Ernest Hemingway’s Hills like White Elephants
The short story Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway is a story about a man and woman who are sitting at a bar at a small train station somewhere in Spain. They seem to be having a heated conversation about a mysterious “operation”. The author never explicitly says what the issue is between the man and woman, but it can be assumed it is about a huge and personal decision they have to make because of the literary devices the author uses. Throughout the story the author hints at what the mysterious operation really is. Hemingway uses symbolism, setting, and imagery to convey the main theme of the story.
The author begins the short story by using setting to explain where the story takes place. The man and woman are sitting at a bar having drinks near the train station in Spain, the author describes it as:
The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun. Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. (Hemingway 1)
The author chose to place his story in a train station, a place typically surrounded by nothing but nature. By doing so it creates a strong sense of openness and even isolation which can also be related to the couple and their situation. Hemingway places his characters in this situation to express that not only are they “stuck” at the train station as they wait for the next train to Madrid, but are also stuck between making the decision to have an abortion. They have no way of escaping their decision, it must be made. There are only two ways that the train can go just as there is only two options for the man and woman. Another example of setting in Hemingway’s story is when the man and woman talk about the heat and when the author explains the setting they’re in. We’re told two times on the first page about the weather. Hemingway writes, ”It was very hot and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes” (1). By including the fact that it is scorching hot gives you a sense of discomfort which represents the uncomfortable conversation between the American and Jig. The hills that Jig continues to look at throughout the story look like white elephants and are life in a barren valley symbolizing death which parallels her difficult choice of whether or not she should go through with the abortion.
The second literary device the author uses is symbolism. Symbolism is used throughout Hemingway’s entire short story and is even in the title. White elephants are the major symbol of the story and many people believe the white elephant has many meanings. The color white itself symbolizes purity, innocence, and goodness. The white elephant has been used to describe someth...