Published in 1927, the Ernest Hemingway short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is an iceberg of conversation; that is, there is more beneath the surface of the dialogue between the American man and the girl named Jig. At first glance, it seems like a simple, sometimes tense conversation between a couple who are waiting for a train to Madrid. On a closer reading, however, one realizes that they are discussing whether or not Jig should have a “procedure.” In a time period where abortion was illegal in most parts of Europe and America, and where women could be faced with excommunication by the Catholic Church if they obtained an abortion, suddenly the conversation between the American man and Jig becomes one of grave importance.
Hills Like White Elephants Summary | Have students create a plot diagram detailing the events of the short story "Hills Like White Elephants"
An American man and a girl named Jig wait at a train station in northern Spain near the Ebro River. They are waiting for a train to Madrid. As they sit in the station, they order two beers and the girl gazes at a line of distant hills.
Jig thinks the hills look like white elephants. The man quickly replies that he hasn’t ever seen one. When Jig says, “You wouldn’t have,” he says that he might have seen one. There is tension as they discuss an operation the man is trying to put Jig at ease about having.
Jig wonders what will happen after the operation. The man says they’ll be happy again and go back to how they were before. Jig wonders if it will make the man love her like he used to. He thinks it’s the best thing to do, but she doesn’t have to if she doesn't want to.
Jig says she will go through with the operation. She seems to just want to make him happy, but the man doesn’t want her to do it for him. Jig tells the man that they could have had everything, but not anymore. Something will be taken away.
The man again tells her that he’s willing to go through with it if it means anything to her. Jig wonders if it means anything to him. He says it does, and he doesn’t want anyone but her. She tells him to stop talking and threatens to scream if he doesn’t.
The train will arrive in 5 minutes, so man takes the bags over to the other tracks. He has a drink at the bar and comes back to Jig. She smiles at him, and when he asks if she feels better, she tells him there’s nothing wrong with her; she feels fine.