Themes and message

Faulty communication

The text of the story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway is mainly comprised of a conversation between an American man and the girl he is with. Though they converse, neither of them seems to be able to clearly convey their messages. In other words, they talk but they do not truly communicate. Almost from the start we realise that the commentaries Jig makes about the hills might be about something else. However, the man seems ignorant of this:

‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.
‘I’ve never seen one,’ the man drank his beer.
‘No, you wouldn’t have.’
‘I might have,’ the man said. ‘Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.’ (p. 475, ll.19-23)

While the man tries to keep calm and uses light phrases and references to love to convince the woman to have an abortion, it is clear that he is trying to persuade and manipulate her. He tries to avoid to openly say that he does not want a child. He also claims that he will accept her decision if she makes up her mind not to have the abortion. However, all of his other statements suggest that the abortion is the only real option for him:

‘Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.’
‘Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.’ (p. 477-478, l. 50, ll. 1-2)

Jig is also ambiguous and evasive in her statements. Her words indicate contempt, yet she also struggles to please the man: “ ‘And if I do it you’ll be happy and things will be like they were and you’ll love me?’ ” (p. 476, ll. 7-8) This shows he has conflicting feelings about the situation and the American’s attitu...

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