Faced with a Choice
In Ernest Hemingways story, Hills Like White Elephants, Jig is faced with a difficult decision of having an abortion or not. In 1927 the right to have an abortion was still a very touchy subject, even though women were finally beginning to have rights. Abortions did happen though. Back alley abortions were common, they were abortions done in run down clinics, by people that werent even licensed Dr.s, some women even took it upon themselves to give themselves an abortion (like with a coat hanger). The women who often had an abortion ended up dying and the lucky ones that survived usually ended up with permanent damage to their inside. Some laws, in the 1920s, only allowed abortion when it was medically necessary to protect the mother, but it was illegal in America. The American seems to not even care that what he wants Jig to do, to abort the baby, breaks the law.
Jig finds herself trapped and with limited choices. The American tells her over and over that its an awfully simple operation (Hemingway, E., 1927, para. 42). He makes an abortion sound like a mechanical process, They just let the air in and then its all perfectly natural (para. 46). As if to say, its as easy as opening a window. He seems to not really listen or try to understand Jig. When Jig makes the comment, And once they take it away, you never get it back (para. 81) he contradicts her by saying, But they havent taken it away (para. 82).
The American seems to only care about himself and his future, traveling and being free. He looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights (para. 99). He doesnt seem to take the time or even care to see what is in front or around him. Jig on the other hand sees the here and now. She doesnt seem to give the future much thought. When she comments on the hills that look like white elephants, he dismisses this observation, Ive never seen one (para. 10). At the end of the story He looked up the tracks but could not see the train (para. 108). Again it shows that hes looking in the future. When he walks through the barroom and looks at the people he notices, They were all waiting reasonably for the train (para. 108). While the people in the bar dont seem to be concerned with what the future holds, it seems the American is so worried about his future that hes being unreasonable to Jig by not asking her what she wants.
When he goes out of the barroom through the bead curtain, Jig is sitting at the table smiling at him. When he asks if she feels better she replies, Theres nothing wrong with me. I feel fine (para. 110). This statement seems to imply that there is nothing wrong with her but with the American. Jig seems to no longer care what her boyfriend says and thinks. She will do what she thinks is best for her. She has now come to a decision, I feel fine (para. 110).
The fact that they are faced with this choice is the most important part of the story. Does she keep the baby without the Americans approval and help? Or does she abort the child and stay with him Just like we were before (para. 48)? The women in feminist literature usually play the opposite of what society deems the norm. They want to make their own decision and are ready to prove they can deal with the outcome of their decisions and actions. The American has decided to call the shots and make the decisions for Jig. Jig on the other hand seems to be trying to stand on her own two feet and be dependent.
Hemingway, E. (2011). Hills like white elephants. In D.L. Pike and A.M. Acosta's (Eds.) Literature: A world of writing stories, poems, plays, and essays [VitalSource digital version] (pp. 444-445). Boston, MA: Pearson Learning Solutions