Involving the relationships of people, Ernest Hemingway's three stories share certain themes:
- Doubt and Ambiguity
--In "Up in Michigan," the naive Liz Coates, who works where the blacksmith boards, finds herself thinking about Jim Gilmore more and more. On the other hand, he
liked her face because it was so jolly but he never thought about her.
After Jim and Mr. Smith and Charley Wyman go off on a three-day deer hunting trip. Liz thinks about Jim, but her feelings are ambiguous and she doubts if Jim cares for her because he "didn't seem to notice her much." Because of his aloofness, Liz is doubtful that anything will ever occur between him and her.
--Certainly, "Hills Like White Elephants" is an ambiguous story as even the reader is not certain of what the outcome will be for Jig and the American. Of course, Jig is ridden with doubt; for, even if she chooses to have the abortion, she may be ridden with guilt, and she may lose the love of the man. She asks him,
‘‘And if I do it [the abortion] you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’’
But, when the man can only reply, "I love you now.You know I love you," the girl worries that the "simple operation" will be a life-changing event for her.
--In "Fathers and Sons," as Nick Adams drives through the country that he knew as a boy on his way to hunt quail, he recalls his youth, but many of the details about his father are ambiguous to Nick, who never really knew his father, a man who stoically accepted his fate. Nick finds that his ambiguous nostalgia is not so much for his father as it is for the world he recalls and something behind it.
- Choices and consequences
--In "Up in Michigan" Liz chooses to wait up and see Jim as he goes out after drinking the whisky, romantically hoping to take the image of him "up to bed with her." Instead, Jim comes behind her chair and touches her as she thinks, "He's come to me finally. He's really come." On the other hand, she is frightened and does not know how to react or handle the drunken Jim. Consequently, she is taken advantage of by Jim and "everything felt gone." As one critic writes, Liz is the less sophisticated sister to the pregnant woman in "Hills Like White Elephants."
--The young woman in "Hills Like White Elephants" has a much more realistic assessment of her situation. For, she realizes that no matter what choice she makes, the relationship between her and her lover will be forever changed. She tells her lover, "...once they take it away, you never get it back." But, Liz has learned this only after the sexist actions of Jim while Jig intuitively senses her future loss.
--In "Fathers and Sons," Nick realizes that his choice to not be in contact with his father may have cost him a relationship. So, when his son asks about his grandfather, Nick resolves to preserve family unity and take his son to the grandfather's grave.
- Misunderstanding and Self-Awareness
In all three stories, the main characters have flaws in themselves which prevent them from understanding their relationships with others. For Liz Coates, her physical attraction to Jim Gilmore deludes her into believing she can handle an encounter with him. Jig realizes too late the devastating difference that a pregnancy makes in her relationship, and Nick's interior monologue leads him to the realization that he has always respected his father, and must continue to respect him if he is to have the same respect from his son.