Do the hills in the story have any symbolic significance? 

Expert Answers
laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "Hills Like White Elephants," the hills are symbolic of the relationship between the couple as well as the couple's unborn child.

When the woman comments that the hills near the station where they are waiting for a train look like white elephants, she is met with sarcasm and discontent from the man she is traveling with. He is distracted and short with her.

It becomes clear that he wants her to get an abortion. She comments on their life together, saying, "That's all we do, isn't it—look at things and try new drinks?" She is looking for something novel because her life feels as barren as the hills around them. The potential the baby represents is a way they might be able to change for the better. 

The man she is with is unable to see anything past his own concerns. He responds to her asking if will be kinder and like what she says after the abortion, saying, "I'll love it. I love it now but I just can't think about it. You know how I get when I worry."

She, on the other hand, sees other opportunities for their life together, beyond drinks and hotel rooms. She recognizes that the hills may be barren—but there are other nearby landscapes teeming with life and activity. 

The greatest symbolism in the story comes from the term "white elephants." According to Oxford Living Dictionaries, a white elephant is something burdensome to keep or difficult to dispose of. The term came from Kings of Siam who would give white elephants to people they were not fond of; the person could not refuse the gift, but it was expensive and difficult to care for.

She says the hills are like white elephants because she's seeing them as her pregnancy: barren, white rolling hills that reflect the way her torso would look if she kept their child. She knows that to the man, the child is just a white elephant. To her, on the other hand, it might be something more. She even looks at the hills later in the story and says, "They're lovely hills...They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees."

jbiersach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The hills operate in a number of ways.  Let me add one more.

Before the woman became pregnant, the relationship was, most likely, far more easy, fun, relaxed, and loose.  Before the pregnancy, when the woman said something as simple as 'those hills look like white elephants' it was enough to be amusing and diverting for the carefree couple.  Now that the woman is pregnant, she is no longer carefree and she misses the times when the 'hills comment' might have been enough to distract and entertain the man.  So, the white hills are a reminder of the way things were in better, easier, lighter, and more imaginative days before she became pregnant.

podunc eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Traditionally, a "white elephant" is a possession that, while valuable, is not wanted by its owner. Today, we see in our culture "white elephant" gift exchanges, often between people who are just casual friends and do not want to buy gifts for one another--they are often popular at office parties. The fact that the young woman sees an image of white elephants in the hills is significant because she too is carrying something that is precious but still not wanted--a baby. 

Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The hills also mimic the woman's growing abdomen and her white skin; her condition mimics the snow-capped mountains over which the train in passing, and of which both the man and woman are largely trying to ignore.  There is also a certain coldness of the mountainous terrain which mimics the icy nature of the relationship between the man and woman. 

kwoo1213 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The hills can also symbolize the ups and downs that relationships inevitably face. These trials and tribulations are a part of any relationship.  

mkcapen1 | Student

In the story "Hills Like White Elephants" two people are seen talking as they await the train.  They seem to be having a simple discussion, but as one reads between the lines one learns that the discussion is about abortion.  The woman and man are traveling for the woman to have an abortion.  They have made many journeys and enjoyed their time together.  She contemplates the idea of keeping the baby but the man reminds her that it is not what he wants in life and how happy they have been without the complication.  I have often heard professors tell me that the hills like white elephnats are also like a baby bump and symbolize the baby in the woman's womb.

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Hills Like White Elephants

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