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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How would you describe the characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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In “Hills Like White Elephants” the American man, and the woman, “Jig,” are a couple sitting outside a café’ drinking beer while they await a train.  These characters are discussing a pregnancy and an abortion.  The relationship is very unstable at the moment because the couple is unable to connect with each other.  Jig seems to want to have the baby but the man wants her to have an abortion.  He is very selfish and independent.  He tells her he loves her but the reader does not feel that from him.  He appears to be very cynical and unfeeling toward Jig.  His words do not match what we feel from him.  There seems to be a sense of aloofness between them because they can’t agree on which direction to go concerning the baby.  They do not understand one another. Their though processes are nowhere near close to each other and this is what drives the story toward what appears to be a no win situation for the relationship.  Jig doesn’t speak Spanish but the man does, this indicates that she is extremely dependent on her lover and she must consider his feelings more than if she were not dependent. This has a big effect on how they interact during their relationship. He is in control and continues to suggest that this decision is an easy one.

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In the story "Hills Like White Elephants," what do the main characters in the story look like?

Hemingway does not give details about the appearance of either character.  The most we are told is that it is an American and a girl, and that the girl was wearing a hat - a detail that says more about the time period than it does about the girl herself.

The reason that Hemingway does not give details is very specific.  Hemingway was a modernist writer who believed in simplicity.  Unlike the authors who came before him, Hemingway's style used a lack of detail and a lack of wording in order to get his point across.  This is known as imagist writing - the simple images and words provided are meant to convey emotion.  The emotion in this story is that of conflict, and of ambiguity.  The girl and man are at a crossroads and don't know how to communicate about it to one another, much less how to proceed.  That uncertainty is echoed in our ignorance of their past and their appearance - even their names.

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