Why is Jig given a name but not the American in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

In Ernest Hemingway's short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” Jig's nickname is both symbolic and ironic. The American is not called by his proper name because the author is depicting him as a type. His is domineering, insincere, crass, and uncommitted.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ernest Hemingway's short story “Hills Like White Elephants” concentrates on a conversation between an American man and Jig, his girlfriend. Jig, apparently, is a nickname of some sort, but it is also symbolic. A jig is a kind of fast, lively dance, and we get the impression that this girl might once have been a lively young woman, but now she is burdened under the weight of a decision she doesn't know how to make: whether or not to abort her baby. So her name becomes ironic. Further, some scholars believe that the name alludes to the phrase “the jig is up,” which means that something has been revealed and that it is now time for action. Something has indeed been revealed: the woman is pregnant, but the action to be taken, if any, remains to be decided.

Unlike Jig, however, the American is never called by his proper name. He represents a type of person, a type that Hemingway seems to identify with an American male. He is domineering, even though he tries (unsuccessfully) to be subtle. He pretends that he doesn't care what Jig does, but he continually pressures her into choosing abortion. “It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” he tells her. “It's not really an operation at all.” He's even quite crass about the whole thing: “It's just to let the air in.” It's all “perfectly simple,” he assures, yet he wouldn't have her do it if she doesn't want to. He doesn't mean it, though, and we get the feeling that if the girl refuses to go through with the abortion, their relationship will end quite quickly. It may in any case, for the American and the girl lack the communication skills and the openness necessary for a committed relationship.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial