What do you think is the secret of a successful relationship? Well I am not an expert dealing with this topic, but it is definitely not dominance and communication breakdown. In this story “Hills Like White Elephants” Ernest Hemingway tries to show the communicational gap between an American guy and a girl named Jig. He is very particular in selection of the setting, characteristics, thought process and the narrator’s point of view. Each part contributes to the story and is equally important.
Ernest Hemingway wrote this story in the early 19’s. in those times women did not have the same position in the society as the women of the present time. Back then women did not have the right to make her own identity, it was either her father’s name or her husband’s name that used to be her identity. She was not allowed to vote back then. Women then had only one work, that was to take care of the family and home. They were not allowed to take decisions but were supposed to follow what their husbands said to do. Back then when the story was written the society was going through many changes. In the story also, the author has shown the dominance and the communication gap between the couple.
In this short story the setting plays an important role and has a lot of significance. The location, the time period, the beliefs of people then as well as the comparison of the physical objects with the real life all has its own role to play. In the story Hemingway writes – “THE HILLS ACROSS THE VALLEY OF THE EBRO were long white. On this side there was no shade and no trees, and the station was between two lines of the rails in the sun “(444).
These opening lines tells the reader about the location. By writing these lines the author tries to depict the whole scenario of the story. The two different sides reflect the two different paths of life. On side shows the beauty of the hills whereas the other side shows the barren lands. The hills side reflected life and its ups and downs whereas the barren land reflected the death.
The American guy and the girl are waiting on a platform, which again shows that some or the other decision needs to be taken as they are standing on a crossroad. The author wrote this story in the 1920s and so the mindset and beliefs of people then and now differ a lot. Abortion was regarded as a great deal in those times unlike now, and that is why it was matter of great concern.
The most important part of any story is the characters. This story revolves around two characters- the American guy and the girl names Jig. The American guy is trying to convince the girl to have the abortion. He directly does not show that he is rigid on her having the abortion. Readers can see in the text that he says that it is up to the girl if she wants to have the abortion or not, but it is not so. He wants the girl to have abortion. The ways he behaves seems like he is not interested in the girl’s point of view. The American guy at a point in the story says- “We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before” (445).
By saying this he is directly asking the girl to have abortion. Other main character is Jig. In the whole story she seems to be confused. She has not made up her mind yet. At one point she herself talks about the operation and at the other point she does not even want to talk about the topic anymore. She knows that her relationship whit the man won’t remain the same as it was before anyway. She says- “No it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back” (446). This line shows that she clearly knows that no matter what ever she decides to do their relationship would be affected any way.
The author has very thoughtfully placed each and every event and sequence of the conversation. All the events are arranged in such a way that it is very depicted in the story when the conflict develops, when is the turning point of the story and the resolution of the conflict. The main conflict in the story is the abortion. The girl is confused whether she really was to do the abortion or not, but the American man is very sure that the girl should go for the abortion.
The turning point of the story comes when the American man says- “I think it is the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to” (445). And to this the girl replies- “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” (445). By saying the above lines, the man creates the turning point of the story. The man who earlier wanted her to do the operation not leaves it up to the girl.
Although he still wants the girl to go for the operation he just directly did not force her to do so. Now this confuses the girl even more. She on one hand wants to save her relationship, and on the other hand she does not want to have the operation. Later in the story there is no such resolution of the conflict shown as they both do not reach to any solution of the problem. They just leave the topic as it is and do not want to talk on it anymore at that time.
Unlike many other stories this story does not have much of narrator’s voice but more of dialogs. But the narrator very clearly shows whatever he wanted to depict oi tog the story. The narrator shows the position of women in the society back then. He tries to show how the women does not speak much but has a lot to say, he tries to show the dominance of men over women and how it is only the women who has to do sacrifices to save the relationship. the very last lines of the story- “I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine”(446). These lines clearly show how much the girl is in stress and still chooses to stay quiet. The narrator successfully leaves the impact on the reader that how the man dominates in the relationship and how the communication gap creates problem in the relationship.
We see in the story that the man tries to convince the girl to have the operation. Where some readers may think that the man is dominating and is not interested in the girl’s pint of view and simply wants the girl to do what he says. While other reader might think that the man is older than the girl and has much more experience of life. And so, whatever he does or say is only for the good of the girl.
As he also says that if she agrees for the operation their relationship will be back to normal again. But it is very clear that the girl is being given the option to choose between. The man did not directly force the girl to go for the operation, but it is very clear when the girl says- “And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?” (445) that the man changes and does not love the girl as he loved earlier.
Hemingway has very beautifully portrayed how the women back then were dominated by men and had to do a lot of sacrifices to save their relationships. He tries to show that communication is very important in any relationship. for a relationship to be successful it is very important that the couple talk to each other and face the problem together. Not talking about the problem or forcing the partner to do what the other wants is not a solution to the problem. It is not only the responsibility of women to save the relationship, the men also have equal responsibilities.
- Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Literature a World of Writing: Stories, Poems, Plays, and Essays, edited by David L. Pike and Ana M. Acosta, 2nd ed., Longman, 2014, pp. 444-446.