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

Possible alternative endings for "Hills Like White Elephants."

Summary:

Possible alternative endings for "Hills Like White Elephants" could include the couple deciding to stay together and raise the child, or perhaps the woman choosing to leave the man and keep the baby on her own. Another ending might have them going through with the abortion but facing the emotional consequences together or separately.

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What solution can be suggested for the problem in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The proper solution for the problem would be for the two people to get married and have the baby. Evidently they are not married at the time of the story. The man is selfish and afraid of giving up his freedom and taking on the responsibility of supporting a wife and child. This sort of selfishness is not at all uncommon among males. There is a similar situation in Theodore Dreiser's great novel AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY which the hero tries to resolve by committing a murder. There is another similar situation in William Faulkner's THE WILD PALMS.

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What solution can be suggested for the problem in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" ends ambiguously with the young couple's train arriving and with little indication of what decision about Jig's pregnancy will be made.  Nevertheless, there are some inferences that the reader can make based upon the dialogue between the man and Jig. 

Interestingly, since Hemingway does not give the male partner a name, this action seems to dispose the reader to regarding Jig's feelings more sympathetically. In addition, since the man does not have to be the one to undergo the "simple" operation, it is easy for him to suggest the abortion and feel that everything can be the same if Jig will go through with it.  His remark near the end of the story as he observes people in the bar, "They were all waiting reasonably for the train," implies that to him Jig is unreasonable about the simple solution of their problem of "the only thing that bothers" them.  Clearly, then, the man's perspective is selfish throughout the dialogue. So, the only solution to his relationship with Jig is for him to have her full attention and love; a baby will interfere with their carefree life.

However, it appears fairly evident that Jig is not really in favor of having an abortion. She asks the man dubiously, "And you think then we'll be all right and be happy...and things will be like they were and you'll love me?"  And, as their converstion about the abortion continues, Jig becomes more and more upset until she finally asks the man seven times, the number representing completion,

"Would you please please please plese please please please stop talking?"

Key to understanding the difference between their perspectives is the Jig's statement "We could have everything" and his reply, "We can have everything."   While she means that they will be able to still have their love for each other as well as their love for a baby, the man's statement implies otherwise.  For, he means that without a child they can maintain their carefree life of travel, dining and drinking, etc. By his use of the present tense of can, he implies that they must not change their way of life.  On the other hand, Jig's use of the conditional tense, could, carries their life to a possible next stage.

Therefore, there seems no solution to their dilemma.  Like the symbolic setting that is divided by "two lines of rail," one fertile ground with fields of grain and trees, the other with white hills and land that is brown and dry, Jig and the man are divided in their ideas. Thus, the "shadow of a cloud" that moves across the field of grain seems to foreshadow the disintegration of their relationship. 

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What solution can be suggested for the problem in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Assuming that you mean what solution could the characters come to to solve their conflict in the story, possible solutions might be different depending on the point of view of the two characters involved.  From Jig's perspective, her conflict with the American might be solved by either conforming to his desire to abort their child or to follow her heart and realize that the American is not the man whom she thought he was and that she needs to live her life with her child and without the American.  However, from the American's perspective, the conflict might be solved by having Jig abort the child and revert to her frame of mind before the existence of the unborn child.  The story suggests that the solution is that Jig leaves the American--she does not seem to want to follow his will and he does not want what he sees as the burden of a family.

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How would you rewrite the ending of "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The ending of Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is a bit ambiguous. While it is implied that the couple’s conflict was resolved, it is open for interpretation and thus one could rewrite it from several perspectives.

The couple in the story is having a restrained, yet tense, debate about whether or not the woman should have an operation. The operation is implied to be an abortion, which alerts the reader to the ways other elements in the story symbolizes the contrast between fertility and barrenness. For example, consider how the train station has two sides. One side is in the sun and is closer to fields of grain and the mountains. The other side is the one that the couple takes the train on and is separate from this lush area. This suggests that the couple decides to go through with the abortion at the end of their story.

