How is the landscape's being broken up important?Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Hemingway's deeply significant story, the division of the landscape takes on a symbolic meaning as the two main characters' dialogue develops.  For, it represents the isolation of the couple from the rest of the world in their personal discussion as well as the division between the man and Jig in their thinking.  In the opening paragraph, things in the physical environment have counterparts.  For instance, the hills are two in number; they are sunny on one side and shaded on the other. The shady side has no life, while the other side the land contains much life:

Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro....The shadow of a cloud moved acress the field of grain and ...the river through the trees.

Clearly, the land that is barren represents how Jig will be if she agrees to an abortion, while the fertile land with fields of grain represents the new life that she can bring into the world. Then, the two railroad tracks run parallel to each other, but in different directions, suggesting the physical togetherness of the American and Jig, but their perspectives, like the train rails, go in different directions. For, while the man perceives only the exterior facts of Jig's pregnancy, reducing an abortion to a mere mechanical process, Jig's ability to think intuitively allows her to internalize and perceive the long range effects of her pregnancy vs. an abortion, and how their lives will be changed irrevocably by either:

[Jig]....And once they take it away, you never get it back...."

[American] "Come on back in the shade....You mustn't feel that way."

[Jig] "I don't feel any way....I just know things."

After this conversation, Jig looks away from the river, a symbol of life, and stares across the hills on the "dry side of the valley"--barren, as she will be if she loses the child--

To further the motif of estrangement between Jig and the American, they are in this divided land that is foreign to them.  And, they are seated outside the bar on the quay.  After they argue, the man goes to the other side of the station, demonstrating again the terrible aloneness that is felt by the couple and their estrangement. And, with the duality fo the setting, this estrangement is symbolized by the two differing landcapses of the story.




man sees only the exterior facts

Jig thinks intuitively

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Hills Like White Elephants

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