illustration of train tracks with low hills in the background and one of the hills has the outline of an elephant within it

Hills Like White Elephants

by Ernest Hemingway

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Analysis and Interpretation of Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"

Summary:

Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" uses minimalist dialogue and symbolism to explore a couple's tense conversation about an implied abortion. The hills symbolize the woman's pregnancy and the choices they face. The story's open-ended nature and spare language force readers to infer the characters' emotions and the outcome of their discussion, reflecting Hemingway's "iceberg theory" of writing.

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Is there an official interpretation for Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I think that the white elephant symbolism, as discussed in #3, is one of Hemmingway's most powerful images, as it seems to operate on so many different levels. It is the "elephant in the room" which Jig and her partner skirt around in their conversation and only briefly talk about. It is the "white elephant," the unwanted object, clearly relating to the foetus that the male is so desperate to get rid of. Lastly it seems to make a comment on the value of the relationship itself and its future.

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Is there an official interpretation for Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Just for quick reference, consider the symbolism of the title alone.  A "white elephant" is usually something unwanted that you are stuck with nonetheless.  Furthermore, hills could be considered as the peaks and valleys of a relationship, echo the travels by train that the couple takes through the hills, dividing them from the past and the future while the plunge on through the present; and even the symbolism of a woman's extended belly being both hill-like and elephantine during pregnancy.

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Who are the characters in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Characters, as you probably know, are the agents in a work of fiction that cause action and create conflict and drive plot. They are the personalities about whom we care, with whom our imaginations interact, who develop images and themes of life and living. In some instances, characters can be non-human creatures or, in rare instances, inanimate objects. The Wind in the Willows is an illustration of the first for it is peopled with moles, rats, badgers, toads. The House of the Seven Gables is an illustration of the second in which the house where Hepzibah lives is an integral part of all that occurs.

In "Hills Like White Elephants" there are two central characters, and one central character who is inferred though never introduced. There is one minor character who interacts with the first two and facilitates their interaction. There are characters who are mentioned and provide insight into the character of the American man but who have no discernible role in the action.

Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train.

The two central characters are the American man and his girlfriend who is the only one who has a name--she is called Jig.

The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes.

The character who is inferred is the unborn baby of Jig's pregnancy. The minor character is the woman who brings them their drinks through the symbolic beads that represent separation or dividedness. The other characters are the people in the "bar-room" who are "all waiting reasonably for the train."

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How might a woman perceive the circumstances in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

This is a tricky question because, in a day of strides toward humanity as one instead of as divided into groups and sectors, it suggests that men and women authors have vastly different perspectives. Perhaps it might be better to ask "How would it be different if told by a non-minimalist and non-modernist?" Perhaps it would be better to ask "How would it be different if told by someone from the 21st century instead of from the 20th century?" or "... if by someone who had never experienced World War instead by someone who had?" or "... if by another man?"

Having said this, let's assume the woman telling the story is a minimalist and a modernist. Let's also assume that she'd have a reason and preference for telling the story from the focalization of Jig's point of view. Let's also assume that the facts of the story are as Hemingway reported them and that the location is the same; the woman serving them drinks is the same; the drinks are the same; the conversation and the movements are the same.

With these stipulations, a woman's version of the story would be equally devoid of expressions of emotions. Her version of the story would be equally fragmented in meaning. Her version of the story would be equally fragmented in regard to character personality. The reason for this is that the era producing the genres of minimalism and modernism fostered these perspectives.   

With these conditions in place, the opening would vary only in so far as to say, "The girl and the American man with her sat at a table in the shade." The last of the falling action of the narrative--which reports statements and actions without delving into private emotion or thoughts that go unrevealed in word, expression or deed--would undergo a significant change: the narrator would stay with Jig and report Jig's behavior and observations:

‘I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station,’ the man said. She smiled at him.

‘All right. Then come back and we’ll finish the beer.’

He picked up the two heavy bags and carried them around the station to the other tracks. He looked up the tracks but could not see the train. Coming back, he walked through the bar-room, where people waiting for the train were drinking. He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train. He went out through the bead curtain. She was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

The original might become something like the following:

She watched him pick up the two heavy bags and carry them around the station toward the other tracks. She  looked into the distance along those tracks but her vision was blocked by the building behind which he carried the bags. Sitting alone, she looked again at the distant white hills, then stood and slowly walked toward the door and toyed with the beads covering it. She rubbed her hand across her forehead with her eyes clenched shut. She blinked into the white light then walked back over and resumed her seat in her chair. When he came back out through the bead curtain, she was sitting at the table and smiled at him.

