illustration of train tracks with low hills in the background and one of the hills has the outline of an elephant within it

Hills Like White Elephants

by Ernest Hemingway

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Are there any metaphors in the story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway? 

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There are several metaphors and similes in Hemingway's story. The most prominent one is the hills, which Jig compares to white elephants. The hills represent many possible things, one of which is a pregnant woman's stomach. The hills also stand for an obstacle to overcome, and the comparison of them to white elephants speak to the idea of something that is rare and valued but not practical, as white elephants are in some culture.

Another metaphor is the absinthe the couple drinks. Absinthe is a drink that is a hallucinogen and can make one forget. The American wants the situation that he and the girl are in to go away--he wants to forget and for her to forget as well. They also have many beers, which symbolize a kind of numbing effect--again, something they both seem to want because of this difficult predicament in which they find themselves.

Another important metaphor in the story is the number two. The number two appears several times in the story. There are two cervasas (beers), two felt pads, two suitcases, and two bead on the curtain. This number is significant because at the end of the story, Hemingway leaves the fate of the couple unresolved, but what the reader can surmise from the repetition of the number two is that there will be only two people left--either the American and Jig or Jig and her child. However from this metaphor, it is clear that there will not be three--the American, Jig, and their child. The ending is not happy for these characters.

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I believe that when the man and the girl say, "Everything tastes like licorice," this can be considered a metaphor, even though it contains the word "like" and might be construed as a simile. Everything does not really taste like licorice. Saying that everything tastes like licorice is implying that everything in life turns out to be a disappointment. 

"Yes," said the girl. "Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe."

In this instance the word "like" is not used, so it is even more of a metaphor. It is an ingenious one. Hemingway is using a simile, or an analogy, as a metaphor.

The title of the story is "Hills Like White Elephants." The hills may look "like" white elephants, but the whole simile is also a metaphor. White elephants are symbols of anything of great value that is not wanted. The hills may be "like" white elephants, but the white elephants are metaphors for the unwanted baby which the man is pressuring the girl to abort. It is obvious throughout the story that the girl wants the baby and the man doesn't.

Another thing about white elephants, which may affect the outcome of the conflict, is that a white elephant is only a white elephant because you can't get rid of it. If you could get rid of it, it would no longer be a white elephant. So maybe the man will not succeed in persuading the girl to go ahead with the abortion after all?

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