This short story centers around a couple talking about a ‘procedure’. It becomes clear, through lines such as “let the air in”, “it’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy”, “Once they take it away, you never get it back”, that the procedure they’re speaking of is actually an abortion, and that the couple are discussing whether or not the girl, Jig, should have the abortion done.
As the two speak, it’s clear that the man wants the procedure to be done, where the girl does not. Throughout the progression of the conversation, Jig becomes more distressed by the topic and repeatedly tries to put a halt to the discussion while the man continues to push. He attempts, several times, to reassure her that he will still love her if she does not go through with the procedure, which is clearly not quite true. He uses emotional manipulation to try to persuade her to his wants. He purposely understates the procedure, acting as if it is as simple as ‘letting the air in’. Referring to the fetus in this way also helps to dehumanize the baby to Jig, making the idea potentially easier to accept. The man also tries to reassure her that things will go back to the way they were; this is likely as untruthful as many of his other claims.
The story tries to portray the main problem as being the abortion, where it seems to really be that the two have entirely different futures in mind. Even if the girl were to go through with the procedure, one could argue that she might ultimately come to regret her decision, having given up what she dreamed of for his sake. On top of that, the entire conversation leads the reader to believe that the relationship is already doomed. If she were to decline the abortion, one could assume that the man would not be happy with this outcome, and they would still end up separated with even more complications.
The reader comes to understand that Jig wants the baby. She wants a new life, something more than the Bohemian life style they currently maintain. She’s displeased with drinking and traveling. It’s become redundant and bitter in her mind. She sees life in the things around her, which is where the title of the short story comes from. She remarks that the hills look like “white elephants”; something the man fails to see. She sees life around her. He does not. He’s content with their life style. She is not.
By the end, she seems to be defeated, stating multiple times that she is fine, but the reader is left without any closure on whether or not she went through with the procedure. Regardless, it seems to be a fair conclusion that the fetus is not the only thing that has made them “unhappy”.
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