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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Discussion Topic

Jig's character and significance in "Hills Like White Elephants."

Summary:

Jig's character in "Hills Like White Elephants" is significant as she embodies the struggle between personal desires and external pressures. She is caught in a tense conversation with her partner about whether to have an abortion, symbolizing broader themes of choice, communication, and the complexities of relationships.

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Describe Jig's role in "Hills Like White Elephants."

While the character's name is Jig, Hemingway, as narrator, does not refer to her by name; instead, he uses "the girl" in contrast to "the man" or "the American" for the male character.  This use of "the girl" establishes the tone of the male character's speech to her:  patronizing and inconsiderate.

Jig does not, at first, realize that her lover is so patronizing and self-centered.  However, as the conversation between them develops, she begins to discern his selfishness in asking her to have an abortion.  At any rate, she realizes that the relationship between them will never be the same regardless of her decision:

'Then what will we do afterward?'

'We'll be fine afterward.  Just like we were before.'

'What makes you think so?'

'That's the only thing that bothers us.  It's the only thing that' made us unhappy.'

This last line of the man's is key to Jig's understanding of his true character, for it indicates his selfishness.  As she walks to the end of the station, the girl gazes at the other side, the fertile side where there are fields of grain and trees with a river beyond.  With the wisdom of intuition, she realizes that they have relinquished the fertile side and remain on the barren one.

Knowing that things can never be as they have been, even though her lover insists that they can, Jig now negates everything that he says. When he asks her repeatedly to "come back," Jig knows there is no going back.  She knows they will remain on the barren side of the tracks in their life together.

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What does the name "Jig" signify in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The jig is a dance in Ireland. Giving the girl the nickname of Jig may suggest that she is from Ireland and that she is, or has been, a lively, spirited girl, since the jig is an extremely lively dance. The girl may have performed this dance on more than one occasion during their travels. They have been together a long time. This is shown by all the hotel stickers on their luggage--possibly also indicated by the fact that they are carrying so much luggage. Jig is obviously an affectionate nickname. Hemingway is writing this story from an strictly objective perspective. That is why he doesn't give his characters names. The reader only knows what he can see, hear, and deduce from what he sees and hears. The nickname Jig may suggest the girl is Irish. She has to be from someplace, and evidently she is not from America. She speaks good English, so she would have to be frp, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, Australia or New Zealand--most likely from the European places since the American must have met her in European.

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What does the name "Jig" signify in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The only mention of any name in the story is this name, Jig.  It is what the man of the relationship calls the woman of the relationship.  He uses it conversation in the following exchange:

'It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig,' the man said. 'It's not really an operation at all.'

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

'I know you wouldn't mind it, Jig. It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in.'

The purpose of the character using the name here is to call her attention.  The two have been discussing nonesense items such as the setting since the story began.  Here, the man is obviously trying to restart a discussion that they were having before, and to continue a small argument or disagreement.  Using her name is a way to keep her attention and reinforce the seriousness of the discussion.

Hemingway places the name here for a similar reason.  It is unexpected, for the two have simply been referred to by their gender before this point.  By inserting a name, Hemingway is getting the attention of his readers.

The name itself, Jig, would appear to be some sort of nickname, which implies to the readers that the two have been involved in a relationship for some time.  By using a nickname, Hemingway is able to indicate this familiarity and still keep the identities of his two characters vague.

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Where is Jig from in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

In "Hills Like White Elephants," the reader does not learn where Jig is from. The author provides few clues that would help the reader figure out her origin. She is probably from an English-speaking country, perhaps England rather than the United States. She does not seem to be from Spain.

Ernest Hemingway's story is notable for the scarcity of information about the two protagonists, including their exact relationship. While the man is sometimes referred to as the American, no specific country designation is applied to the girl. The reader does not learn the man's name, and the name by which he addresses her, Jig, is probably a nickname or pet name that is uniquely meaningful to them. As a jig is an Irish dance, he may be implying that she is Irish.

The scant clues to the girl's place of origin are primarily related to language and also concerned with culture. The reader may confidently conclude that she is not from Spain, as she does not understand what the waitress is saying. Along the same lines, she is unfamiliar with an advertisement for a Spanish brand of alcohol that the man easily identifies.

English is almost certainly her native language. Jig and the man converse in English, and she seems to be not merely at ease speaking this language but also proud of her facility in creating imagery based on an idiom in English. Her repeated references to the white elephants that the hills remind her of is evidence of this facility on her part. As the idiom had become commonplace decades before the story's setting, her use does not point to her origin in a specific English-speaking country.

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Why is Jig named but not the American in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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.

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In "Hills Like White Elephants," why may Jig have envisioned a white elephant and not the American?