This exercise demonstrates that it may be more true to consider differences produced by what genre and philosophical school of thought an author adheres to than to consider differences produced by gender, ethnic, or other groups.

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What is the focus in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I suspect that Hemingway wrote "Hills Like White Elephants" based on personal experience of a similar situation. In other words, I think he may have had a relationship with a young woman which resulted in her pregnancy and that he persuaded her to get an abortion. If I am correct, then I also suspect that his purpose in writing the story was to try to get rid of the feelings of guilt he had about the unpleasant incident. He wrote in his short story "Fathers and Sons" that he often wrote to rid his mind of things. Here is the exact quote:

"If he wrote it he could get rid of it. He had gotten rid of many things by writing them."

There are probably many writers who write to get rid of "things." The things may be memories, ideas, feelings, or something else. Vladimir Nabokov in an afterword to Lolita wrote: "Now, I happen to be the kind of author who in starting to work on a book has no other purpose than to get rid of that book . . . . ("On a Book Entitled Lolita")

It may be that some authors feel they have to rid their minds of "things" in order to be free to get new, and hopefully better, ideas from their unconscious minds, or from the muse.

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What is the focus in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I agree with what others mention.  I would also consider adding information about the context in which Hemmingway wrote the story and his purpose, compared to the other stories it was published with.

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What is the focus in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I use this story, along with several others by Hemingway, to study his writing style.  Students are able to discern his short, clipped sentence structure and use of spare details to yet convey the experience these two people are having as they discuss this very sensitive issue.  I usually have students work on this story as a class activity so that they can't do any research to start.  I like to see who can "get it" and why.  At some point in the class I make sure we are all on the same page about the abortion topic, which sends them all back into the story for a "better reading."

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What is the focus in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I make sure that they know what a White Elephant  and what the elephant in the room is.  You would be surprised what some kids don't know.  Then I have them notice how much of the story is dialogue.  We talk about what we learn from dialogue and what we don't.  We discuss narrator reliability, characterization and setting.  Many kids who don't initially pick up the abortion angle will look up information on the internet.  It is pretty hard to keep that a secret, so I just throw it out there to start!

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What is the focus in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I would focus on ambiguity and the power of that which is left unsaid.  I recently read this story again with a graduate school class, and we used the story to focus on the qualities of good writing.  In the story, Hemingway offers spare details to the reader and trusts that the reader will grapple with the text to find the meaning that it offers.  This is definitely a quality of good writing.

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What is the focus in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I would focus on the syntax of the story and how so little is said about what the two characters are really discussing. When I have done this story in the past, I usually do not give my students any background info...I basically see what they can get from it. Then, when we discuss that it is a story about abortion, I have them go back through and find evidence to support this assertion. We also get into the phrase "white elephants," which refer to something that is costly but that has little value otherwise, and what this means for the story as a whole.

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Who are the characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

In reality, we are given little concrete information about the couple and are left to infer a lot about them. It is clear from this story that it is the man who has the power and is able to manipulate and persuade Jig to do what he wants. Consider the way that by his speech at least he wants to come across as being reasonable, and yet it is he that repeatedly returns to the topic of Jig getting an abortion. It is Jig who is engaged in trying to mould herself into the kind of person that her partner wants her to be - note how she changes her view on the hills looking like white elephants.

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Who are the characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

While the characters are fictionalized, there is also evidence that the man and the woman are largely Hemingway and second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.  The relationship was troubled, and the abortion theme may well have been Hemingway's attempt to work through feelings about the threats to their relationship. 

The "threat" came in the form of his first wife, Hadley.  Paul P. Reuben says, "In early 1925, the Hemingways met Pauline Pfeiffer, a fashion editor for Vogue magazine.  She was intrigued greatly by Ernest and his writing and soon began spending a great deal of time with the family.  By mid 1927, it became apparent, however, that the feelings between Pauline and Ernest were more than friendly and, after several months of fighting, Hadley set up a separate residence in Paris.  Hadley made an agreement that if Ernest and Pauline could stay apart for one hundred days and were still in love after, she would grant a divorce so the two could be together.  Pauline immediately left for the States.  It is during these hundred days that Hemingway wrote most of the short story collection Men without Women.

