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

The outcome and impact of the couple's actions in "Hills Like White Elephants"


The couple's actions in "Hills Like White Elephants" lead to unresolved tension and ambiguity in their relationship. Their conversation about an implied abortion reveals their differing perspectives and lack of communication, ultimately leaving their future uncertain. The story highlights the complexities of personal choices and the impact of societal pressures on intimate relationships.

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What happens at the end of "Hills Like White Elephants"?

To be able to understand the ending of the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, it is important to grasp the relationship between the two main characters and the style that the author uses as he tells the story.

Ostensibly not much happens in the story. A man and a young woman, whose nickname is Jig, are waiting at a small station in the Ebro Valley in Spain for a train to Madrid. As they wait, they order drinks and talk together. In the course of the conversation, it becomes clear to readers that there is great tension in their relationship. It is not directly stated, but the dialog implies that they are going to the city so that Jig can get an abortion. Although the man says that Jig doesn't have to do it if she doesn't want to, he is pushing for her to do it, emphasizing that it is a simple procedure. Jig is more indecisive. She is concerned that if she goes through with it, things won't be the same between them as they were before.

In this story, Hemingway uses the lean, stripped-down prose that became associated with him. Hemingway referred to it as the "iceberg theory" because, like an iceberg in the water, most of the story is concealed beneath the surface. In "Hills Like White Elephants," the only action that takes place is a man and a woman having a conversation, but beneath the surface there is significant emotional turmoil.

The story ends just before the train arrives. The man asks the woman if she feels better, and she replies that she feels fine. Hemingway intended this ending to be ambiguous, and readers are left to choose from several possible alternatives as to what happens next. In one scenario, the woman refuses to go through with the abortion. If she does, the couple may stay together, or they may split up. In another scenario, she goes ahead with the abortion, the couple stays together, and they continue traveling and having an affair as before. Alternatively, she has the abortion, but the emotional toll on her causes her to split up with the man, and they each go their separate ways. Hemingway does not give enough details to point conclusively to one of these possible outcomes; he leaves it up to readers to decide.

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What is the outcome of the couple's actions in "Hills Like White Elephants", and who is most affected?

It is clear that it is Jig who is affected much more than the American. Of course, the limited role of the narrator in this excellent short story means that we as readers have to infer a lot into the text to work out what is actually going on and the state of the relationship between these two characters. However, when we consider the repeated way that the American brings up the topic, until Jig has to threaten screaming to shut him up, we can see how he is oppressing her psychologically and mentally and manipulating her into doing what he wants, in spite of his protestations otherwise.

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What is the outcome of the couple's actions in "Hills Like White Elephants", and who is most affected?

Hemingway purposely leaves the final decision the characters make open to interpretation. However, he also gives clues about on result. During their conversation, it becomes apparent that Jig wants to have the baby and the American does not.He tells her the abortion is "really an awfully simple operation, Jig. . . . It’s not really an operation at all.’’At this time abortion was not legal and some women died of the procedure. This shows the American's insensitivity. She longs to settle down after a nomadic life going from town to town. When she says that they “could have everything,” the man agrees. But for Jig, “everything” seems to include the baby. For the American, it means carefree life without the baby. The American wants things to stay the same as they have been. Jig realizes that things will never be the same. Since the woman is more perceptive about the truth of the situation, she seems to be affected the most. In fact, her frustration is uttered when she yells, “Will you please please please please please please please stop talking?” She knows that they have exhausted all the possibilities that talk can solve and they both want different things. It will be up to her to make the final decision.

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