Hills Like White Elephants Questions and Answers
by Ernest Hemingway

Hills Like White Elephants book cover
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What is so important about the setting in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The setting is important in "Hills Like White Elephants" because it tells us so much about the relationship between Jig and the American. The immediate setting of the train station in Spain means that the couple don't "belong" to this place, just as they don't "belong" together. They are travelers, passing through, emotionally set apart. The hills in the distance also point to Jig's apparent realization that her relationship is not as good as she once thought it was.

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There are several aspects of the setting in this story that carry meaning or produce significant effects. First, the young woman called "Jig" and the "American" man are at a train station, a place of coming and going but not belonging. They are on their way to somewhere and coming from somewhere, but for now, they are in a kind of limbo, just like they find themselves in an emotional limbo in their relationship. Second, the couple are in a country, Spain, to which they are not native. The man is "American," and Jig, for example, does not speak Spanish—she needs him to read and translate the words on the beaded curtain at the cantina for her. They are travelers, out of their comfort zones and familiar spaces, just as they are emotionally as well.

Third, the physical topography of the area, with its hills in the distance, evidently reminds Jig of white elephants. Jig's reference to a "white elephant" is an allusion to an old tale about the king of Siam and how he would give a white...

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