The Girl’s Metamorphosis
In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants,” Jig’s shifting focus on the surrounding landscape and environment, along with her dialogue, signifies her development from a dependent character who embodies traditionally feminine qualities, to a self-sufficient individual with more androgynous traits.
The opposing landscape on either side of the train station in the Ebro river valley represents Jig’s two possible courses of action regarding her pregnancy. One side has white hills and “no shade and no trees,” (273). This side represents the option to abort her unplanned pregnancy. The other side of the valley is lush with plant life and the river, which makes the land so fertile, representing the possibility of going through with the pregnancy. Initially, Jig plays a traditionally feminine role in which she is passive and dependent on the American man she is with. While sitting in the shade outside the station, “The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry,” (273). In looking at the lifeless side of the valley, she is considering having the abortion. When she tells the American that “[The hills] look like white elephants,” he counters, “I’ve never seen one,” (273). While Jig is only being observant and “bright,” the man’s typically masculine hyper-rational response indicates that her observation is somehow irrational and characteristic of women’s overpowering emotions and delusions. The man is quick to dismiss her comparison as incorrect because it is not a reasonable, masculine statement. White elephants are also symbolic of good fortune and prosperity, but have come to be synonymous with something of value that is at the same time burdensome. The pregnancy is doubtlessly a burden on the couple’s relationship, but Jig is still undecided on whether having the baby will doom the relationship as an undue burden, or save them from their hedonistic lifestyle and instill meaning into their aimless existence. The American’s dismissive attitude towards the girl’s feminine irrationality extends to the metaphor of the pregnancy as a luck-bearing white elephant. Though she timidly opposes his dismissal of her musings and broach of the topic, saying, “No, you wouldn’t have,” she quickly ends her protests and suggestion that she may keep the baby when her companion becomes overly defensive (273). When Jig is observing the barren, infertile side of the country, her traditionally feminine passivity, dependence, and appeasement in deference to males is most strongly displayed, signifying that a decision to have the abortion and stay with the American would lead to the least personal growth from a feminine object to an individual.
While Jig’s contemplation of abortion while looking at the lifeless side of the valley is coincides with the introduction of her ultra-submissive feminine persona, when she redirects the conversation to the advertisement for Anis...