Letting the Air In: Abortion

Here the man also implicitly suggests that perhaps he has not always just been out for himself or for a good time and that he instead has learned from life itself that it is a mistake to accept an unwanted “white elephants” into ones life. Next when they order two more drinks (Anis del Toro with water this time) the woman notices how “Everything tastes of liquorice [sic] [bittersweet]. Especially all the things youve waited so long for . . .” (Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”) meaning that she herself has longed for this pregnancy, but that the pregnancy also now has a disappointing, not-quite-sweet aspect to it.

A short while later, the man next says, still trying to convince the woman of his own logic for [from his perspective] both their sakes: “Thats the only thing that bothers us. its the only thing thats made us unhappy.” But the woman clearly disagrees with this logic, telling him instead that they could still do everything they do now, anyway, while for his part the man keeps insisting they in fact could not:

“We can have the whole world.”

“No, we cant.”

“We can go everywhere.”

“No, we cant. It isnt ours any more.” (Hemingway, “Hills Like White

Elephants”)

This is similar, arguably even in the symbolic and metaphorical way the couple talks around the matter, to how any couple either yesterday or today might discuss this same issue of a womans having an abortion: the person not wanting the abortion says that not to have it would not change life all that much; while the person who favors the abortion expresses certainty that indeed it would change everything about their own future opportunities and freedom. The womans next, most straightforwardly of all within the story declares that “once they take it away, you never get it back” (Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”). This extends again the symbolic metaphor of her pregnancy as white elephant or unwanted gift — especially from the mans perspective.

Knowing this (and knowing his answer to this next question) she now asks the man, anyway: “Doesnt it mean anything to you? We could get along” (Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”). The man replies: “Of course it does. But I dont want anybody but you. I dont want anyone else. And I know its perfectly simple [emphasis added].” To the man it is “simple” to remove what he sees as a future obstacle to the simplicity of their life together; but the woman believes it would be equally simple (or at least “We could get along”) to instead accept and include the white elephant in their future together.

Now their conversation about the white elephant, given their opposite opinions of it, has hit a stalemate and both are grateful when the woman who has brought them drinks announces the train will soon arrive, giving the man an excuse just now to get up from their table and take the “two heavy bags” (Hemingway, “Hills Like White Elephants”) [one perhaps symbolizing for him the woman; the other the white elephant] of theirs across the station to the boarding area and out of their sight for a few minutes. Having done that, on the way back to their table (grabbing another quick drink alone at the bar) the man notices how “reasonable” everyone else looks as they wait for the train. But then as he rejoins his companion, even she claims to have cheered up. She insists (not very convincingly) that “Theres nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (Hemingway). If this is at all true on her part it may be because the hills appearing to her like white elephants, visible to both of them as they have sat waiting here at this train station, will soon be gone from their sight.

Work Cited

Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” Plato. 4 December 2007..

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