Ernest Hemingway was an influential American novelist and short story writer who is well known for his consistent portrayal of women as a necessary presence but the weaker of the two genders. Throughout his short stories, Hemingway focuses on issues related to masculinity, and gender themes are central in his works. The question of how women are represented in Hemingway’s works can be explored by analyzing one of his short stories, Hills Like White Elephants. This critical work will explore the representation of women throughout Hills Like White Elephants and determine why Hemingway decides to present women in this short story as pitied rather than respected.
Hills Like White Elephants is a conversation between an American man and a girl waiting for a train in Spain. As the story unwinds, the Iceberg technique displayed in the story shows the couple discussing the girl’s pregnancy. The man is coolly working to convince her to have an abortion. Throughout this work, the American presents Hemingway’s rigid concept of masculinity; The American is portrayed as omniscient and wise. He is worldly and in control of himself as well as the situation. He is presented as a cool man who feigns indifference. His insensitivity is evident when he tells the girl that he doesn’t care or not the girl has an abortion. He oversimplifies the operation as just a simple medical procedure to convince the girl to abort. He is relentless and aloof, never actually engaging with her but trying to blind her with simplistic logic.
The American lacks sympathy and understanding of her needs and ignores her behavior. It displays how the girl is, in contrast, less assertive. She is perceived as helpless and confused, as well as nameless; though the man is referred to as The American, he at least has a nationality and a maturity, while ‘the girl’ is young, vulnerable and without any other outstanding characteristics. During the time of this work, the liberated post-war American society is one of which is highlighted. The stereotyping of masculinity seeking solutions to the problems caused by women in his stories illustrates his patriarchal attitudes. Hemingway displays women as so unintelligent as to be malleable; in this story, The American decides he has to oversimplify the “painless” abortion in order to get rid of this obstacle to his continuing life as he wants it. The dehumanization of women in this short story is abundant, and the themes of discrimination and patriarchal values are smeared throughout the work.
Hemingway presents women in this story as objects trying to attract attention and please others to strengthen the idea of the Code Hero. Hemingway defined a Code Hero as “a man who lives correctly, following the ideals of honor, courage, and endurance in a world that is sometimes chaotic, often stressful, and always painful.” He is an ideal man with courage, knowledge, chivalry and an individualist attitude who enjoys many drinks and women. The presentation of women in his works amplifies the patriarchal image of the Code Hero. The Code Heroes remove any possible strengths of women surrounding them and become a man with defined codes. By including passive and child-like women in his story, Hemingway further asserts the role of the Code Hero. In Hills Like White Elephants, the man has total power over the relationship. One example of when this is shown is when, between the two of them, the American is the only one who can speak Spanish. Because of this, Jig has to rely on him continually and even clears with him which drinks they will order before doing so. This displays the dominance of the man as the Code Hero and the submissive, dependent woman in the relationship.
Furthermore, the audience is introduced to Jig as the name the American calls the girl. She is a girl who cannot make decisions easily without constant approval and recognition from a man. This particular man from whom Jig seeks approval is one who has impregnated her. Jig is a woman who cannot make decisions on her own which is shown throughout the story. She is depicted as dependent, weak and without independent thoughts or feelings throughout the story. Jig asks, “What should we drink?” in the opening line of the story. Just from this opening question, the audience gets the impression that Jig is a character who questions rather than acts. This shows that she is a person who is unsure of herself and also unaware of what she wishes in the relationship. Although this is a simple question to ask and can often appear as common politeness, this is the time in the short story where the audience meets Jig. Also in the opening scene, she imagines white elephants in the surrounding hills. These white elephants symbolize an unwanted gift, and to Jig, the baby represents the gift. It is unwanted in the eyes of the man, which in turn causes Jig’s unhappiness and desire for an “imaginary life.” Many other examples demonstrate her inability to make life decisions. Further on in the short story, Jig questions her life’s purpose by saying, “That’s all what we do, isn’t it–look at things and try new things?’ She believes her life is empty and she is unsure of her ability to create her own purpose. Jig seems to have exhausted her relationship with the man and craves change in her life.
Hemingway presents women as feminine objects regarded by men as passive and insipid tools in Hills Like White Elephants. As a central though unspoken theme in this story, women are portrayed as helpless and unstable. The weakness of women is contrasted with the power and clear-thinking male characters. The contrasting gender roles represent how men are the pivotal characters in this short story and women hold only roles that support the thesis of the Code Heroes. The prominence of unstable female characters highlights the importance of the male characters. The contrasting differences in the gender roles represent how men hold the central significance in Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants and display how women are suppressing roles which add to the ambience of the Code Heroes.