Symbolism of Hills with White Elephants Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 4 January 2017

Symbolism of Hills with White Elephants

Readers engaging in Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” for their first time understand it as a normal conversation between a couple who is waiting for a train, but in reality it is a melodramatic conversation between the two about having a abortion and going their separate ways. Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills like White Elephants” begins with a drawn out depiction of the story’s setting in a train station bounded by hills, trees, and fields in the valleys of Spain.

A gentleman identified modestly as the American and his girlfriend convene at a table external to the train station, anticipating a train to Madrid. Hemingway’s use of landscape such as, the train station and the white clouds connects vividly to the story’s ultimate meaning. Hemingway sets “Hills Like White Elephants” at a railway station to emphasize the idea that the relationship amongst the American man and the girl is at an intersection. The argument between the American and the girlfriend provides a crossroad for the couple on what the right action is in their situation.

Introduced in the interior of an uninhabited valley, the railway is not a concluding endpoint but purely a pausing point between Barcelona and Madrid. Tourists, including the American and the girl, must consequently decide where their next destination is and, in Hemingway’s story, whether or not to go with each other and remain in their relationship. In the description of the landscape Hemingway made the choice to use hills instead of something such as, mountains, because a pregnant woman’s stomach resembles a hill itself. Hills represent the idea that there are obstacles throughout life, but they are not massive mountains.

This idea represents the theory that the girl’s pregnancy is a main setback in her existence, but overall it does not terminate her life and she will make it through. In Hemingway’s short story the narrator recalls, “The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry. They look like white elephants, she said” (Hemingway 205). Hemingway’s use of dissimilarity between the desolate valley and the girls’ description of the hills looking like white elephants imply her contrasting opinion between being and passing.

And possibly fertility and sterility, the decisions the girl must make between having an abortion or going through with her pregnancy. Having the setting contrast so drastically creates the idea that the girl seems contemplating between the two sceneries, The girl, remarking not only on the loveliness of the hills, but actually walking to the close of the platform and observing the brown barrenness around the train station. At one point, the girl stood up and looked at the landscape and states, “And we could have all this” (Hemingway 206).

The girl said this on a much deeper level because hills characterize complications, fresh life, and opportunity. While the girl gazes towards the hills, she perceives possibilities and is pondering the idea of a new being, the unborn child. Meanwhile, the American looks at the hills and perceives emptiness. His idea of a blissful future is prevented by the complication of having the child. After reading the story, it is obvious a white elephant symbolizes something no one desires, and in Hemingway’s story the ‘white elephant’ is the girl’s unborn child.

The girl symbolically equates the hills and the baby to the white elephants, which also can be seen as the expression, “the elephant in the room,” a allegory for a thought or tangible item that no one truthfully would like to talk about. In the beginning of the story, the girl remarks that the hills surrounding the train station resembling white elephants. At first, the comment seems to be a casual, nonchalant declaration, but when diving into it farther it noticeably serves as a symbol for the American and herself to discuss the resolution of having an abortion or keeping the unborn baby.

Later on in the story, the girl withdraws her statement, stating “They’re lovely hills, they don’t really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through trees” (Hemingway 205). Her swift change of thought insinuates the theory that the girl would like to keep the unborn child after all. The American appears to dismiss the suggestion even when the girl states clearly that her opinion on the matter had changed. In the setting and other details of Hemingway’s story there is the reoccurring symbol of “two.

For example, the pair ordered “dos” cervezas, the train stopped for two minutes, the American carries their two bags to the other side of the platform, the couple orders two glasses of beer with the two felt pads. This extreme emphasis on the number two in the setting could possibly symbolize two different meanings. The first meaning the relationship cannot extend beyond two individuals, which goes along with the saying “threes a crowd. ” The second, meaning that the “two” refers to the girl and the baby and that perhaps she is trying to make the decision of whether to stay with the American or not.

The use of the number two is definitely an important moment in the short story within the setting and the overall theme. At the conclusion of “Hills Like White Elephants,” the American returns to the luggage and brings both his bag and the girls bag to the railroad tracks, at this moment the anxiety in the story is released. On his return to the table the girl claims to be fine and then the story comes to its open-ending. This is a representation of the fact that a decision was made and they are both advancing, whichever way that maybe.

Hemingway used a variety of symbolism throughout “Hills like White Elephants. ” There are an enormous amount of images and items that give the feeling of passion that individuals cannot define through words, but are left for the reader to decipher and make inferences for themselves. By looking at the setting Hemingway chose for this short story, readers are able to reach beyond the dialogue and into the intent and sensations of the American and the girl.

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  • University/College: University of Arkansas System

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  • Date: 4 January 2017

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