Why does Hemingway use the title "Hills Like White Elephants" in the short story "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The title of "Hills Like White Elephants" uses the symbol of the sacred white elephant to refer to something which might be seen as a valuable gift or an expensive burden, like the child to which the couple in the story obliquely refer.

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To understand the title of the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, it is important to isolate the central conflict in the story. A man and a woman are waiting for a train at an isolated station in the Ebro Valley in Spain. They have a series of drinks and talk together, and it soon becomes obvious that they are arguing.

This story is told in Hemingway's sparse style. He referred to it as the "iceberg" method of writing, which posited that a story would be strengthened if only a small portion is above the surface, and much that is important is implied but unstated. In "Hills Like White Elephants," the couple is on their way to Madrid so that the woman can get an abortion. She remains unsure about whether it is the right thing to do, and the man is trying to convince her to go through with it. Despite this being the central conflict of the story, Hemingway never mentions the word "abortion" and alludes to it only indirectly.

The man argues that the abortion is a simple procedure "just to let the air in," although in those days it was illegal and not at all as simple as he claims. It is obvious that he is making light of it so that the woman will agree to go through with it. The woman, on the other hand, is unsure about what she wants to do. She is concerned that things will not go back to normal for them afterwards either way. Her remark about the hills being like white elephants is a reflection of this.

She first alludes to the hills being like white elephants as a simple comparison while they are sipping their drinks, but even this remark stirs up a disagreement between them about whether or not the man has ever seen an elephant. As they continue to talk, their argument becomes more heated, and it becomes obvious that it is about the proposed abortion. When she says, "If I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you'll like it," what she is doing is asking for a confirmation that if she goes through with the abortion, then things will return to the way they were between them. The "hills like white elephants," of the title, then, stands for the fanciful life that they had before she got pregnant, that she hopes that they can go back to but somehow realizes that they probably never will.

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"Hills Like White Elephants" is a striking and memorable title, which contains a double-edged symbol. The rare white elephant was a sacred animal in South and Southeast Asian cultures, and the King of Siam, in particular, used to give them to courtiers who had earned his special favor. However, because these white elephants were so prized, the rituals surrounding their care and maintenance were exacting and consequently expensive. Unless the courtier was fantastically rich, he might well be ruined by such a gift. It was said that, when this became apparent to the king, he began to give white elephants only to those he disliked, as a punishment and a burden. The phrase "white elephant" in English now refers to something useless, expensive, and burdensome.

The man and the girl in Hemingway's story have different views about parenthood. The girl sees a child as a gift of something sacred, corresponding to the original meaning of the white elephant in the culture of Siam. However, the man views the prospect of having a child as being burdened with a white elephant in the modern sense, an encumbrance which will only make his life worse. The title, therefore, contains a symbol which manages to encapsulate the opposing viewpoints of both main characters.

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This is an interesting question that has more than one answer. The best and most accurate way to understand Hemingway's title is as a double symbol that also represents the overarching theme of the story. First: The title represents Jig's interior references to "hills like white elephants," thus pointing out the main meaning and overarching theme. In other words, that Jig speaks of "white elephants" is a central motif and a central theme of the story that is pointed to and emphasized by the title; thus "white elephants" is the key titular phrase that unlocks the deepest meaning of the story.

Second: "Hills like white elephants" is a double symbol: it symbolizes two things, one of which also symbolizes the other thing. You might think of this double-compound symbol as one umbrella with two people sharing it.

To begin with, "white elephants" are a symbol for that which is holy and sacred. White elephants are a rare kind of elephant, which are not Albinos, that are held sacred in some countries, like India, and in some religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism. Thus the "hills like white elephants" represent a natural monument (hills) that is sacred and powerfully good.

To go one step further into the second symbol, the "hills like white elephants"--now tagged symbolically as sacred and good--symbolize Jig's pregnancy, the natural monumental event that is also an obstacle to advancing along life's path, just as hills can be obstacles on journeys. Now we have two closely related symbols underneath the representative "umbrella" of the title.

Therefore, Hemingway uses the title "Hills Like White Elephants" to point out the deepest meaning of the story; to symbolize the sacred nature of propagating children; to symbolize the pregnancy that is being debated by the American man and Jig. 

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