No Good Answers
There are few issues for writers of prose, poetry, or lyrics more controversial than abortion. It inflames most who read it, and the issue can seldom be resolved without animosity. Ernest Hemingway and the Ben Folds / Darren Jessee songwriting duo circumvent this problem by not actually letting the audience know the final outcome. That decision is left to the individual reader or listener.
Ernest Hemingway tackles this risky subject in his1927 short story “Hills like White Elephants.” The story revolves around a dialogue between lovers waiting for a train. Throughout the conversation, they discuss the merits and pitfalls of an “awfully simple operation… just to let the air in” (840).
In the Folds / Jessee song “Brick,” a young man chronicles his journey with his girlfriend to what is presumed to be an abortion clinic. It is the day after Christmas and the girl’s parents have gone out of town. “They’re not home to find us out / And we drive.” In the days and weeks following, the girl appears to become more and more distraught until they are forced to confess.
Although neither of these works mentions the word abortion, each gives clues as to the subject being addressed. Both sets of couples seem somewhat resigned to having the abortion, but the discussion is still on the table.
In “Hills,” the arguing couple repeatedly mentions the “simple operation” (840). The American remarks that he has, “known lots of people that have done it” (840). Jig comments, “So have I,” but goes on to say, “And afterward they were all so happy.” (840). This statement seems tinged with irony. The American continues to insist how “very simple” and “perfectly natural” it all is (840). Jig, however, appears much more hesitant and frightened. She tells the American, “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” (840).
Like Jig, the young girl in “Brick” seems extremely distraught by her situation. Her boyfriend walks in to find her “balled up on the couch” (8). He too is extremely moved by all of this. At one point he cries, “Can’t you see / It’s not me you’re dying for?” (22, 23). These young people are pulling apart from each other at a time they should be coming together for comfort and support. A wall is being built between them that may prove impossible to break down. This is precisely what Jig fears will happen with her and the American. These are some of the effects these unplanned pregnancies and impending abortions will have on their relationships.
Jig and the...