male/female perspective on the issue of abortion as it appears in Ernest Hemingway’s most subtle short story, ‘Hills like white elephants’. The author has made use of symbolism to highlight the problems experienced by most married couples due to lack of proper communication. Hemingway chose this topic because he believed in this interesting iceberg theory which has been explained in the concluding part of this paper.
HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS: MALE/FEMALE PERSPECTIVE ON ABORTION
The theme of abortion is predominant in the story titled, “Hills like white elephants.” The author, Ernest Hemingway, however has not mentioned the actual word ‘abortion’ throughout the entire short story but instead has used symbols and vague dialogues to convey his message to the readers. The reason why Hemingway probably refrained from using the actual term was because he firmly believed in using dialogues and language, which required deeper study. The author wanted the readers to know about male and female perspective on this issue and thus chose to highlight the theme with effective use of symbolism and ambiguous dialogues. It is important to understand that Ernest Hemingway has not tried to advocate any particular opinion, he appears to be concerned only with the way males and females view this issue. The opinions of two characters on the controversial issue of abortion reveal the differences in male-female psyches. This story is indeed a classic tale revealing the subtle differences that exist in the way men and women view different things. (Lamb, 1996) The opinions mentioned in this story may not apply to every man and woman in the world but they certainly contain substance, which shows that they are based more on psychological study of human minds and attitudes than casual observations.
Everything from the physical setting to dialogues to characterization serves the real purpose of the story, which is to expose the gaps that surface in relationships due to poor communication. The female character is a timid feminist who though knows what’s right for her, still fails to convince her husband that abortion is not the ideal solution for the stabilization of their fading relationship. The male however is a typical chauvinist who cannot read her wife’s mind and is using all psychological tactics to blackmail her into doing what he thinks would lead to their mutual happiness. There are many ways in which the male and female opinions in this story can be interpreted but one thing is clear. The woman views pregnancy as something beautiful while the husband sees it as a burden. And similarly the former thinks of abortion as something highly undesirable while the latter feels it could resolve all their problems once and for all. He keeps implying that if she goes through the abortion procedure, it would take them back to those pre-pregnancy happy days. This is only a psychological tactic to get her to undergo this operation without realizing that his wife doesn’t wish to abort the pregnancy. This is where we notice the clear differences that exist between male and female ways of viewing issues, which are solely connected with women. We notice that while the leading female figure should be the one making all the decisions in this connection, she is too weak and timid to stick to her decision. This timidity is the very reason why she is unable to voice her opinion in precise terms and instead uses symbolism to convey her message. She refers to pregnancy as beautiful hills and then compares them with white elephants to show that this pregnancy is something unwanted and undesirable to her husband.
The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.’ They look like white elephants,’ she said…They’re lovely hills,’ she said. ‘They don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees.'” (16-47)
This means that while she is well aware of the importance of this pregnancy to her, she also understands that her husband would never view it the same way she does. This reveals her timidity and her lack of strength and courage to do what she wants to do. She is buying the lie that pregnancy is the obstacle, which needs to be surmounted, if she really wants to win back her husband’s affection. Unlike women of today’s modern world who would want to exercise their rights where pregnancy is concerned, she is totally oblivious to her own needs and desires. All she really wants is to make her husband happy even if it costs her their unborn child. The male figure who is repeatedly referred to as the American is well versed in the application of some effective psychological techniques by which he manipulates his wife and makes her opt for abortion. He, it seems, understands her psyche better than the woman herself because he constantly tries to reassure her that this operation would be a simple procedure that would magically transform their relationship.
It’s really not anything. It’s just to lead the air in… They just let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural… that is the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy… If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it, if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple.” (56-69)
To the man, pregnancy is a burden, which must be gotten rid of as soon as possible. We notice that though both the leading characters are well aware of their wishes and desires, the difference lies in the fact that male figure is bold enough to clearly voice his opinions, while the female lead is covering her true feelings in a thick cloud of symbolism and innuendoes. There is a clear difference between the way they view abortion but only the male opinion dominates the story. This happens not because of the weakness of woman’s position but due to self-imposed restrictions, which limit her ability to think and reason clearly or logically. It seems that while she wants to keep the baby, she is letting her emotions for her husband, influence her feelings for the child. The story doesn’t only present a woman’s views on abortion but in general tries to go in greater depths of female psyche to show why woman complain of depression more often than men. Abortion and the unwanted child have only been used as simple objects through which author delves deeper into more important issues such as independence, liberty, psyche and emotional manipulation. Symbolism plays a very important role because it is the medium through which the female character conveys her feelings but unfortunately these subtle messages are difficult for her husband to comprehend or interpret.
In this regard, we must not ignore the comments made by Jeffrey Myers in his book titled, ‘Hemingway — A Biography’,” The comparison of hills with white elephants-imaginary animals that represent useless items, like the unwanted baby-is crucial to the meaning. The simile becomes a focus of contention and establishes an opposition between the imaginative woman, who is moved by the landscape, and the literal-minded man, who refuses to sympathize with her point-of-view. As they are trapped between two destinations, Barcelona and Madrid, they are trapped between two lines of rails, between sun and shade, in the limbo of the Ebro valley. The theme of the story evolves from a series of polarities: natural v. unnatural, instinctive v. rational, reflective v. talkative, vital v. morbid. The egoistic man, unaware of the woman’s feelings, tries to bully her into having an abortion (which is never actually mentioned) so they can be exactly as they were before: “It’s not really anything. It’s just to let the air in…. It’s all perfectly natural.” The woman, who finds it horribly unnatural, is frightened of killing the baby and hurting herself. Everything the man says is false; everything the woman says is ironic. He forces her to consent to this operation in order to regain his love, but the very fact that he can ask her to do such a thing means that she can never love him again. Hills Like White Elephants is Hemingway’s most subtle story. Anyone who thinks he does not understand women ought to read it carefully.” (Pg. 196-197)
We notice that throughout the story, the woman refuses to reason with the man. She doesn’t even let him know what she wants because she seems to be concerned only about the future of their relationship. This may confuse many readers as they fail to understand why the woman doesn’t make her wishes known. The truth is that woman in this case doesn’t want to be blamed for the failure of their relationship and the subject of abortion is very painful for her. She doesn’t voice her wishes because she is buying the lie that pregnancy is the sole cause of their unhappiness. She also refrains from talking…