Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" follows two conflicted and ambiguous characters - Jig and the American. Though their primary struggle and conflict is never explicitly mentioned, it is heavily implied that these two characters were or are in a relationship, Jig is pregnant, and the American wishes for her to have an abortion. The silent treatment Jig gives the American and the passive but pleading requests made by the American are indicative of their personalities, as well as other context clues strewn throughout the short story.The short story itself is a treatise on the importance of communication in a relationship, as well as the powerlessness men and women often feel in communicating with each other.
The American is portrayed as a young man, masculine but aware of his problems, wanting to run away from the responsibility of the child but not on her. In the conversation, it is the American who wants to get the abortion - it is only after Jig reluctantly agrees to the abortion that he begins to back off and state that "I'm perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you" (Hemingway, 1927). The American himself is always confident, focused, always feeling as though he has the reasonable, logical opinion. While this allows him to stay practical and quick on his feet, it makes him frustrated when he has to deal with Jig's seeming abundance of emotion. This issue in particular confuses him, and so he reacts to it by shutting down and pretending to not care whether or not she gets an abortion. At the end of the story, he asks, "Do you feel better?" (Hemingway, 1927). In this way, he feels like the issue of the baby, and of the abortion, was just a conversation topic, and anxiety that she needs to 'let out,' and not a real concern that they must both commit themselves to.
Jig, on the other hand, is the quintessential wallflower - she is indecisive, weak-willed, easily coerced, and unwilling to make strong decisions for herself. Jig always tries to communicate in a way that will ingratiate herself to others, especially the American - she tells jokes and shares her emotions to get him to open up. However, any time she tries to start a new conversation, the American shuts it down with a cursory, short sentence that cuts it off. Jig's mindset is always to talk about her feelings and emotions, as well as her dreams of what life should be. These conversational tactics, among others, help to strongly establish the different personalities and desires that they have.
In conclusion, Hemingway's short story shows us two characters who are fundamentally incompatible - a tight-lipped patronizing man and a meek, indecisive woman - facing an issue that virtually guarantees to rip them apart. Discussing the issue of the abortion is so difficult for them, due to their varying issues and personality flaws, that the American ends up relating more to everyone else waiting in the train station than his girlfriend. With that nugget of information, it can be reasonably inferred that their relationship will not survive long. This lack of communication about a serious issue, either due to masculine stubbornness or feminine indecisiveness, is what cuts to the heart of the story's message: People must open up and listen to each other if they are going to relate.
Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants." Men Without Women, 1927. Print.