Is the title "Hills Like White Elephants" symbolism or a metaphor?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In order for something to be a symbol, it must be have both literal meaning and figurative meaning. Therefore, there would actually have to be white elephants present in some literal way, and then they'd have to carry some figurative meaning on top of that (such as referring to something that is generally unwanted, or a burden, as other educators have said), in order to function as a symbol. Since there is no literal white elephant, it is not a symbol.

That being said, a simile is, technically speaking, literal, because a simile only says that something is like or as something else, not that it is something else (as a metaphor does). If the title of the story were "The Hills Are White Elephants," this would be a clear-cut metaphor). At the same time, however, I have sometimes seen the simile, as a figure of speech, lumped in under the broader category of "metaphor" because similes are similar to, though less powerful than, strict metaphors. Therefore, if you are only given two options—either symbolic or metaphorical—I would place the title in the metaphorical category.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Because this title contains the word "like," it is technically a simile. Any comparison using like or as qualifies as a simile. On a deeper level, however, the "white elephants" within the title are actually symbols.

They represent anything that is not wanted, be that a pregnancy, a child, or something else entirely. Inasmuch as the white elephants represent an abstract concept, they qualify as symbols: one concrete thing standing for something less tangible.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The expression itself, "hills like white elephants," is actually a simile, not a metaphor, since it uses "like." White elephants are used to refer to something unwanted or undesired. In this context, they are also symbolic in the story of her undesired pregnancy. The story also develops the relationship between the man and the woman. She isn't convinced that she wants to have the abortion, and he wants her to have it, and pressures her to have it, all the while he says that the choice is hers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial