Hills Like White Elephants
by Ernest Hemingway
Analysis: What’s Up with the Ending?
Have you ever been in a public place and overheard an intimate conversation between a two people? Eventually you have to walk away. You can’t follow the couple through the rest of their lives. Even if you were curious about their lives, you probably won’t walk up to them and say, "Hey, here’s my number. I’d be really interested in hearing whether you guys decide to get an abortion or get married, and either way, whether you stay together in the long run. So, be sure and give me a call. Bye now."
Those are the basic questions most readers have after finishing "Hills Like White Elephants," and most readers don’t predict very happy answers to them. In the story, Jig seems to want to get married and have the baby. However, the man seems to want her to have an abortion, and for them to then continue the relationship as it was before the pregnancy. Neither of these options seems acceptable to both parties.
This tangle leads to the communication breakdown shown in the final two lines of the story. The man knows Jig does not "feel better," but asks her anyway. She responds by pretending not to know what he’s talking about. In light of her previous request that they not discuss it, her response is not out of character, but it doesn't seem to be getting them any closer to a solution.
On the other hand, maybe it is. She now knows what the man’s stated position is, and she has to decide for herself what to do. She has to think, and she can’t do this when they are talking.
This silence might also be helpful for the man. The conversation we have overheard was in the heat of the moment. We can’t assume that anything either of them has said is set in stone. Maybe there are things that bind them together that will allow them to work together toward some kind of mutually acceptable solution.
Or maybe not. If the fact that that the story is part of Hemingway’s 1927 collection Men Without Women is any evidence, they won’t work it out. The breakup of their relationship could occur in several forms: 1) they get married, have the baby and then break up, 2) that they don’t have the baby and then break up, or 3) that they break up and Jig has the baby on her own. Interestingly, that third possibility (not that these are the only three possibilities) isn’t brought up by the characters, but even in the 1920s that was an option, though a relatively less socially accepted one that it is today.
One way to look at the ending, though, is as a tool to get the readers to do what the characters don’t: motivate discussion. Did the ending expose your feelings on abortion, marriage, relationships, sex, and communication in general?