The short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway is about an American man and a girl who goes by Jig. The two are waiting in a train station between Barcelona and Madrid. As the couple waits, they go and get some drinks while they designate an important decision; whether or not they should get an abortion. In the story an ‘abortion’ is never mentioned directly so it allows the readers thoughts to linger on symbolism. Courage is a theme that is revealed in the story through the two devices irony and symbolism.
Jig is the courageous one in the story, not because she is pregnant with the child because she seems willing to keep it, thinking it will bring joy to her typical life. The literary device of irony reinforces the theme of courage. Jig shows courage since she openly speaks of what she feels about her supposedly shallow relationship with the American, “I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do isn’t it- look at things and try new drinks? ”(2) Throughout the conversation, the American is continuously trying to convince Jig to get the operation and repeatedly says how simple it is, “If you don’t want to you don’t have to.
I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s pretty simple. ”(3) Even though the American is telling the girl that he does not want to control her against her own will, it’s obvious that all he wants is for her to get the abortion more than anything, “I think it’s the best thing to do. But I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to. ”(3) In other words, the American is selfish and is a coward since he clears out that he does not want anyone else in the relationship, “But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. (5) This displays verbal irony because the American says one thing but actually means another. He displays some courage because he is determined to get what would provide him benefit. Of course, the girl is eventually willing to abort. As she is willing to do it, she starts drinking like she never has before and becomes easy to manipulate. Perhaps it is also because of feminism where the male makes all the decisions. The literary device of symbolism reinforces the theme of courage. In the story an abortion is never mentioned directly, so it allows the readers thoughts to linger on symbolism.
The hills like white elephants symbolize the unwanted child because when Jig says that the hills look like white elephants, the American seems to dislike the topic and cuts through, “They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the trees. ”(2) Right after Jig says this the American changes the topic almost immediately, “Should we have another drink? ”(2) Jig seems as though she loves the man and wants to keep the relationship going and assumes he will not stay if she does not do the operation.
The two lines of rails between the hills also symbolize something. Each rail symbolizes each of them and because the two rails are the same, it shows the direction of the choice they are about to decide upon. The theme of courage is significant in Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” displayed by irony and symbolism. The American controls Jig’s decisions by acting as if he cares about what she wants in the situation. Because of his selfishness he manipulates her to think he truly does, which is ironic.
Forms of symbolism are in the story as well. The hills like white elephants symbolize the baby that the American wants to get rid of, but what Jig desires to keep. Jig likes speaking of the white hills, but the American avoids the topic just like the child. Jig makes her decision to abort the child, supposedly because she wants her relationship to carry on. The two rails between the hills in which are pointing in the same direction represent the two’s discussion leading up their final decision, the abortion.