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Two language devices that Ernest Hemingway employs in his short story, "Hills Like White Elephants," are symbolism and understatement. Through the use of dialogue and the symbolism of the white hills, the reader comes to understand that Hemingway's female character, Jig, is pregnant with a small "hill" of her own. But, just as a white elephant symbolizes the possession of something which a person cannot free herself, so, too, is Jig's little "bump" something of which the man wants her to be rid but she cannot free herself of her baby with loss. And, since the man does not want to keep the baby, he makes Jig feel that her pregnancy is something like a white elephant in that it has no meaning to her man. Likewise, the arid hills seem sterile and without life--much as her womb will be if she proceeds with the abortion that her man wants her to have.
Understatement is employed by Hemingway to suggest the lack of feeling demonstrated by the man as well as his inability to perceive the operation as a life-changing event, especially for Jig. Indeed, his perception is extremely myopic just as when he looks across the hills, "he looks only at the table," suggesting that the man cannot understand Jig's feelings. Also, when "he looks up the tracks but could not see the train," this statement means much more than the simple words; the man refuses to think of the future. In addition, understatement also conveys Jig's pretense before her man that hides her real feelings. For instance, at the end of the narrative, when the man asks, "Do you feel better?" Jig, who has agonized over her pregnancy and possible abortion, merely replies, "I feel fine....There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine."
Certainly, understatement is a language device that hides the feelings of the man and Jig as they say less than they mean; conveying, too, the great divide between the couple. Acting also as a device to convey the conflicts of the couple is symbolism which suggests much more than is apparent. Very symbolic, the setting of the white, sterile hills conveys the barrenness that Jig will feel if she is made to give up her baby, while the fields of grain suggest nurturing life.
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