Thinking about the story as fiction, it is the general consensus that the couple are representational of many young people of the "lost generation."  As for the fate of the child, David Wyche writes about the scholary disagreement concerning its fate: "Timothy O'Brien sees the "outcome of the couple's journey" as "bleak and infertile" (19). Their destination of Madrid--ironic because of the name's similarity to madre, the Spanish word for mother--will be "the site of the artificial intervention advocated by the male" (23). Kenneth Johnston interprets the cloud shadow that Jig sees moving over the fertile grain field as "foreshadowing the death of her unborn child" (235). Thomas Maher Gilligan suggests that the shifting of baggage from one side of the station to the other indicates that "the couple reconsiders, decides to go to Barcelona instead, and also decides to allow the pregnancy to continue."

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Who are the characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The man is an American with his girlfriend, Jig. As he does in other stories, Hemingway refers to her as "the girl", and to the American as "the man", suggesting that the couple's relationship is not really equal. Hemingway purposely leaves the rest of their identities open to interpretation so he can concentrate on developing the characters throughout the story. The couple obviously been traveling quite a bit but Jig's pregnancy has complicated their carefree lifestyle. The American's answer is an abortion and he tries to convince Jig that an abortion is "perfectly natural". Jig seems to really want the baby but she's afraid of losing the American's love if she has the baby. Unfortunately, the American does not listen to her and keeps on telling her how she should feel until she yells, "Will you please, please, please, please stop talking?" The story intentionally ends with no resolution, leaving room for students, teachers and literary critics with many interpretations of both the story and the characters.

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What is the central symbolism in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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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What is the relationship and point of contention between characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

To say the least, the relationship between Jig and the unnamed American man waiting for the train with her is complicated. They have clearly been in a romantic and sexual relationship, which has led to Jig being pregnant. However, it is clear that the two are very different. While the man's attitude seems bored and disinterested, both in their surroundings and in Jig's pregnancy, Jig’s approach to both their surroundings and her pregnancy seems lively and imaginative.

She is focused on the surrounding hills, noticing their resemblance to white elephants, while her partner simply sits quietly, waiting for the train to arrive. It is apparent that there is significant tension between the two, and the point of contention appears to be that he wants her to have an abortion, while she wants to keep her baby.

Jig has agreed, unhappily, to have the abortion when the two arrive in Madrid, and it is part of the man’s attempt to keep Jig on board with this plan that he keeps assuring her that the procedure is a simple one, and that having it done will result in their relationship being unchanged. It was perfectly natural for Jig to be afraid given that, at the time, abortion was illegal just about everywhere in the world.

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What is the relationship and point of contention between characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The relationship between the two characters in the story, an unnamed man and a woman called Jig, appears to be quite complex. Though they are clearly lovers—Jig is carrying the man's unborn child—there doesn't appear to be much in the way of real intimacy between them.

The way they conduct themselves around each other is awkward, to say the least. When Jig expresses her opinion that the surrounding hills look like white elephants, it's notable that the man's response is dour and phlegmatic. Among other things, this tells us that her world isn't his world. These lovers are like ships that pass in the night, as distant from each other as if they'd never even met.

Jig's focus is on the outside world, which is somewhat ironic given that she is carrying her lover's baby, which one would've thought would be her main preoccupation. And it this imaginative connection with the world around her that forms the main bone of contention between herself and her lover. Far from being imaginative, the man is brusque and down-to-earth—a man of few words, none of which are in the least bit memorable.

Jig and her lover are clearly on completely different wavelengths. It isn't surprising, then, that there is so much tension between them. The only surprise is that they ever got together in the first place.

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What is the relationship and point of contention between characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The two characters in the story—an unnamed American man and a woman called "Jig"—are involved romantically. Jig asks the American if soon things will be like they were before and "you'll love me?" He assures her that he does love her "now" but that he is simply worried and preoccupied. He claims that she "know[s] how [he] get[s]." Jig, however, seems more concerned about their being happy and things going back to the way they were "before," while the American is thinking about an "operation" that he clearly seems to want Jig to have.

The point of contention, as you put it, between them is what the American says is "really an awfully simple operation" where "they just let the air in and then its all perfectly natural." Jig seems to be unconvinced by the American's assurances that the couple will be "fine afterward. Just like [they] were before." He claims that "That" is the only thing that "bothers [them]" and makes them "unhappy." We have to do some reading between the lines here, but it seems as though they are discussing the possibility of Jig having an abortion.

This makes sense in the context of the hills that she says look like "white elephants," as well as the title of the story. White elephants were sometimes given as gifts by monarchs in southeast Asia. Because these elephants were considered sacred, they could not be put to work, they would cost a small fortune to feed and house, and receivers could be bankrupted by the cost of caring for these animals. Thus, the "gift" could become a sort of curse, though it was meant to be a blessing. It seems, then, that Jig is thinking of how this baby could be seen as a blessing, that the couple "could have everything," but the American man sees it as a curse to be gotten rid of.

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What is the relationship and point of contention between characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The man and the girl he calls Jig are lovers. It is possible that they are married. They have been traveling around Europe together for a long time, judging from all the hotel labels on their luggage. Jig has become pregnant, and the man has persuaded her to have an abortion in Madrid. They are waiting at a transfer station for the express train to Spain's capital city. Although Jig has agreed to have the abortion, she is not at all happy about it. The man is afraid she will change her mind, which explains why he keeps assuring her that it is a very simple operation and that their relationship will be just the same afterwards. She knows it could be a dangerous operation and feels sure it will destroy their relationship. They do not use the word abortion because that is understood. Also, they are breaking the law and doing it in a foreign country where they could get into even more serious trouble than they would at home. The story was published in 1927, when abortion was strictly illegal almost anywhere in the world. The big point of contention between them is simply that he wants her to have an abortion and she wants to keep the baby.

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Why is Hemingway's short story titled "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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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Why is Hemingway's short story titled "Hills Like White Elephants"?

"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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Why is Hemingway's short story titled "Hills Like White Elephants"?

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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Is the title "Hills Like White Elephants" symbolism or a metaphor?

In order for something to be a symbol, it must be have both literal meaning and figurative meaning. Therefore, there would actually have to be white elephants present in some literal way, and then they'd have to carry some figurative meaning on top of that (such as referring to something that is generally unwanted, or a burden, as other educators have said), in order to function as a symbol. Since there is no literal white elephant, it is not a symbol.

That being said, a simile is, technically speaking, literal, because a simile only says that something is like or as something else, not that it is something else (as a metaphor does). If the title of the story were "The Hills Are White Elephants," this would be a clear-cut metaphor). At the same time, however, I have sometimes seen the simile, as a figure of speech, lumped in under the broader category of "metaphor" because similes are similar to, though less powerful than, strict metaphors. Therefore, if you are only given two options—either symbolic or metaphorical—I would place the title in the metaphorical category.

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Is the title "Hills Like White Elephants" symbolism or a metaphor?

Because this title contains the word "like," it is technically a simile. Any comparison using like or as qualifies as a simile. On a deeper level, however, the "white elephants" within the title are actually symbols.

They represent anything that is not wanted, be that a pregnancy, a child, or something else entirely. Inasmuch as the white elephants represent an abstract concept, they qualify as symbols: one concrete thing standing for something less tangible.

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Is the title "Hills Like White Elephants" symbolism or a metaphor?

The expression itself, "hills like white elephants," is actually a simile, not a metaphor, since it uses "like." White elephants are used to refer to something unwanted or undesired. In this context, they are also symbolic in the story of her undesired pregnancy. The story also develops the relationship between the man and the woman. She isn't convinced that she wants to have the abortion, and he wants her to have it, and pressures her to have it, all the while he says that the choice is hers.

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Why does Hemingway use "Hills Like White Elephants" for his title?

The hills represent objectification and symbolize permanency while simultaneously symbolizing illusion, specifically, the illusion of how one thing can be reminiscent of another wholly dissimilar thing.

Hemingway chose this representation and symbol for the story title because the story's themes include

  • objective point of view and objectification of an issue.
  • the question of permanency in seemingly impermanent post-World War life.
  • illusion and illusionary relationships.

It is "the girl," Jig, who sits gazing at the hills and seeing in them reminiscence of other unrelated things. First, however, the narrator introduces the hills as the first and foremost part of the setting:

The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees ....