However, one could rewrite the story to suggest that the couple decides to keep the child. For example, one could write that the couple decides to stay in this town or go another direction and cross the station toward the side that is full of life and sun. It is important to note, though, that this story is reflective of Hemingway’s modernist style. A lot of his writing featured couples who seem to be struggling with their relationship, who drink a great deal, and who seem to have lost a sense of zest for life. He did this because he saw a loss of hope for young generations of couples after World War I. Rewriting the ending of this story to make it more optimistic would thus mark a departure from Hemingway’s style.

One could also rewrite an interesting ending while keeping up with Hemingway’s bleak depiction of the modern world. For example, consider how the girl says “I’ll scream” and then right after the woman at the station says the train is coming. Consider what might have happened if the woman had not walked in. Up until this point the American man has not respected the girl’s requests for him to stop talking, so it is likely he may have kept talking.

While the girl might have screamed, she also seems to care a lot about how the American man feels about her, and she might not have wanted to embarrass him. It would be interesting to explore an ending in which the conversation continued because it would allow the reader more insight into the couple’s relationship. This insight would have enhanced the story’s exploration into the troubled state of modern relations.

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Write a story about "Hills Like White Elephants" after the original story ended.

This is a really interesting assignment. The way you write it depends on what you think Jig, the protagonist, will do after she gets on the train for Madrid. At the end of the story, it is unclear whether she will get an abortion or not, in spite of the fact that her boyfriend seems to be urging her to do so. She has reservations about the subject, but she seems to be leaning in that direction.

When you write the story, you can write the conclusion to this question. Will Jig get an abortion or not? If she does, how will she feel about it? Will she be able to continue in a relationship with her boyfriend? If she does not get an abortion and has the baby, will her boyfriend stand by her? How will she raise the baby? You can go in a lot of interesting directions with this story.

Be sure to stay true to Jig's personality, which is conflicted and self-effacing (she tells her boyfriend that she does not care about herself). Has she grown as a character since the end of the original story? If so, explain in which ways (for example, has she become more self-assertive?).

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How can the ending of "Hills Like White Elephants" be rewritten from the woman's perspective?

If you want to rewrite this story with a point of view sympathetic to the woman's perspective, you might use one of two methods. You might write it in first person with Jig speaking and narrating or you might write it in limited third person with the focalization focused on Jig.

One note first, while it is sometimes said that Hemingway writes this story from a limited third person point of view focalized through the man's perspective, a close reading reveals that Hemingway writes from the point of view of an omniscient narrator

'I realize,’ the girl said. ‘Can’t we maybe stop talking?’
They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.
‘You’ve got to realize,’ he said, ‘ that I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to.

This omniscient narrator objectively reports equally about the woman and the man, while periodically focalizing through one or the other. In addition, this omniscient narrator reports only words and actions; no thoughts, feelings, or motivations are reported. It is in part this restriction to reporting only words and actions that may make it appear that the narrator is limited third person focalizing through the man.

To rewrite the ending from Jig's point of view, you will need to focus on the woman and stay with her instead of following the man to the other side of the station. Instead of going with the man into the "bar-room," where he drinks another Anis alone (probably without water), and examines the others waiting "reasonably for the train," you will stay out of doors with Jig and report whatever she does or says. She watches him walk away. Does she stay in her chair? Does she sob silently, then repress tears? Does she walk again to the end of the station and contemplate the scenic flow of the Ebro? Does she hurry back to her seat when she thinks he might be approaching? Does she remain seated the whole time?

You can tell it as first person, for example: "I watched him go round the corner of the station. I sat where I was and looked at the empty train tracks. ... I smiled at him. He asked me, "Do you feel better?"

Or you can tell it as limited third person, for example: "She looked away as he picked up the bags covered with travel labels. The white hills caught the sun. ... He asked, "Do you feel better?"

ENDING
The woman came out through the curtains with two glasses of beer and put them down on the damp felt pads. ‘The train comes in five minutes,’ she said.
‘What did she say?’ asked the girl.
‘That the train is coming in five minutes.’
The girl smiled brightly at the woman, to thank her.
‘I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,’ the man said. She smiled at him.
‘All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.’
He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.
‘Do you feel better?’ he asked.
‘I feel fine,’ she said. ‘There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.’

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