Explain the central symbolism in "Hills Like White Elephants" by Hemingway.

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The central symbol in "Hills Like White Elephants" is the setting, with the hills in the distance. One side of the train station in Spain is covered with vegetation and fertile while the other side is devoid of vegatation and stark.  As the conversation unfolds between the man and Jig, it is seen that the fertile side of the setting symbolizes the point of view and feelings of the Jig while the barren stark side symbolizes the point of view and feelings of the man. It further symbolizes the ultimate resolution of thier conversation, which is only hinted at. The train rails separate the two sides of the setting, thus symbolizing that the rails of disagreement will persist in dividing Jig and the man as thoroughly as the trains rails divide the fertile land from the barren. In addition, the hills symbolize Jig's ability to still see the romantic optimistic potential in the realities of life although the man's response to her ("I've never seen one") indicates a refusal to think of anything other than the practical and objective. Thus the hills symbolize the nature of the divide between them, what can now be theirs and what can't:

Jig: "Then what will we do afterwards?"

"We’ll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before."

"What makes you think so?"


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Hills Like White Elephants

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