Then Jig is shown by Hemingway as being preoccupied with the hills: "The girl was looking off at the line of hills." In her distancing preoccupation, she identifies the hills with something whimsical and far-fetched: "They look like white elephants." Jig's preoccupation is in part escapism and in part distancing and in part, perhaps, also yearning, too.

She escapes the saddening conversation about the unstated topic by submerging herself in daydreams about the hills as one might submerge oneself in daydreams about clouds. She distances herself from the topic and conversation and from "the American" by gazing at, thinking about, and talking idly about the distant, illusionary hills.

They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.

Permanency and illusion represent the relationship Jig has with the American man. The longest exchange of dialogue in the story begins with a repetition of whether or not they can "have everything," with Jig quietly insisting that they cannot have because it is taken away. Jig insists their happiness has no permanency.

Illusion applies to the hills--their illusion of being like "white elephants"--and to the relationship between Jig and the man. The illusion of their relationship is revealed to Jig and to us when he slips and says "if it means anything to you." Jig, noticing, asks, "Doesn’t it mean anything to you?" His reply continues the illusion, "Of course it does," then shatters it again, "And I know it's perfectly simple."

In summary, Hemingway chose the title for all that it represents and symbolizes, especially as it symbolizes the illusionary and impermanent nature of the man's relationship with Jig and the opportunity created in which they "could get along."

As an aside, the issue of abortion is pinpointed as the man describes the "procedure," a description that fits abortion as performed in that era. Also, Jig is drinking beer and absinthe because it was only in the 1960s and 1970s that significant attention was given to whether pregnant women should or should not drink. This story is set in the post-World War I era as it was first published in 1926.

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Why is the title "Hills Like White Elephants"?

There are several reasons Hemingway selected this title for this story. The less important ones are the functional (maybe the hills really looked like this), and some of the lesser symbolism of the elephant (it is really big, and doesn't forget, and the thing they are talking about is very important and they'll never forget it).

The main reason, though, is the meaning of the phrase "white elephant." A white elephant is a possession, often a gift, that is expensive and hard to get rid of, but not something the recipient wants. Since the couple is talking about abortion, the title refers to that.

Greg

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Are there any metaphors in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

There are several metaphors and similes in Hemingway's story. The most prominent one is the hills, which Jig compares to white elephants. The hills represent many possible things, one of which is a pregnant woman's stomach. The hills also stand for an obstacle to overcome, and the comparison of them to white elephants speak to the idea of something that is rare and valued but not practical, as white elephants are in some culture.

Another metaphor is the absinthe the couple drinks. Absinthe is a drink that is a hallucinogen and can make one forget. The American wants the situation that he and the girl are in to go away--he wants to forget and for her to forget as well. They also have many beers, which symbolize a kind of numbing effect--again, something they both seem to want because of this difficult predicament in which they find themselves.

Another important metaphor in the story is the number two. The number two appears several times in the story. There are two cervasas (beers), two felt pads, two suitcases, and two bead on the curtain. This number is significant because at the end of the story, Hemingway leaves the fate of the couple unresolved, but what the reader can surmise from the repetition of the number two is that there will be only two people left--either the American and Jig or Jig and her child. However from this metaphor, it is clear that there will not be three--the American, Jig, and their child. The ending is not happy for these characters.

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Are there any metaphors in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

I believe that when the man and the girl say, "Everything tastes like licorice," this can be considered a metaphor, even though it contains the word "like" and might be construed as a simile. Everything does not really taste like licorice. Saying that everything tastes like licorice is implying that everything in life turns out to be a disappointment. 

"Yes," said the girl. "Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe."

In this instance the word "like" is not used, so it is even more of a metaphor. It is an ingenious one. Hemingway is using a simile, or an analogy, as a metaphor.

The title of the story is "Hills Like White Elephants." The hills may look "like" white elephants, but the whole simile is also a metaphor. White elephants are symbols of anything of great value that is not wanted. The hills may be "like" white elephants, but the white elephants are metaphors for the unwanted baby which the man is pressuring the girl to abort. It is obvious throughout the story that the girl wants the baby and the man doesn't.

Another thing about white elephants, which may affect the outcome of the conflict, is that a white elephant is only a white elephant because you can't get rid of it. If you could get rid of it, it would no longer be a white elephant. So maybe the man will not succeed in persuading the girl to go ahead with the abortion after all?