Since a white elephant is a metaphoric expression for something that is a burdensome possession, the question of why the American does not perceive the hills as white elephants while the girl does is, indeed, cogent.  Perhaps, the key to the answer is the fact that the hills like white elephants are in the distance, "across the valley." 

For, it is Jig who perceives beyond the immediacy of the moment. This perception of Jig's is confirmed in the couple's dialogue as the American's myopia is instantly apparent:

"They look like white elephants," she said.

"I've never seen one," the man drank his beer.

"No, you wouldn't have."

Jig thinks intuitively which allows her to sense the long-range effects of any actions that they take.  She, therefore, is the one who understands that all is not as the man says,"perfectly simple." Repeatedly, then, she questions the American, asking if he will be happy and love her if she has the operation, asking also if he will no longer worry,

Intuitively, Jig understands that the operation will become "a white elephant" of memory and experience that can never be gotten rid of. For instance, when the American tells her that if she has the abortion, they can have everything, "We can have the whole world," Jig replies,

"No, we can't.  It isn't ours any more."

"It's ours." [the man]

"No, it isn't.  And once they take it away, you never get it back."

Near the end of the story, in a symbolic gesture, Jig looks back at "the dry side of the valley" while the man merely looks at her.

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In "Hills Like White Elephants," why may Jig have envisioned a white elephant and not the American?

Very few people have ever seen a white elephant. It is highly unlikely that Jig would ever have actually seen one, except perhaps in a picture. A lot of hills look like dead elephants, if you look at them with imagination. The hills in this story look like dead white elephants because of the setting. The climate is so hot and dry that the hills have all become bleached white. Hemingway strongly believed in using description in order to make the reader feel that he is actually present at the scene of the story or novel. "Hills Like White Elephants" presents a vivid picture and "feel" of the setting through description and dialogue. It is a little, insignificant railway station in Spain. The weather is hot, as usual. The land is dry, almost like a desert. The whole picture is framed by the mountains in the background. This is a little incident in the lives of two people. You as a reader are drawn into it and experience the heat, the desolation, and the emotions of both the man and the woman. The feeling is more important than any "meaning." Heminigway once said something to the effect that the "why" is not important, but it is the "what" that is important. He was influenced by Stephen Crane in this respect, as well as by Joseph Conrad. These authors thought the most important task of the writer was to make you feel that you are there.

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In "Hills Like White Elephants," why may Jig have envisioned a white elephant and not the American?

In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” the image of the white elephant functions symbolically rather than literally. Thus we probably should interpret “having seen” a white elephant not necessarily in terms of having been in the physical presence of an albino elephant, but in terms of an inner or spiritual vision.  The most important literary allusion here is to the white elephant seen by the mother of the Buddha while she was pregnant. The American, being male and rational rather than spiritual in unlikely to have seen or understand such a vision. Jig, being female and pregnant, is more likely to understand the religious imagery, especially as it pertains to the baby she is carrying.

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What is Jig's character like in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

"Jig" is the name given to the girl in Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants." The American, her lover, calls her that toward the beginning of the story, but Hemingway refers to her as "the girl." This infantile designation fits with Jig's generally uncertain, insecure, anxious, dependent personality.

Hemingway is notorious for writing passive female characters, and while Jig is more nuanced than many of the author's heroines, she's still dependent on her male lover. She agonizes over whether or not to have an abortion and worries about the state of her relationship with the American. Through her questions and uncertain responses, it's clear that Jig wants to maintain her relationship with the American, but also (at least partially) wants to keep her baby. Unfortunately, she can't do both, and so Jig is clearly agitated, worried, and insecure. Additionally, it's clear that she doesn't regard her own individuality as important, as she defines herself only in the context of her relationships with both the American and her unborn child.

Be that as it may, Jig has a subtly creative, even quirky side. After all, she's the one who imagines the hills "'look like white elephants'" on the story's first page, an imaginative observation that the American quickly scorns. It's clear that Jig possesses a creative depth, and Hemingway also suggests that her relationship with the American (who obsesses over his assertion that he's seen elephants rather than focusing on his partner's creative intelligence) is unfortunately stamping Jig's creativity out of existence. Thus, there's a subtly feminist tone to the story, as it illustrates Jig's character as trapped in an oppressive relationship. All in all, Hemingway manages to pack a lot of intrigue and depth of character into such a short story, especially  when it comes to the creative and deep, but insecure and anxious, Jig. 

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Why is Jig so indecisive in Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants?"  

Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" was published in 1927, and to some degree her indecision reflects the cultural attitudes of the period.

In the story, Jig and a man who is not named sit in a railway station and talk as they are waiting for a train to arrive. It is gradually revealed over the course of their conversation that she is going to have an operation, and then it is revealed that the operation is an abortion. 

