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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What are some examples of argumentative themes in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I wanted to argue that The American is only concerned with his own best interest but I'm having trouble finding sufficient evidence to support this claim for my argumentative essay.

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Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" seems to be about a man who wants his girlfriend to get an abortion, but she does not want to. He tries to convince her that they should have an abortion, and she still refuses. Here is a quick summary of the story: A man and a girl are sitting at a table drinking beer at a train station in Spain. They are waiting for the man's friend, who has gone on ahead to book them tickets for their trip back to America. The girl is pregnant and does not want the baby because it would ruin her figure and her future marriage plans. The man wants her to have an abortion and she disagrees with him because he doesn'

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Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" is quite an elusive and challenging story; however, arguments can be made about the American's intentions. it's just a matter of reading between the lines. In stories as in real life, people do not always say what they mean. Conversations can be packed with subtext, themes, and feelings unsaid.

There may not be any lines spelling out the American's selfishness, but when one examines his behavior regarding Jig's pregnancy, this argument can be made. Jig mentions that all they do is travel and try new drinks, suggesting their relationship is becoming shallow and dull. She is reluctant to have an abortion because perhaps a part of her does want to have a baby and for their relationship to get serious.

The American's evasive manner and insistence on going back to the way things were suggest he is only acting in his own interests. He does not care about what Jig really wants and it could be said he is trying to convince her that deep down she agrees with him just so it will seem as though Jig made the decision herself. Look closely at what these two are saying to one another and think of what each character wants, why they would make the arguments they do. While your answer might be one interpretation among many, it is still valid so long as you can pull enough textual evidence to support your claims.

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Hemingway's excellent "Hills Like White Elephants" examines a young couple who weighs the possibility of getting an abortion. The two characters, the American and the girl, discuss the topic indirectly, which corresponds with Hemingway's iceberg theory.

Your argued topic that the American is simply looking out for his own interests is a strong one—why not pursue that? Keep in mind that in much of Hemingway's work, the reader needs to do some digging in order to fully understand what's happening.

For one thing, something to start your argument is the fact that the American is the one to start the abortion conversation. When she initially disapproves of the idea, he continues to attempt to convince her. "I know you wouldn't mind it . . . I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time."

Meanwhile, the girl seems concerned about the safety of the procedure itself, and she also seems concerned about what will happen after. Seemingly happy with the man, she questions if things will be okay again. She questions whether or not an abortion will actually help their unhappiness, but the American continues to convince her.

Later, she seems convinced to have the procedure, "I'll do it. Because I don't care about me." Why would she say something like that? It's likely because she knows he is the one who truly wants the abortion to happen. When crafting your argument, pay attention to the American's passivity in convincing her. He doesn't demand her to do so, he's simply trying, likely out of guilt, to make the decision on what seems like her own terms. He's likely attempting to convince her to do so in order to save himself the trouble of raising a child. He never truly asks her what she thinks, but convinces her to receive the procedure.

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An argumentative essay on a piece of fiction can often be approached by making a case for your interpretation or reading of the story. So, your interpretation of any of the following, for instance, could be the basis for your argument:

  • Hemingway lends urgency to the situation between Jig and the man by setting the story in a train station. The approaching deadline to get aboard the train mirrors the deadline that Jig faces on whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. Sooner or later she will have to literally and metaphorically decide whether or not to "get on board."
  • A "white elephant" is, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary,
    "a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit/an object no longer of value to its owner but of value to others/something of little or no value." Make a claim as to which definition, if any, Hemingway seems to imply in the conversation between Jig and the man.
  • Using key pieces of dialogue, make a case for who has the upper hand in this discursive exchange.
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There can be many argumentative prompts to come out of the work.  One significant one would be whether Hemingway's construction is in favor of women's predicaments, against it, or refuses to give an answer to it.  The central idea concerns the procedure for an abortion to which the woman displays resistance, but the man displays support.  Is Hemingway trying to articulate the condition of women as one that needs to be changed or is he content with what is there in terms of the dynamic between women and men?  At the same time, I think that an argument can be made that Hemingway might be trying to construct a situation as it is, outside of the realm of judgments and assertions.  What makes his short story so phenomenal is that it seeks to be a perfect recreation of what is as opposed to what should be, what might be due to bias, or what can only be through human contingency.  The question that we are left with which to wrestle is that if art does this, if art is able to render a perfect vision of what is, does it actually embrace what is as opposed to seeking to change what is into what should be?  At what point does art stop being a mirror and begin being a looking glass?  At what point is this desirable or undesirable?  I think that Hemingway forces all of these questions out of this short story.

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