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What is the most important symbol in the short story "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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shanziijae | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 29, 2012 at 10:50 AM via web

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What is the most important symbol in the short story "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 29, 2012 at 2:47 PM (Answer #1)

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I would argue that the most important symbol in this novel is that of the white elephants of the title. This is because it seems to sum up so much of the difference between Jig and her partner and the way that she is so desperate to do anything to try and save what seems to be a hopeless relationship. Let us remember that white elephants are refered to firstly when Jig looks at the view of teh white hills and she compares them to white elephants. This triggers a minor squabble between them.

Later on, however, she deliberately contradicts herself, trying to make her thoughts and way of looking at the world the same of her partner's, when she says:

They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the colouring of their skin through the trees.

White elephants are shown therefore to be a symbol of the irreconcilable differences between Jig and her partner, and also the way in which Jig is willing to think of doing almost anything--even aborting her baby--to save that relationship.

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mizradane | Student , Undergraduate | Valedictorian

Posted January 29, 2012 at 2:01 PM (Answer #2)

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Hills like White Elephants is a short story written by Earnest Hemingway, an American novelist.

The action takes place in a railway station in Zaragoza, a major city in North Eastern Spain.

Symbols used in the story :

  1. White Elephants : A symbol to represent the baby,as baby's represent happiness and fulfilment. (Jig could see the baby as an extraordinary addition to her life)                                                                                       
  2. Two lines of rails : Symbolical of separation and disagreement.
  3. The Express (train) : Symbolizes the hard, uncomfortable materialistic world.
  4. The bead curtain: Symbolizes  the dazzling world that the girl belongs to.
  5. Liquorice : Symbolical of the bitterness of life and frustration.
  6. River : Symbolizes hope.

Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of Ebro. Far away, beyond the river were mountains. The shadow of s cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees.

   6. The bags : A symbol used to represent burdens.

''I'd better take the bags over to the other side of the station.'' the man said. She smiled at him.

The man symbolically states that he is ready to take the burden of keeping the baby. The girl responses with a smile.

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