As abortion was even more controversial (and scandalous) in 1927 than now; it representes a huge decision for the couple and especially for Jig. While the man is claiming that the decision is Jig's, it is obvious that he would prefer her to have the abortion. She is not entirely sure if she wants the abortion; she might actually prefer to settle down and get married and have a family rather than living the life of a Bohemian traveling around Europe and partying with no real goals. Her pregnancy is causing her to reflect on the meaninglessness of their current lifestyle. The problem she encounters is that the pregnancy has changed her and their relationship, and that even when she tries to carry on as in the past, it doesn't really work:

"You started it," the girl said. "I was being amused. I was having a fine time."

"Well, let's try and have a fine time."

"All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn't that bright?"

"That was bright."

"I wanted to try this new drink. That's all we do, isn't it - look at things and try new drinks?"

"I guess so."

Overall, the reason for her indecisiveness is that the choice to have an abortion is a difficult one, and she is ambivalent not only about the choice of having the abortion but the way that choice has made her reflect on the superficiality and meaninglessness of her current lifestyle.

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From a feminist perspective, what is the meaning of Jig's character in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

In Hemingway's story, "Hills Like White Elephants," Jig finds herself defined and differentiated with reference to her lover.  For while she "just know[s] things," the man presents reasons to her for the "awfully simple operation."  He externalizes their discussion and reduces the abortion to a mechanical process--"They just let the air in and then it's all perfectly natural."  Nor does he recognize Jig's comments such as "once they take it away, you can't get it back," contradicting her, "But they haven't taken it away."

That the man perceives things in the rational here and now and not the intuitive sense of how their lives will be altered as does Jig is evinced in his inability to notice their surroundings.  For instance, when she points to the hills that look like white elephants, he dismisses this observation with a curt, "I've never seen one." He looks up the tracks, "but could not see the train."  But, when he looks at the people, he sees that "[T]hey were all waiting reasonably for the train."

Jig, however, is sitting on the other side of the bead curtain.  She smiles and tells the man, "there's nothing wrong with me.  I feel fine."   With this statement, Jig has broken free of the man's reasonable restrictions upon her.  She now has defined herself, "I feel fine."  From this statement, the suggestion that Jig has broken free from her male-dominated relationship.

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From a feminist perspective, what is the meaning of Jig's character in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Jig is faced with a choice - have an abortion or keep a baby conceived out of wedlock (even though the word abortion is never used, it is clear that this is the crux of the situation. When this piece was published in 1927, women were beginning to have "rights" but the right to an abortion was still not really one of them. In fact, womwn had only been granted the right to vote a mere seven years earlier. Abortions happened, of course, because an unmarried pregnant woman was subject to scorn. But, they happened in silence, and they often ended in death or permanent damage to the women who sought them.English law allowed abortions in the 1920's only when medically needed to protect the mother. In America at the time, abortion was illegal. Yet the man is clearly willing to violate the law to impose his will (to be rid of the baby) on the body of the woman he "owns" by virture of his status as boyfriend.

From a feminist perspective, the aspect of choice is what matters the most in this piece. Does she control her own body? If so, does she have a right to abort a child or, more to the point, to choose to carry that child to term and raise that child with or without the man's involvement. The right for a woman to own her own body is a common theme of feminist literature. Jog clearly is torn, but the American boyfriend seems ti have made the decision for her. He is responsible, at least in part, for the life growing inside of her, yet he wants to decide for her that she will abort the baby. She does not, in society's eyes, own her own life or the life of her baby.

Interestingly enough, abortion was a theme that Hemingway was intrigued by. His six word short story says it all :

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn

While this could mean the baby died, it could also be a child lost to abortion. The woman must make a choice - do as the man tells her to do (and keeping him happy and, presumably, with her in the bargain) or do as she wants and keep the baby. The ability to choose, often taken away from women during this time period, but less so than in prior decades, is a main argument posed by feminist criticism.

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What are Jig's wishes in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Jig's wishes are unclear in this story. She constantly asks her male companion what he wants to do in regard to her pregnancy, and she says, "I don't care about me." Later, however, she seems to want her male companion to care about her pregnancy and to want her baby. She asks him whether her pregnancy means anything to him, and she does not seem satisfied with his explanation that an abortion is a "perfectly simple" operation. She then begs him to be quiet, which implies that she is not satisfied with his answers to her questions. She seems to want to believe him to the effect that she can go through with the operation and return to the way things were between them, but she also seems to doubt his facile assurance that this is the case. In the end, she feels conflicted and seems to have more invested in her decision about what to do with her pregnancy than her companion does.

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