How does the title of the story, "Hills Like White Elephants," relate to what is happening in the story, or is there no relationship at all?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Authors love their titles and put a great deal of thought into writing them. Frequently a title will communicate symbolism or irony or relate to a particular theme in the story or novel. Hemingway's title, "Hills Like White Elephants," does relate to the story itself in a very significant way. It draws the reader's attention to a specific exchange of dialog between Jig and the American that reveals a great deal about them as individuals and about their flawed relationship.

At one point in the story, Jig walks to the railing on the station platform and looks across the plain to the mountains. She observes that they look like white elephants. The American dismisses her words, just as he dismisses her feelings about their relationship and the baby she is carrying. Jig is a woman of sensitivity and deep emotion. She recognizes, for instance, the beauty she sees across the landscape. Her lover, however, is insensitive and shallow; he is aware only of himself and his own needs and desires. He values nothing except himself and life as he wants it to be--a life of pleasure without real purpose. He does not notice the mountains, and if he did, he would not see them in a sensitive or beautifully artistic way. He and Jig look at the world, and their relationship, in different ways. The story develops from this contrast in their characters and their conflicting values.

epollock | Student

As the story develops, we come to understand that the couple is facing a major crisis in their relationship. Jig, the woman, is pregnant, and wants to go through with giving birth to the child that she has conceived with the man who is identified as the American. On the other hand, it is clear that the American wants her to go through with an abortion. Truly, they are having a serious argument here, and their relationship is undergoing a severe threat.

We learn in paragraph 42 that the American and Jig have earlier been discussing the possibility of an abortion. The dialogue in the story up to this point has been largely a diversion from this topic. From Jig’s attempt to explain the resemblance of the hills to white elephants, however, it appears that she is thinking seriously that she has been gaining little ground in explaining her position to the American about not wanting an abortion. At the story’s end, when she smiles at him, it would appear that their opposing interests are irreconcilable. It may well be that each person has made a determination about the future, and that their decisions do not take the other person into their plans. We may presume that if they had made a joint decision, the story would have described it. As it is, the two are not reconciled, and so we must conclude that their dispute has caused their permanent alienation. The hills, in the distance, representing their future together, are truly like white elephants, impossible hurdles to overcome.

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Hills Like White Elephants

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