Who are the man and woman in "Hills Like White Elephants"?I know their relationship to each other, but who are they?

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In reality, we are given little concrete information about the couple and are left to infer a lot about them. It is clear from this story that it is the man who has the power and is able to manipulate and persuade Jig to do what he wants. Consider the way that by his speech at least he wants to come across as being reasonable, and yet it is he that repeatedly returns to the topic of Jig getting an abortion. It is Jig who is engaged in trying to mould herself into the kind of person that her partner wants her to be - note how she changes her view on the hills looking like white elephants.

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Jamie Wheeler | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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While the characters are fictionalized, there is also evidence that the man and the woman are largely Hemingway and second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.  The relationship was troubled, and the abortion theme may well have been Hemingway's attempt to work through feelings about the threats to their relationship. 

The "threat" came in the form of his first wife, Hadley.  Paul P. Reuben says, "In early 1925, the Hemingways met Pauline Pfeiffer, a fashion editor for Vogue magazine.  She was intrigued greatly by Ernest and his writing and soon began spending a great deal of time with the family.  By mid 1927, it became apparent, however, that the feelings between Pauline and Ernest were more than friendly and, after several months of fighting, Hadley set up a separate residence in Paris.  Hadley made an agreement that if Ernest and Pauline could stay apart for one hundred days and were still in love after, she would grant a divorce so the two could be together.  Pauline immediately left for the States.  It is during these hundred days that Hemingway wrote most of the short story collection Men without Women.

Thinking about the story as fiction, it is the general consensus that the couple are representational of many young people of the "lost generation."  As for the fate of the child, David Wyche writes about the scholary disagreement concerning its fate: "Timothy O'Brien sees the "outcome of the couple's journey" as "bleak and infertile" (19). Their destination of Madrid--ironic because of the name's similarity to madre, the Spanish word for mother--will be "the site of the artificial intervention advocated by the male" (23). Kenneth Johnston interprets the cloud shadow that Jig sees moving over the fertile grain field as "foreshadowing the death of her unborn child" (235). Thomas Maher Gilligan suggests that the shifting of baggage from one side of the station to the other indicates that "the couple reconsiders, decides to go to Barcelona instead, and also decides to allow the pregnancy to continue."

ms-mcgregor's profile pic

ms-mcgregor | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The man is an American with his girlfriend, Jig. As he does in other stories, Hemingway refers to her as "the girl", and to the American as "the man", suggesting that the couple's relationship is not really equal. Hemingway purposely leaves the rest of their identities open to interpretation so he can concentrate on developing the characters throughout the story. The couple obviously been traveling quite a bit but Jig's pregnancy has complicated their carefree lifestyle. The American's answer is an abortion and he tries to convince Jig that an abortion is "perfectly natural". Jig seems to really want the baby but she's afraid of losing the American's love if she has the baby. Unfortunately, the American does not listen to her and keeps on telling her how she should feel until she yells, "Will you please, please, please, please stop talking?" The story intentionally ends with no resolution, leaving room for students, teachers and literary critics with many interpretations of both the story and the characters.

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