At the heart of “Hills Like White Elephants” is Hemingway’s examination of the man and girl’s deeply flawed relationship, a relationship that champions “freedom” at the cost of honesty, respect, and commitment. In this sense, the man and girl represent stereotypes of male and female roles: the male as active and the female as passive. In this gender framework, the man makes the decisions and the female complies. However, as the story illustrates, such a power dynamic is fundamentally flawed and destructive. The man is domineering in all his interactions, andthough he pays lip service to wanting to make the girl happy, his decisions are ultimately guided by his own desires. He wants the girl to seekan abortion in order to maintain the freedom he enjoys, but he wants it to be her decision. For the man,it is not enough for her to do what he wants, but she must also want what he wants. The man seeks to control both the girl’s actions and intentions as though she were a child, a deeply unhealthy and damaging pattern of behavior.
At first the girl is resistant to the man’s emotional manipulation. She attempts to paint a picture of the future life she and the man could have together if they were to have a child. The man, though, is unwilling even to entertain these notions, and yet he phrases his refusal in the manipulative language of love, claiming that “I don’t want anybody but you.” Eventually the girl acquiesces to the man’s overbearing insistence, surrendering her personal freedom to his wishes. At the story’s conclusion, when he asks her if she feels better, the girl’s stiff reply reveals her true feelings: “I feel fine. There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” This final act of concealment and self-suppression suggests that this relationship, so representative of the traditional dynamic between men and women at the time,will remain stalled in its present unhealthy stateuntil it likely falls apart completely.
Men, Women, and Relationships ThemeTracker
Men, Women, and Relationships Quotes in Hills Like White Elephants
“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”
“I might have,” the man said. “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything.”
“Oh, cut it out.”
“You started it,” the girl said. “I was being amused. I was having a fine time.”
“Well, let’s try and have a fine time.”
“All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?”
“I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?”
“It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not really an operation at all.”
“I know you wouldn’t mind it, Jig. It’s really not anything. It’s just to let the air in.”
The girl did not say anything.
“Then what will we do afterward?”
“We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before.”
“What makes you think so?”
“That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only that’s made us unhappy.”
“And you think then we’ll be all right and be happy.”
“I know we will. You don’t have to be afraid. I’ve known lots of people that have done it.”
“So have I,” said the girl. “And afterward they were all so happy.”
“Well,” the man said, “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.”
“…But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?”
“Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.”
“And we could have all this,” she said “And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.”
“What did you say?”
“I said we could have everything.”
“We can have everything.”
“No, we can’t.”
“We can go everywhere.”
“No, we can’t. It isn’t ours any more.”
“No, it isn’t. And once they take it away, you never get it back.”
“Come on back in the shade,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.”
“I don’t feel any way,” the girl said. “I just know things.”
“All right. But you’ve got to realize—”
“I realize,” the girl said. “Can’t we maybe stop talking?”
“Doesn’t it mean anything to you? We could get along.”
“Of course it does. But I don’t want anybody but you. I don’t want anyone else. And I know it’s perfectly simple.”
“Would you do something for me now?”
“I’d do anything for you.”
“Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?”
He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.