Hills Like White Elephants, perhaps one of Hemingway most haunting short stories, still serves as a reminder and warning of what dehumidifying essentially human issues can cost. A master of both the short story and the novel form, Hemingway is at his best in Hills Like White Elephants. Most notably, his use of a third person narrative compels the reader to retain his/her objectivity in the scene that unfolds, but at the same time leaves the reader with a greater theme of loss of meaning (both on a universal level and a personal level).
Typically, the use of third person narrative is the young writer’s best friend, granting a fairly large leeway for inserting information. What Hemingway has done, however, is to allude to information that the two characters already possess and don’t discuss. Thus, the two characters speak about the same topic, but from different perspectives, using a type of language that makes perfect sense to them, but most likely not to anyone else. However, the overall tone and mood of the piece alludes to the true object of the discussion.
As the story unfolds, it is quite clear that they are speaking about an abortion. The woman, who the reader only knows by the name of Gig is uncertain about the operation, and the man, whose name we never learn, is determined to convince her that having an abortion is no big deal. It is an interesting fact that a woman’s name is Gig. There can be thought to be several symbolic connotations in this name, primarily the contrast to the happy little dance called the Gig and the fact that she is anything but happy.
Also, there is the phrase, “The Gig is up” meaning that she is facing a turning point in her life and knows that she will have to make a very great decision soon. Suddenly, she realizes that all of her fun and frivolity has come at a price and that the modern world as she has known it’s a vast moral wasteland. It is always called an operation, ‘letting a little air in’ and such. Also, as if it were a shameful act, the word pregnancy is never mentioned either. The fact is alluded to in the form of Elephants, a degradation toward the very pregnant female looking like a large elephant.
The term white is also a slur since no one wants a White elephant. ‘ Usually, when one gets a white elephant fit, it is seen as something that is of little worth. However, the man wants to be absolved of any emotional fallout. To him there is no emotional component whatsoever. The fact that he does not view the baby as being a live human being, let alone his flesh and blood, does not enter into his thought processes. This is evident when he states: “I’ll go with you and I’ll stay with you all the time”.
They Just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural”(Hemingway). Her last line is the culmination of this internal depression as she says, “l feel fine. It is clear that she doesn’t feel fine. In fact, this statement leaves the reader even more in the dark. It would seem that Gig is either stating that she has made up her mind and that she has concluded that the one who is not fine is her partner (which from the earlier statements doesn’t seem likely), or she has decided to go along with his wishes because she knows that in the end, she is going to lose the battle anyway.
Since this is kept in the third person, and little detail is given, the reader is kept from making a personal connection with the characters. Gig is named, but the man is not. This adds to the feeling of superficiality and shallowness. Universally, then, the theme of loss on a personal level is summed up by Jig’s decision that life was more than parties and drinks and traveling. Responsibility has caught up with Gig, but not so for a man. Hemmingway is Juxtaposing two people who have come to a crossroad.
One has grown up and realized the loss of a carefree youth; the other has suffered a loss of soul, though he doesn’t even realize it. Hemingway may very well be saying that life is somewhere in between the two divergent entities. On the surface, Hills Like White Elephants” is Just a story of a an and a woman drinking, having a boring conversation, and waiting for a train, but underneath there is a seething current of tension and unspoken fears and desires.
By the end of the story, the chasm between them has become irrevocable. The reader has the sense that the underlying and unexpressed tension is slowly driving both, but especially the girl, insane. American’s repetitions of the words happy and simple seem ineffectual, and it becomes clear when he moves his baggage away from the girl, what they have decided.