illustration of train tracks with low hills in the background and one of the hills has the outline of an elephant within it

Hills Like White Elephants

by Ernest Hemingway

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Examine this statement as it relates to Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway: "If Jig really loved the American man, then she would listen to him and go through with the operation."

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Hemingway’s story seems to argue the opposite of the statement that Jig would have gone through with the abortion if she really loved the American man.

Hemingway depicts the man as rather callous, selfish, and immature. Throughout the entire discussion, all he focuses on is convincing Jig to have an abortion. Despite her constant pleas to stop talking about it, he continues to bring up what he deems to be reasons why the procedure is an acceptable one. Calling it an “awfully simple operation…not really an operation at all,” the man tries to manipulate Jig’s decision. He tells her she “wouldn’t mind it,” as if the procedure were a simple everyday occurrence with no consequences. He does not consider Jig’s feelings or the child’s life.

The American man clearly does not want the responsibility of caring for a family. He sweet-talks Jig, agreeing with everything she says in hopes that she will go along with his wishes. When she is upset, he falsely assures her “We can have everything.” He refers to the baby as a “thing” which is a clear indication that he is not ready to be a father. He even uses reverse psychology in telling her not to go through with the procedure. Overall, he does not display any paternal feelings.

There does not seem to be much of a relationship between the two. Each one has a different conversation, instead of both staying on the same page. He does not genuinely listen to her words, but instead tries to place a smoke-screen in front of her feelings. “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy.” The man covers up what is clearly not a good relationship and places blame on the child, attempting to turn any allegiance away from the baby. If Jig has any love for herself and her unborn baby, she will walk away from the man.

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This statement seems to be what Jig's American boyfriend thinks, but I would push back and say this is not the message Hemingway is trying to convey.

If you read the dialogue that makes up the bulk of this very spare short story, it becomes clear from the boyfriend's repetition of the same ideas, especially his lame statements that he wants whatever Jig wants, that he is insincere and doesn't really care about her or her needs. He simply wants to get out from under being on the hook for a baby.

Jig's impatient responses to him show how much he is irritating her and how tone deaf he is. He is talking at her but not communicating. She says:

"Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?"

I would argue that the tables should turn and that the real question Hemingway is asking is the opposite: if the man really loved Jig, wouldn't he at least actually listen to what she has to say and engage in a real conversation with her, instead of insistently repeating himself and trying to bully her into an abortion? If you really love a person, wouldn't you be honest about your doubts and fears? That might trigger a real conversation about a very important decision. This is not the time to be insincere and play games, but that is what the boyfriend is doing.

The question isn't whether one or the other partners is willing to sacrifice their desires out of love for the other. Instead, the question is if there is any love to salvage at all in this relationship.

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