illustration of train tracks with low hills in the background and one of the hills has the outline of an elephant within it

Hills Like White Elephants

by Ernest Hemingway

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The American
The American is one of two characters in Hemingway’s story. He sits at a table with a girl at a train station in Spain. Through his conversation, it becomes clear that the girl with him is his lover. Throughout the story, the American tries to convince the girl that she should have an abortion. He tries to make himself sound perfectly reasonable and rational, but as the dialogue continues, it becomes clear that he is both selfish and hypocritical. He says, ‘‘You’ve got to realize . . . that I don’t want you to do it if you don't want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you.’’ He does not mean, however, that he wants the girl to have the baby, although he says that he’ll ‘‘go through with it.’’ By the end of the story, the American has revealed himself to be self-centered and lacking in feeling for the girl, Jig, despite his protestations of love.

The girl
See Jig

The second character is called ‘‘Jig’’ by the American; however, Hemingway refers to her as ‘‘the girl’’ throughout the story. This is in contrast to Hemingway’s naming of the other character as ‘‘the American’’ or ‘‘the man.’’ Jig is a young woman who finds herself pregnant with her lover’s child. She and her lover have been traveling in Europe; the labels on their suitcases name the hotels where they have spent nights together. At the time of the story, she is sitting at a table with the American, drinking beer and anise liqueur, waiting for a train. It slowly becomes clear that the man is trying to talk her into aborting the child she carries. Although the subject is never mentioned directly, the pregnancy is at the heart of the conversation. It is not clear what decision Jig reaches by the end of the story, or if she has reached any decision at all. It does seem clear, however, that she is unhappy with both choices in front of her: keep the baby and lose the American, or abort the baby and keep the American. She seems unconvinced that either scenario will develop as the American promises it will. As the story closes, Jig asserts that she is ‘‘just fine.’’ Under the circumstances, however, it is clear that this is not the case.

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