Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway's story Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway's story Hills Like White Elephants is about an American man and a lady drinking beer outside a station bar while waiting for a train from Barcelona to Madrid. The atmosphere surrounding them is strained as the man attempts to persuade the girl to abort. The lady decides just to make the guy happy. As a stylistic device, Ernest employs imagery, allegory, and, most notably, symbolism. As a result, this paper will focus on the symbolism and how the author employs it in this story.


Hills and Elephant

"Hills" has been used by the writer to depict the obstacle or problem in the room. The couple is at a crossroad in their lives. They have to overcome the problem to go on with their lives. The hills also refer to the shape of the female body during pregnancy. White elephant signifies a gift the owner cannot dispose of yet it has no usefulness since its utility is overshadowed by the cost. Hence, the American guy sees the pregnancy as a white elephant by his false nudging. It also shows how a gift can be worthless to one person and priceless to another hence the baby is precious to Jig but not the man.

Bamboo Bead

The bamboo bead curtain acts as a symbol making as think of partitions and separations. The torn curtain mirrors the difference or separation between the two characters in the story. Something is hanging amid them as they are divided on the issue of abortion, their future and nature of their happiness. The fact that Jig wants the baby and the American guy is against it acts as a curtain between them. Only simple things such as what they want to drink can be communicated.

"Close against the direction 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 files" (Hemingway 475). At this moment we anticipate to go inside the bar, but the narrator pulls us back to the table outside the bar. This picture gives us a feeling of being left out. Figuratively, the curtain blocks us from prying into their inner thoughts. The narrative is keeping us solidly on the outside allowing us to interfere with what the two are speaking and not how they are feeling or their reactions.

"The girl looked at the bead curtain. 'They've painted something on it,' she said. 'What does it say?'" (Hemingway 476). This statement depicts how the couple cannot communicate. Their words although spoken by in a shared language, are lost in translation. The couple in the story is killing time between Barcelona and Madrid trying to decide between getting married and abortion. The middle-ground between the decisions does not offer much comfort. The train station and luggage try to show a transition between worlds and experiences. The man and Jigs suitcases have stickers that give a record of their travels; the baggage represents a map of the journey that brought them to this point. 'He said nothing but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. The bags had labels from all the hotels where they had spent nights' (Hemingway 475). "Where they had spent the nights" and the stickers on the suitcases serve as a visual reminder of where and how Jig got pregnant. This also underlines the similarities between the couple being stranded on marriage or abortion and them being stopped halfway between cities.

The landscape where we see 'on one side of the tracks, there was no shade and no trees. However, on the opposite side were fields of grain and trees along the bank of the Ebro (Alashjaai 201). This shows the contrast between the barren and fertile land on either side of the tracks symbolizing the consequences of the decision Jig has to make.


Hemmingway in this story has done an incredible job in showing us the trouble of a couple in making a decision that will affect the rest of their lives. The tale leaves the reader with many questions that implore us to use symbolism for better understanding.

Works Cited

Alashjaai, Nouf Fahad. "The Interpersonal Relationship between Jig and the American in Hemingway's Elephants." The English Literature Journal (2014): 200-205.

Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants." (2003): 475-478.

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