What do the 3 different landscapes in “Hills Like White Elephants” symbolize?

In “Hills Like White Elephants,” the brown and dry landscape that the couple awaits their train on symbolizes the dismal state of their relationship and implies they choose not to have their child. The fertile plains across from the station symbolize the better life Jig dreams of and thinks they could have if they have their child. The hills that she compares to “white elephants” symbolize how her dreams for her relationship are just an illusion.

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In “Hills Like White Elephants,” Hemingway uses the three different terrains to symbolize the state of the couple’s relationship and in particular Jig’s illusions about her life.

When the story opens, the woman in the couple, Jig, looks at the hills across the valley and says that they look like white elephants. This suggests that she has a unique, lively imagination. The man that she is with responds to her observation saying, “I’ve never seen one.” This suggests that he took her comparison literally and his not as imaginative or creative. It also tells the reader that he is self-centered.

Jig’s observation of the hills also symbolizes her illusions about life and her desire to see what is not really there. As the story unfolds the reader learns that the couple has a tense relationship in which the man pressures Jig to have an abortion. Their relationship is reflective of Hemingway’s perspective on the post-World War I world. In many of his works, he depicts society at this time as a misguided place, one that is particularly hopeless for relationships. Jig wishes that her relationship could be happy, but this wish, just like the idea that the hills are white elephants, is nothing but an illusion.

The other two landscapes that Hemingway focuses on strongly contrast one another. The couple is drinking on the side of the train station where the country is "brown and dry.” This is a barren terrain that is symbolic of the couple’s relationship. The pair does not have an authentic emotional connection and their relationship lacks a sense of color and life, just like the landscape. It is also interesting to note that they end up taking the train on this barren side of the land, which suggests that they decide not to have their baby.

The third terrain is anything but brown and dry. Consider the moment when Jig gets up and walks to the end of the train station. She looks out in front of her and sees the landscape across from her on the other side. She sees fields of grain and trees along the banks of the river. Beyond that she sees mountains. She reflects on this landscape and says “And we could have all of this.” This line connects this landscape to the potential idea of her having the baby. It is fertile land that is full of different types of life and promises beautiful experiences. This landscape reflects the alleged promises that come with having children and what the woman dreams could be for her family. But the ending suggests that just like the dreams reflected in the hills like white elephants, the idea that the couple could have such a lush life is nothing but an illusion.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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