Hills Like White Elephants Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

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

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Aliyah Quitzon eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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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...

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jasmith731 | Student

Since Hemingway was known for his use of the iceberg theory (or iceberg technique), his works are loaded with metaphors, including his short story "Hills Like White Elephants." Hemingway is known to have described the iceburg technique in the following way: “If a writer stops observing he is finished. But he does not have to observe consciously nor think how it will be useful. Perhaps that would be true at the beginning. But later everything he sees goes into the great reserve of things he knows or has seen. If it is any use to know it, I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. Anything you know you can eliminate and it only strengthens your iceberg. It is the part that doesn’t show" (qtd. in Literautas).

Due to this, many of the themes of his works are only evident when closely examining the metaphors that serve as part of the 1/8 of the story that the reader is able to discern. 

Many metaphors emerge in "Hills Like White Elephants," including (but not limited to) the physical setting of a train station, the physical location of the two main characters and their relation to each other, and the reference in the title to "white elephants."

First, the train station itself serves as a powerful metaphor in the story. Train stations are considered to be a universal symbol representing a moment of change or the necessity of a hard decision. This symbol often shows up in popular movies as well as literature (think of the repeated use of the train station in the Harry Potter movies and books). For the American and Jig, the train station represents the decision that they are grappling with: whether or not Jig should abort her pregnancy.

Another metaphor in "Hills" is the characters' physical proximity to each other in the story. Throughout much of the narration, the couple is seated together at a table, drinking and talking. Once the conversation about the "simple operation" finally is broached, the couple argue and then physically move apart: "the girl stood up and walked to the end of the station." As she looks out at the fertile landscape (representing her own fertility, in contrast to the barren hills on the other side of the river), a "shadow moved across the field of grain." This, of course, represents her own struggle to decide if she should accept her own fertility or allow the American to persuade her to have an abortion. She rejoins the American at the table, and they continue to argue. At the end, the American gets up and leaves her, foreshadowing his own physical departure from her once she decides to go through with her pregnancy (as many critics believe she decides).

The most striking and obvious symbol is the "white elephants" themselves. Early in the story, Jig observes that the barren hills look like "white elephants." A white elephant often is defined as being "a burdensome possession, creating more trouble than it is worth" (Phrases). In this instance, the reader can infer that the "burdensome possession" might be the unborn fetus, in the view of the American and/or Jig. Of course, the hills themselves might be considered a metaphor for the maternal body, offering physical hills of breasts and pregnant belly. 

In sum, these are a few of the most obvious metaphors in this story; if you continue to study the story, you are likely to identify more!