Ernest Hemingway is well known as a man’s man. In his life and in his writing, he occupied an extremely masculine world—a world of war, hunting, and bull fights. Hemingway’s macho characters are so strongly drawn that critics created a new prototype to define them: the “Hemingway hero.” This hero has almost always been a man.
But what are readers to make of Hemingway’s women? Many feminist literary critics find Hemingway hostile toward woman. Women, they argue, are portrayed as a corrupt influence on men, somehow diluting their masculine powers.
In Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” we discover a female character, Jig, who contradicts this conventional theory. In this essay we will argue that Jig, “a mere girl,” and not the American man, conducts herself more truthfully to the characteristics of the traditional Hemingway hero. We will define the supremely heroic, distinctly Hemingway concept of “grace under pressure” as courage, honor, and the ability to cope with pain and suffering in the most difficult situations.
No doubt, the man and the girl are in an extremely tense situation. She is pregnant and he wants her to have an abortion. They are discussing a life and death situation, literally for the unborn child, and figuratively for their relationship. Hemingway has set a stark scene at a remote train station on a hot afternoon.
Courage to Face Challenges
True heroes demonstrate courage in all aspects of their lives, not just on the battlefield. In this story, Jig is the courageous one. She is willing to call the situation what it is, to speak out, if sarcastically, about their shallow relationship. “That’s all we do isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?”
It seems that she is brave enough to go through with the pregnancy while he is too selfish and afraid, “But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else.” He cannot face up to the change and challenge that life brings them. Ironically, he’s the one trying to build...
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Hemingway’s characters lived during a time of social and political uncertainty. Many of society’s traditional beliefs were shattered by the brutality of the First World War. The “lost generation” rejected their parents, their religion and their traditional roles. One of the results was that young people of the day felt estranged from society and often isolated from each other.
“Hills Like White Elephants” is one of Hemingway’s most poignant inquiries into the nature of this isolation and estrangement. By examining one conversation of one couple, we can understand the themes, typical of the modernist movement of which Hemingway was a part, working on many levels.
Hemingway has selected a setting that establishes a strong sense of isolation and reinforces the divide between the characters. He has placed his characters on a desolate train station, halfway between Barcelona and Madrid, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Symbolically, two train tracks run in opposite directions, parallel but never meeting. On one side of the station, “there was no shade and no trees . . . and the country was brown and dry.” On the other side “were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro.” In this setting, the choice between fertility and sterility, between life and death, is clearly presented.
By placing his English-speaking characters in Spain, a “foreign” country, Hemingway further reinforces his theme of estrangement. The two are literally strangers in the country. Not only must the girl face this difficult decision without the support of friends and family, but she does not even speak the local language! The author further isolates the couple by sitting them outside of the bar, on the platform by themselves. The other travelers and locals are inside the bar “waiting reasonably for the train.”
It is in this context that the heart of the story, the deterioration of a romantic...
(The entire section is 776 words.)