Conflict in Hills Like White Elephants

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The literary device of conflict was crucial in developing the plot of this work. The author takes a dispassionate third-person conflict and describes it in stark terms when discussing it. The book is based on the discussion between the man and the girl; hence, it is clear that the issue is a source of conflict for them (Fletcher, 1980). This is a contentious issue in the society that the story is set. Hemingway does not directly mention abortion, but he makes it quite clear that when the girl has “the operation,” he means she is having an abortion (Hemingway, 1956). The man has the girl convinced that the kid is the source of all their problems and unhappiness, and she is an easy mark for his persuasion (Hemingway, 1956). At first, she believes her feelings for him are genuine, but she quickly discovers that her feelings are misplaced; he does not care about her or the baby she is carrying at all, and he is willing to go to great lengths to get rid of her. Despite the influence from different quarters, the decision to abort lies on the girl hence the most significant conflict is within herself.

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Levels of Conflict

Jig v. Herself Conflict

Uniquely, Hills Like White Elephants alludes to the individual’s struggle against nature or Jig against herself. By analyzing the story’s literary features, the reader can see how she avoided dealing with the problem at hand by staring off into the distance in the vain hope that her carefree disposition would eventually return (Hemingway, 1956). She does not want to give in to the surgery since, at her core, she is a kind person. Moreover, once it is taken away, it has gone forever (Hemingway, 1956). Despite the line’s central theme of total victory being achieved. The difficulty of her situation is reflected in the meaning of her quote. Concerned, with good reason, that she might make the wrong choice for her good, she has to be heard out. This is what the girl has to say “Oh yes. But I don’t care about me. And I will do it, and then everything will be fine.” (Hemingway, 1956). Her unhealthy emotional investment in the American male is on full display here; she is paralyzed by the worry that if she makes a different choice, things will never return to the way they were. Jig did not appear to have made up her mind. She is realistic enough to know that her relationship with the American boy will change no matter what. She finds herself having to worry not only about the abortion but also about the consequences of her choice in her relationship (Hashmi, 2003). Considering these factors makes the decision very difficult for the girl, but the conflict is beyond this level.

Man v. Jig

Hills Like White Elephants introduces readers to an American and a girl named Jig, who are on their route to Madrid in Ernest Hemingway’s novel (Hemingway, 1956). They had a few beers and talked for a while when the man brought up the abortion that Jig would have to go through. Jig quickly shuts down, making it apparent that she does not want to discuss the issue (Hemingway, 1956). As a result, the reader is thrust into the story’s central struggle, as they must rely on their inferences and the story’s context to piece together the truth. There is no mistaking the American man and Jig’s tense relationship, especially when discussing Jig’s abortion. “They just let the air in, and then it’s all perfectly natural.” (Hemingway, 1956), the American explains. This hints at the kind of treatment Jig will undergo. In all likelihood, Jig was on her way to Madrid for an abortion. From her reaction when the subject was brought up, it was clear that she was torn: “the girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.” (Hemingway, 1956). The Jig would rather not discuss the operation, but the American insists on doing so. In essence, there is tension between the American man and Jig. He is insistent that she has the operation, but she is hesitant. He wants to keep traveling with her, but she knows their relationship will be complicated no matter what she decides. After telling him to shut up, she leaves the room to reduce their tension.

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Society v. Man Conflict

Even in modern society, when abortion is legal, it is a contentious issue. In the United States, where it was permitted in the 1970s, it is still a source of disagreement, particularly during elections, when individuals on both sides of the aisle debate what legalizing it implies for society. With this in mind, it is possible to understand the situation the man and Jig faced with their decisions (Rankin, 2005). They had to consider that abortion was morally reprehensible at any time, especially in the 1920s, when abortion was illegal in the United States and many other countries. This issue was likely to attract much negativity from people who would know that the girl had been aborted. This includes their close family members who, given the time the story is set, are likely to be conservatives and, therefore, against the procedure. They may have friends or acquaintances who have made a similar choice and appear happy, but many people will still view it as a tremendous risk. As such, the man and the girl find that they are conflicting with society as they discuss this issue and have to decide what they can live with (Hemingway, 1956). If they choose to go ahead with the abortion, they must be willing to deal with the negativity it will attract.

Conclusion

Conflict is the central theme of this story by Hemingway. The author uses strong language to discuss the disagreement from a neutral third-person perspective. As was previously said, this narrative has three tiers of conflict. The title Hills Like White Elephants is a subtle reference to Jig’s internal conflict as she fights against her nature. Further, the American man and Jig have been having a difficult time getting along. She is apprehensive about getting the operation, despite his insistence. Lastly, the thoughts of the American man and Jig are ethically repulsive at any time, especially in the 1920s, when abortion was outlawed in the United States and many other nations. The girl must make the ultimate choice, making the internal conflict she experiences the most significant.

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  1. Fletcher, M. D. (1980). Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants. The Explicator, 38(4), 16–18. https://doi.org/10.1080/00144940.1980.9939340
  2. Hashmi, N. (2003). “Hills like White Elephants”: The jilting of Jig. The Hemingway Review, 23(1), 72–83. https://doi.org/10.1353/hem.2004.0009
  3. Hemingway, E. (1956). Hills like White Elephants. The Story and Its Writer, 6.
  4. Rankin, P. (2005). Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants. The Explicator, 63(4), 234–237. https://doi.org/10.1080/00144940509596952
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