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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In "Hills Like White Elephants," how does Hemingway show the couple's nature through character development?

Quick answer:

Hemingway depicts the characters in "Hills Like White Elephants" mainly through their tense dialogue.

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The development of these two characters makes their relationship very clear in the story. The American (the man is never named) seems more worldly than Jig; he speaks Spanish and plays the role of "teacher" to what he considers to be her less sophisticated self. He is pushy and even domineering in their conversation. He shows no sign of empathy or sympathy for her; he is self-centered and arrogant. In his arrogance, he assumes to be the expert of the two on abortion as a medical procedure.

Jig, in contrast, is quieter and given to introspection. She is the sensitive one of the pair. It is Jig who steps forward to view the lovely hills in the distance across the green plain, a sight he had not seen and which he belittled when she mentioned it. Jig possesses more emotional depth. She considers her pregnancy in terms of what it would mean to their relationship, imagining what a real life together might be like. The American sees her pregnancy only as an impediment to their current carefree, purposeless existance.

From the development of their characters, it seems clear their relationship is deeply flawed. The American, no doubt, has acted as the driving force, while Jig has assumed a secondary role. When he pushes her to have an abortion, however, he may have pushed her too far. Jig, at least, asserts herself enough to tell him that she will scream if he does not stop talking about it.

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In "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, how does the relationship between the man and the woman change?

At the start of the story, the relationship between the man and the woman is very uncertain, because as we discover, they have to decide on whether the woman is going to get an abortion or not. It is the man who clearly wants her to have an abortion, and the woman who is unsure about this. However, what changes during the course of the story is the way in which the man is completely unthinking about what the girl is facing. He keeps on talking about the abortion, repeating again and again how painless and easy the procedure is, until she says the following:

Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?

Even this is not enough to get him to shut up, and the girl is forced to threaten to scream in her efforts to make him stop refering to the abortion. At the end of the story, her final words and the obvious deception that they include clearly tells us a lot about the nature of the relationship they have and how it has changed. When the man asks his lover if she feels better, note how she responds:

"I feel fine," she said. "There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine."

During the course of the story, it has become clear to the woman that her lover's will is something that cannot be denied or challenged. She faces the terrifying future of living in a relationship where he has all the power and where he will not stop until his desires are achieved, no matter what she thinks or wants.

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Discuss the ways in which Ernest Hemingway depicts his characters in "Hills Like White Elephants."

The two main characters in "Hills Like White Elephants" are depicted almost entirely through dialogue. The reader knows very little about the details of their lives. The man is American and unnamed. The girl is of unknown nationality, and the man calls her "Jig," which may be an abbreviation of her name or a nickname.

While external details remain sparse, the reader learns a fair amount about the lifestyle, personalities, and priorities of these people by listening to their tense, laconic conversation. They appear to be aimless drifters, with enough money not to have to work. The girl remarks, and the man agrees:

That's all we do, isn't it—look at things and try new drinks?

This, in Hemingway's typical style, says a lot about both of them in a few words, not only revealing their lifestyle but showing that the man is content with it, since he does not see that life has much more to offer, while the girl is restless and unsatisfied.

The man's selfishness and the girl's dependence on him, emotional if not financial, are depicted in the subtly insistent way he pushes her to make a decision (which most readers have presumed is to have an abortion). His studied appearance of indifference is at odds with the way he keeps harping on the subject of the operation, until the girl has no option but to reveal the extent of her distress.

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