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What is the couple arguing about in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Jig and the American never actually name the subject of their conversation. The closest they get is by referring to some kind of medical procedure, what the man calls "an awfully simply operation." He tells her that she will not "mind it" and that the procedure is "just to let the air in." The American says that the two of them will be "fine afterwards. Just like [they] were before." Though it is not explicitly said, it is implied that this procedure might be an abortion.

Jig asks if the American man thinks that they will be "all right and . . . happy" after the operation. The man seems not to want to pressure her, saying she does not have to have this operation if she does not want to and that he would not have her do it if she does not want to, but he continues to stress how "simple" and "natural" a thing it is to do.

The fact that Jig seems so concerned that things will "be like they were" and that he will "still love [her]" seems to indicate that this procedure has something to do with their relationship, and his description of it—that it will only "let the air in"—makes it seem as though its purpose is to get rid of something, to make room for air, just as we might open a window to let out stale air inside a house. However, we know this would be an elective procedure, not something required to save Jig's life, because it is discussed as something optional, something possible, and not something required.

The iceberg technique, here, means that the couple never explicitly names what they are discussing. This omission is so glaring and so obvious that it adds to the reader's sense that their communication is absolutely terrible. They do not communicate well at all. The American man appears to really want her to get the "operation" but he will not come right out and say so. Jig seems apprehensive about the operation, and she is not comforted by the man's attempts to reassure her. In fact, she really wants them to stop talking altogether. She ultimately insists that she "feel[s] fine," even though it is totally clear that she doesn't. This technique, then, adds to their characterization and the development of their relationship, which is coming apart, it seems, because they just cannot communicate effectively.

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What is the couple arguing about in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Ernest Hemingway believed that leaving out important details in his stories (often called the "iceberg theory") tended to make them more powerful. In his novel The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway leaves out the important fact that Jake Barnes has been castrated in World War I. The fact is implied but never overtly stated. Likewise, in the short story "Hills Like White Elephants," Hemingway never explicitly states the nature of the argument between the American and Jig, yet a close reading of the text identifies the topic as abortion. Two important references in the story reveal that abortion is the subject. First, Jig mentions how the hills resemble white elephants. A white elephant is often considered a gift which is burdensome and not really wanted. These hills are like the baby that Jig is carrying. Second, the American wants Jig to have an abortion and tends to refer to the medical procedure as simple and natural. He says,

"It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig...It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in."

For her part, Jig seems to resist the American's request to abort her baby but the issue is never resolved. Often analyzed by critics, some seem to feel that, judging by her perceived acquiescence to whatever the American wants, Jig will have the abortion. Others cite the fact that at the end of the story Jig and the American drink in different places (her at the table and him at the bar) to suggest that Jig will break off her relationship with the American and have the baby.  

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How would you describe the characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

In “Hills Like White Elephants” the American man, and the woman, “Jig,” are a couple sitting outside a café’ drinking beer while they await a train.  These characters are discussing a pregnancy and an abortion.  The relationship is very unstable at the moment because the couple is unable to connect with each other.  Jig seems to want to have the baby but the man wants her to have an abortion.  He is very selfish and independent.  He tells her he loves her but the reader does not feel that from him.  He appears to be very cynical and unfeeling toward Jig.  His words do not match what we feel from him.  There seems to be a sense of aloofness between them because they can’t agree on which direction to go concerning the baby.  They do not understand one another. Their though processes are nowhere near close to each other and this is what drives the story toward what appears to be a no win situation for the relationship.  Jig doesn’t speak Spanish but the man does, this indicates that she is extremely dependent on her lover and she must consider his feelings more than if she were not dependent. This has a big effect on how they interact during their relationship. He is in control and continues to suggest that this decision is an easy one.

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In the story "Hills Like White Elephants," what do the main characters in the story look like?

Hemingway does not give details about the appearance of either character.  The most we are told is that it is an American and a girl, and that the girl was wearing a hat - a detail that says more about the time period than it does about the girl herself.

The reason that Hemingway does not give details is very specific.  Hemingway was a modernist writer who believed in simplicity.  Unlike the authors who came before him, Hemingway's style used a lack of detail and a lack of wording in order to get his point across.  This is known as imagist writing - the simple images and words provided are meant to convey emotion.  The emotion in this story is that of conflict, and of ambiguity.  The girl and man are at a crossroads and don't know how to communicate about it to one another, much less how to proceed.  That uncertainty is echoed in our ignorance of their past and their appearance - even their names.

