Why is this story titled "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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A white elephant is a possession that is useless or no longer wanted by its owner. It's also a high-maintenance item or property that brings little or no profit. According to old legends, white elephants were gifts kings would give to courtiers who were no longer in favor. The expense of maintaining the white elephant would financially ruin the courtier.

The baby Jig is likely carrying is carrying is a white elephant, as far as Jig's boyfriend is concerned. It is the kind of "gift" that he feels is not worth the cost. He wants Jig, therefore, to get an abortion, but he also wants her to go along with it. He wants her to at least pretend the abortion was a joint decision—and, of course, for it to happen, she has to agree. Jig, however, wants to keep a the baby.

The term "white elephant" also connects to the idea of "the elephant in the room," a big problem or issue that everyone in a room is aware of but nobody wants to talk about. Jig and her boyfriend keep talking around the abortion, not calling it by name. A further elephant in the room is their strained, angry relationship. Neither one, at this point, is willing to talk frankly about their problems. Their relationship is both a white elephant—no longer worth the cost of maintenance to either of them—and the elephant in the room they won't discuss.

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There are at least a couple of plausible theories about why Hemingway titled the story "Hills Like White Elephants."

The simplest form of the expression is that a white elephant is an unwanted possession. This is why churches and other groups hold "rummage" or "white elephant" sales, where people bring their undesired belongings to be sold off to others. In Hemingway's story, it seems clear that the American does not want Jig to keep the baby that she is carrying. To him, an abortion would be a way of ridding the couple of their metaphoric "white elephant." The "hill" might be a metaphor for the arduous task of the two of them coming to the agreement that the pregnancy will be terminated.

It is also arguable that a second meaning is inferred by the landscape surrounding Jig and the American; it looks like the rounded body of someone in the midst of a pregnancy. This idea complements the inference that the pregnancy is a white elephant. It is amplified and omnipresent as the couple conducts their elliptical conversation.

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Early in the story Jig and the American have the following exchange of dialogue regarding the long and white hills across the valley of the Ebro:

"They look like white elephants," she said.
"I've never seen one," the man drank his beer.
"No, you wouldn't have."
"I might have," the man said. "Just because you say I wouldn't have doesn't prove anything."

Jig does not mean that the man would not have seen a real white elephant. What she means is that he would never have seen a mountain that looked like a white elephant. In other words, he doesn't have any imagination. This illustrates a difference between them which may ultimately lead to their separation. The American is practical, realistic, literal-minded. The man does not want to talk about any "white elephants." He is concerned about the logistical problems involved in getting an abortion in a foreign, Catholic country. He is also concerned about keeping Jig "on board," so to speak, with the idea of having an abortion.

To some degree the American resembles Clyde Griffiths in Theodore Dreiser's novel An American Tragedy. Clyde is worried and frightened about Roberta Alden's pregnancy, which she has agreed to terminate if he can find someone to perform an abortion; but Clyde has to pretend to be confident and to know what he is doing.

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