Hemingway’s literary opus “Hills Like White Elephants” is a perfect example of how setting and symbolism are utterly utilized in emancipating the plot. The story is simple. There are no subplots and change in characterization. It is about abortion, although mentioned as an “operation” in the story. Through the gradual suggestions of symbolic parts, the reader is able to understand where the conversation heads to after the first reading. The most conspicuous symbolism is lifted from the title itself. The elephant shaped hills referred to Jig’s pregnancy.
It was said to be white as the life inside her womb echoes purity and innocence. Another symbol would be how Hemingway introduced a detailed description of the setting in the first two paragraphs to show the difference of the present and the future situations. The valley of Ebro suggests possibility of life, in contrast with the shade-less and tree-less side of the train station which anticipates the perplexity of the present (Fletcher 18). The reader can already infer miscommunication between the couple since the word ‘abortion’ was never mentioned in the entire text (Cioe 101-105).
Then and there, the conflicting standpoints of the couple are mirrored. The man is deemed to be immature to convince Jig to go through the process, assuring her that everything will be fine after. Jig, on the other, hints on the stereotypical woman being submissive to a man, since she allows herself to be as composed as possible, despite other implications that she does not want to have the “operation”. The ending is still ambiguous to most Hemingway enthusiasts. Each has their own interpretation.
Whether the couple allowed abortion to happen or not, the story ends with a striking occurrence that can never change the fact that there is no other way but to decide on what is imminent: the man picks up the bag, readies himself for the train ride; Jig still sitting at the table and just smiled. Hemingway must have left this hanging ending for us to judge ourselves and relate this particular dilemma to our present conditions. Thus, this short story propels further discussions that would include morality, gender issues and youth’s fickle-mindedness.