finally becomes serious, knowing the issue needs to be discussed. She questions whether things will be like they were before, and whether the man will still love her. He tries to reassure her, saying things will be better between them when he doesn’t have to worry about their current situation. The girl seems persuaded, saying she will do it to make things “fine” and because she doesn’t care about herself.
Leaving the table, the girl wanders to the edge of the station and looks at the scenery. In contrast to the scenery already noted, on the other side of the tracks she sees fields and trees, even a river. Her mood seems to change when she returns to the table. The landscape has, to her, mirrored their choice—on one side barren aridity, on the other, fertile life. Their relationship has been changed by his attempts to manipulate her and they will never “get it back.” His actions have made their future barren.
When the man tries to placate her, sensing her mood shift, she tells him to stop talking. She indicates that it...
(The entire section is 698 words.)
The story opens with the description of distant hills across a river in Spain. An American and his girlfriend sit outside a train station in the heat. No other details about their relationship are provided at the beginning of the story. They decide to order beer, and the woman who works at the bar brings the drinks to their table. The girl remarks that the distant hills look like white elephants, but the man discounts her remark.
The story continues to unfold through dialogue, and it becomes clear that the girl, Jig, does not understand Spanish while the American does. In addition, it begins to become apparent that the two are having some sort of disagreement. The subject of the disagreement, however, is hidden, until the man says, “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig. . . . It’s not really an operation at all.” When Jig fails to respond, the man tries several more times to tell her that the “operation” is all ‘‘perfectly natural.’’ His description of the operation implies that Jig is pregnant and he is trying to talk her into having an abortion.
Jig wants reassurance that if she has the operation the American will still love her and that life will go back to the way it was before the pregnancy. However, even as she asks for reassurance, it becomes clear that she does not want to have the abortion. Further, it also becomes clear that she understands that nothing will ever be the same again.
(The entire section is 506 words.)