In Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants," what is the couple's probable final decision?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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At the very end of his short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” Ernest Hemingway fails to make absolutely clear the decision that the couple finally make: do they plan to have an abortion (as the man desires) or do they plan to have the baby (as Jig seems to desire)?  The closing paragraphs of the story provide no unambiguous evidence either way:

He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

“Do you feel better?” he asked.

“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”

Jig’s very last words are clearly ironic: she does not feel fine. Whether they are deliberately ironic and self-consciously sarcastic is another question. She may simply be exhausted and compliant. Hemingway effectively leaves the ending of the story ambiguous so that readers will have to think for themselves and decide what they think the couple’s future will be.

If one had to predict their future, a good case can be made that the American does get his way. Some reasons for making this assumption include the following:

  • He has gotten his way, apparently, all throughout their relationship up to this point.
  • Jig seems, by this point in the story, to have lost her desire to fight. She even smiles at the man, although whether that smile is sincere or forced is another point of uncertainty.
  • The man does move the bags to the other side of the station – the side where the train will be arriving.  He seems to assume that Jig will board the train and go on to Madrid, as planned. Whether she will actually have the abortion once she gets there is yet another question that Hemingway leaves open. It is entirely possible that they will have another argument after they board the train or after they arrive in Madrid.
  • Jig’s final comment – “I feel fine” – can be read as a sign of resignation and defeat.
  • Despite his claims, it seems unlikely that the man will support any decision by Jig to have the baby. Therefore Jig will have to decide whether she is willing to be an unwed mother without a supportive and loyal male and without a dedicated father of her child. Given all the pressures she faces, it seems reasonable to assume that Jig succumbs to the man one more time.