What attitudes and values emerge from the conversation in Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that what makes this story so wonderful is its ambiguity.  I think that it is quite deliberate that Hemingway describes a story with so much technical precision, yet its overall understanding is mysteriously obscure.  We understand that there is a discussion about a procedure that appears to be an abortion.  It is at this point where I think that we begin to see the values and attitudes of both characters.  This crisis brings out where both of them are, but also leaves room for wondering about each.  The American male is one that seems very much concerned with his own well- being and is not one that is entirely willing to see his own freedom and state of being curtailed with a child.  At the same time, the woman, Jig, recognizes that because of the pregnancy, she cannot experience freedom at the same level as her companion.  One way or another, she is going to encounter a new emotional awakening as a result of her freedom.  By keeping the child, she is going to either lose the companion or she will experience him as one who is not emotionally engaged.  In the choice of abortion, there will be significant pain endured on both physical and emotional levels, ensuring their relationship will be altered forever.  In this light, Jig's values and attitudes are ones that are directly impacted by the impending decision and how both of their lives will be altered as a result.  Yet, for her companion, the predominant interest is the belief that individual freedom is something that is absolute, to receive the greatest of primacy.

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