Gender Roles in Hills like White Elephants

Through history, people have advocated for women's rights, gender equality, and other related problems. One of the main ways that people have discussed gender inequality is through literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Through such narratives, either women are given the freedom to deviate from the standard or they are portrayed as people who are constrained by societal norms. Women's freedom to choose how they want to wear and what they do with their bodies, such as having an abortion, are both controversial topics. The story Hills like White Elephant was written by Earnest Hemmingway in 1927 to express the feminist movement focusing on this issue. Through the development of the character and her ability to make her own decisions finally irrespective of the constant pressure she was getting from her boyfriend, the theme of gender roles is suggested in the society that is dominated by men.

Literature Review

The short story “Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemmingway revolves around a foreign couple who are living in Spain and their different perspectives towards having an abortion of the unwanted pregnancy. The male character asks Jig, the female character of the story to have an abortion so that they can continue pursuing their trivial life. As a matter of fact, the female character is not content with this idea, but she only contemplates to do it as a way of pleasing her boyfriend. In his persuasion, Jig states, “It’s really an awfully simple operation… I know you wouldn’t mind it” (Hemingway 475). In this context, it is evident that the male character is not interested in knowing what Jig thinks about the idea of having an abortion. The fact that the man is the one making the decision in the picture, it is proof that women at this time were not entitled to make decisions or even share their ideas on what needs to be done even with their bodies. At this point, Jig is emotionally worn by the fact that she has to choose between her boyfriend and her unborn child. A close assessment of the man’s character here shows that men viewed women as their subordinates and that they had the right to dictate as to whether women were to carry a child or not. Every decision made was to favor the man and not the woman. Jig realizes that she really has no room to state her thoughts in discussions and easily inclines to the demand of the man that she will have an abortion. Jig responds by saying, “Then I’ll do it, because I don’t care about me” (Hemingway 476) By responding in this manner, we are driven to an arch of understanding that women easily submitted and accorded to the idea that men would ‘owned’ them and therefore, their sole responsibility was to do whatever their men wanted. The American demonstrates the masculine discourse that he practices and is unwilling to let the needs of the Jig shadow his desires while at the same time, he recklessly shows affection to Jig as if he does not really care about her or the unborn baby (Hashmi 76).

In the story, gender roles are illustrated by the domination of the male character as the protagonist based on the idea that the plot of the story revolves around him and every decision or idea that pushes the story forward is based on him. Being the protagonist, he captures a lot of attention and being the main character, the main points of the story are made by him as well. Jig makes a remark concerning the hills beyond the Spanish bar saying, “They look like white elephants” (Hemingway 475) By describing the hills in this manner, she used metaphorical language that barely makes rational sense while seeking to create intimacy between her and the boyfriend. The boyfriend makes an indifferent remark that he has never seen any white elephant, but when Jig corrects him playfully, he dismisses Jig as frivolous by saying, “Just because you say I wouldn’t have doesn’t prove anything” (Hemingway 476). His comments seem to be rude and assert the idea that Jig cannot prove or know anything about him, hence making a powerful and dominant figure in their relationship. Another aspect of this is the idea that the male character is referred to as “the American” while the female character is given a name and is referred to as “the girl” several times in the story. The use of this element shows that men did not see the need to seek recognition, but women were only recognized through names. By being called the American is similar to having a title and in circumstance one uses a title to represent himself is proof that he demands recognition among his peers. Jig on the other hand only influences the plot by being a character that makes the American recognized in the plot. She presented as weak and that is why before she makes any decision she has to seek the ideas of the America or must go an extra step to initiate a conversation that only ends making her look desperate to be with the boyfriend. The plot in general therefore exploits the domination of the man over Jig who only hides under his shadows and this place in perspective the topic gender inequality within the story.

The gender-based communication is another factor that highlights gender roles in the society. When the American brings up the issue of the abortion, he communicates off-hand and uses a language that indicates he understands his desire to lessen the significance of the prospect, and this ensures that Jig will accord to his demands. Initially, Jig does not verbally respond to his comments and the American sees this as an opportunity to fill the silence between them. When Jig question what will become of them, the American responds, “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that made us unhappy” (Hemingway 477). Here he uses the word ‘us’ to mean himself and he, in fact, does not consider that maybe Jig wanted to have the baby. In the decisions that he is making, he makes them addressing only his needs making Jig insignificant in his context. This practice is common in men dominated society whereby they speak for the women by undermining the ideas of the women. Jig’s refusal to communicate on the other hand is a feature that is common among feminists as well which is often aimed at depriving the oppressing men the logic to reason with them. It is because of her silence that the American is prompted to talk again. Her act of silence can be taken as a revolt as well meaning she is not disagreeing or agreeing with the American but rather confined in her personal ideas (Smiley 288). The fact that American is portrayed as someone able to speak English and Spanish makes Jig look up to him as the only way she can communicate with anyone in Barcelona. This shows that Jig in this location is deprived her voice to communicate and she can order or do anything without depending on the American. Translation like communication is one thing that Jig solely depends on here and this relates to perspective, meaning her perspective in this world is shaped by what the American translates to her, such as the permission to try new things or an audience she can entertain and such dependency can have multiple effects such as the man being faltered.


In this short story, Jig represents women who are denied their emotions and their sense of being. The story illustrates gender biasness that took place within this period characterized by make domination in various aspects of women’s life. According to the story, women are portrayed as objects only to be directed on what to do by men, and Jig is clear example of how women‘s lives were dictated by men. Men and women were not viewed equally with men given much audacity than women. The story ends with Jig finally deciding to have an abortion and this is a sign of liberation, freeing herself from the selfish life of the American. The abortion symbolizes Jig realizing that she does not need the American for her life to go on, and therefore she cuts the code that was keeping her enslaved to the boyfriend.

Works Cited

Hashmi, Nilofer. "Hills Like White Elephants: The Jilting of Jig." The Hemingway Review 23.1 (2003): 72-83. Web.

Hemingway , Ernest . "Hills Like Elephants." The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Story Fiction. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003. 475-78. Print.

Smiley, Pamela. "Gender-Linked Miscommunication in “Hills Like White Elephants”." New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1990): 288-99. Web.

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