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What are the three main points of "Hills Like White Elephants"?

First, this story conveys the idea that it is often difficult for human beings to honestly communicate their feelings to one another. Jig, the girl, struggles with this, as does the American man. The American seems to want Jig to have an abortion, though he does not want to pressure her, so he doesn't come right out and name his preference. Instead, he says things like, "'It's really an awfully simple operation . . . It's not really an operation at all.'" Jig seems quite unsure, perhaps wanting to keep the baby. However, she wants to please the man. She asks things like, "'And if I do it you'll be happy and things will be like they were and you'll love me?'" Neither really says how they feel honestly.

Second, this story conveys the idea that some gifts feel more like burdens than blessings. Jig's statement that the hills in the distance "'looked like white elephants'" draws attention to this idea. White elephants used to be quite valuable, however, they are very expensive to care for. One might get a white elephant as a gift from royalty, but this gift could actually bankrupt the recipient, and so it felt more like a burden than a gift. This seems to be how Jig feels about the baby she is evidently carrying, or it's what she thinks the American man feels about it. She even mentions this again later, saying, "'I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn't that bright?'" in response to the man's irritation with her attitude.

Third, this story conveys the idea that our failure to communicate our feelings honestly keeps us, ultimately, alienated from one another. Jig, growing more and more frustrated, finally asks, "'Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?'" In the end, she says, unconvincingly, "'I feel fine . . . There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.'" She obviously is not fine, but the couple's failure to communicate effectively opens up a gulf between them that neither can bridge.

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What are the three main points of "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The three main points of "Hills Like White Elephants" are probably as follows:

1. Jig is pregnant and wants to have the baby.

"Doesn't it mean anything to you? We could get along."

"Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?"

2. The "American" doesn't want her to have the baby.

"It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. "It's not really an operation at all."

"Well," the man said, "if you don't want to you don't have to. I wouldn't have you do it if you didn't want to. But I know it's perfectly simple."

3. They are about to board a train to take them to Madrid, where she will be getting an abortion.

It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went on to Madrid.

"The train comes in five minutes," she [the waitress] said.

A touching sign that Jig really wants the baby is often overlooked:

The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads.


The beads remind her of the wooden beads that often come on baby cribs, play pens, and strollers.

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Who are the main characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

Hemingway begins his story with a description of the bleak, hot, dry setting, which is obviously in Spain. He chose not to explain much about his two main characters, but it would seem that he realized he had to identify one of them as either English or American in order to avoid having the reader make the logical assumption that the man and woman were Spanish and were talking in Spanish which was rendered or transliterated into English. Since it turns out that the girl obviously knows virtually nothing about Spanish, and since only the man is called an American, we are likely to assume that Jig is English. We can only guess what they look like. We guess that the American looks like a stereotypical American-in-Europe -- tall, gaunt, outdoorsy. The girl is pregnant but doesn't show it yet. She is probably pretty but looks very unhappy and withdrawn. We might assume from her nickname that she is rather petite, cute rather than beautiful, normally a good sport with a good sense of humor, intelligent, witty, a good mixer and a good companion.

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Who are the main characters in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

There are two main characters in Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants." The story takes place in Spain (as denoted by the Ebro Valley the hills overlook). Readers are told very specifically about the young man's nationality, but is not told about the young woman's:

The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building.

The young man is American and the young girl's nationality is not given. The American, at one point, calls the girl Jig, but readers are never given the America's name.

Over the course of the story little information is given about the characters themselves. Instead, readers can only conclude that they are arguing about an operation, which has been popularity assumed to be an abortion. The girl is only worried if the yo9ung man will still love her after her operation.

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Who is the speaker in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The speaker in this excellent short story is a character who is external to the story, and not involved in it. As a third person narrator, the speaker is notable by his extremely detached perspective on the story. In no way can the narrator be described as omniscient, as he does not reveal the thoughts and feelings experienced by Jig and her American partner. The narrator is very careful only to report what is said and what can be observed, and this is shown through the way that the majority of the text is reported dialogue rather than introspective comments about the thoughts and emotions of the characters. Note the following example:

"It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. "It's not really an operation at all."

