Note: This post is part of The Hemingway Collection, an archive of essays, images, and hyperlinks to interesting articles about the great American author.
An essay on “Hills Like White Elephants” by Genia Stevens
Ernest Hemingway’s short story, “Hills Like White Elephants,” ends with a blanket statement:
“Do you feel better?” he asked.
“I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”
If the reader places an emphasis on the word “I” in that statement, he or she will conclude that Jig believes the American has a problem of some sort. If the reader places an emphasis on the word “fine” in the same statement, he or she will conclude that Jig is concerned about her own physical well-being. I believe that Jig’s repeated use of blanket or sarcastic remarks shows that she cannot clearly state what she thinks to the American.
Part of the conversation between Jig and the American is about licorice and its familiar taste–at least that is what the reader initially believes. Upon closer examination, the reader has to ask, is this really about licorice?:
“That’s the way with everything.”
“Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”
When the girl echos the word “everything,” the reader is suddenly aware that licorice is not the topic of discussion and neither is absinthe. Again, Jig does not say exactly what is on her mind. Instead, she hints about her frustration by mocking the American and using his word in her response.
Another section of the conversation illustrates Jig’s frustration toward the American. Here, the two people discuss trying a new drink:
“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?”
The word “all” catches the reader’s attention. Jig uses the word “all” in her response in a desperate attempt to show that she is bored of a life that consists of nothing but alcohol, hotels and looking at things. She uses this word in the same way we use the word “all” to play down the significance of an issue: Is that all you wanted?
The two people briefly discuss their future. By now, the American’s attitude about the unborn child obviously annoys Jig. She shows her annoyance when she says, “And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy?” The reader can almost hear the sarcasm and see Jig rolling her eyes toward the sky. The American is completely oblivious to the meaning of that question, tosses the subject of their future aside and continues to discuss the operation.
Jig is aware that her words are not making much of an impression on the American’s views so she resorts to a bit of emotional blackmail and sarcasm to attempt to get her point across:
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t care about me.”
“Well, I care about you.”
“Oh, yes. But I don’t care about me. And I’ll do it and then everything will be fine.”
This passage shows Jig knows how to play the game with the best of them. She is tugging at the American’s sympathy strings and playing him like a fiddle. This is the first time the American comes close to realizing what Jig is going through. But the American is still clueless. We know this because a little while later in the conversation he attempts to make her understand that the operation is “perfectly simple.” Jig’s brief moment of triumph is quickly dissolved.
By the end of the story, I am certain that Jig will go through with the abortion. Her inability to communicate her feelings to the American leaves her frustrated and beaten. This is evident when she says to him, “I’ll scream.” Jig realizes that the American is too preoccupied with his own feelings to care at all about hers.
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