Gender in “Hills Like White Elephants”
Ernest Hemingway’s 1927 short story “Hills Like White Elements” explores the way a couple discuss an ‘operation’ (42) which the woman is to receive, which is implied to be abortion without actually mentioning the word itself. It is set at a table at a train station somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid in Spain. The couple consists of an American male and a ‘girl’ (5), whose name is later revealed to be Jig (42), which might imply that perhaps she is younger, but not a local of Spain since she asks the American to translate for her in the first few lines of their conversation (15). Jig resists the idea of aborting the child throughout the course of the story and the American tries to convince her by reassurance to do it. By the end of the story it is uncertain whether Jig decides to board the train to get the operation or not, but she does smile when the man decides to take the bags closer to the where the train would arrive, and insists that she feels fine (110) when he returns. This story depicts communication as something that can be characterized by gender. The communication in the relationship between Jig and the American seem to imply the kind of power and leverage that each of them have, and the dialogue even further proves this. Noting that both genders have an equal amount of dialogue in this story, they are very succinctly differentiated by multiple grammatical and literary devices such as tone, detail, and the general content of the dialogue.
One critic, Pamela Smiley, identifies the conversational style used as gender-marked language in her critique of the story in the University of Wisconsin’s Fall 1998 Hemingway Review. She suggests that male-female conversation is cross-cult...
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... to” (58). Jeremy’s dialogue and general synopsis is seemingly much more detached than the American’s and within good reason since he is a college student whose life would be halted by an accidental child. China was also unsurprisingly much more emotionally able than was Jeremy, refusing to abort the child even though it would be done in secrecy from her parents. In both stories, it is obvious that the male role is dominant and decision making while the female role is emotional and whimsical, however it can’t only be the gender-marked language that is the deciding factor of the leverage of power but also might have much to do with how the different genders are nurtured and how cultural stereotypes of each gender affect speech and dialogue. These two short stories make these cultural stereotypes clear and both Hemingway and Boyle have distinct voices for both genders.
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