Here, the reader is left to infer that what the man keeps on trying to discuss with Jig is that he wants her to have an abortion. This is not stated at all, but rather the detached narrative perspective means that the reader needs to infer this from what is said and how they conduct their speech. In short, this excellent short story is a perfect example of how Hemmingway shows the reader what is going on rather than telling them directly, and as a result his narrative voice in this text is detached and not intrusive.

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What is Hemingway's claim in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

One of the objectives of Hemingway's style of minimalist writing is to open the truth of subjects up to thoughtful contemplation. For this reason, his narrators are objective though sympathetic and distanced though astutely observant. Since Hemingway often chooses settings for their symbolic value, the narrator's observation of the surroundings reveals as much as the narration of events.

Since Hemingway aims to expose the truth of difficult situations and open them to contemplation, it may be hard to assert a "claim" in his stories, particularly since he aims to be objective and inclusively sympathetic in "Hills Like White Elephants." Having said this, the one thing that is most clear from this short story is that Jig's pregnancy is going to radically change the lives of both adults. Perhaps Hemingway's "claim" might be best describe as claiming that loose relationships that aren't bound by the expectations present in marital relationships are like time bombs waiting to go off; these kinds of relationships will shatter and destroy everything dreamed of:

[F]ields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. ... beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain ...
     "And we could have all this," she said. "And we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible."
     "What did you say?"
     "I said we could have everything."
     "We can have everything."
     "No, we can't."

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How are women depicted in "Hills Like White Elephants"?

The one woman shown in any detail in the story, Jig, is depicted as frustrated and unhappy. She is trapped in a dead-end relationship.

She is pregnant and clearly wants to keep the baby. She seems to hope her lover will accept her wish and that somehow they can be a family. He, on the other hand, repeatedly tries to pressure her into having an abortion. He says over and over that he will do whatever she wants, but the incessant way he pushes the abortion shows that he is being insincere. He tells her if she gets rid of the baby, everything will go back to the way it was, but that is hard to believe.

She expresses her anger by telling him to "please" just be quiet.

We feel for Jig. Her lover is not committed to her the way she would like him to be, and she is caught between being a single parent—as it seems clear he won't stick around if she has the baby—and having an abortion that she doesn't want.

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What does the relationship between the characters and their surroundings in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" signify?

"Hills Like White Elephants" depicts a relationship stuck in limbo. The man wants his girlfriend, Jig, to get an operation (usually interpreted as an abortion). Jig wants to keep the baby. For such a spare story, using a minimum of words, Hemingway spends a good deal of time describing setting and locating the characters carefully within it. The setting reflects the unhappy situation of this couple.

First, we see that Jig and her boyfriend are stuck at a train station in Spain, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. After moving their luggage, the boyfriend looks up in hopes of the train's arrival:

He looked up the tracks but could not see the train.

This mirrors the way their relationship is at an impasse, going nowhere. They are waiting for a train—for movement forward—but in the story, that never comes, revealing how stuck they are not only at the train station but also with their decision about the abortion and in their relationship as a whole.

Hemingway also puts the couple alone together at a table outside a bar, separated from it by a beaded curtain that is meant to keep the flies out. Are they the flies, buzzing at each other but not communicating anything meaningful? When the narrator goes to put the luggage on the platform, he passes through the bar, which is filled with people. The couple, however, is isolated, reflecting their inner isolation as well as their isolation from other people. They don't seem to have anyone to turn to for help in their crisis, which they won't even admit is a crisis.

Jig looks for solid ground, something physical to hold on to as her boyfriend pushes the abortion. She wants an anchor, but her boyfriend isn't providing it. A bead curtain is fairly insubstantial, but Jig holds it anyway:

The girl looked at the bead curtain, put her hand out and took hold of two of the strings of beads . . .

We also learn that the train station is set between a fertile valley on one side—

Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains . . .

—and a dry, barren valley on the other:

the hills on the dry side of the valley.

This setting mirrors the choice the couple must make between barrenness (abortion) and fertility (having the baby).

The loneliness, isolation, and limbo of their setting, along with the choice represented by the two valleys around them, symbolizes the plight of the couple. Their future seems bleak and not very hopeful, even though they could, if they wanted, choose fertile ground.

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