The short story “Hills Like White Elephant” by Ernest Hemingway is the type of story in which you are required to read between the lines. Published in 1927, Hemingway uses many different literary devices embedded into the story. On the surface, it seems just like any other “plain-Jane” story. However, when you look deeper, you see that Hemingway uses setting, dialogue, and symbolism to portray the conflict in confronting the future, evasion of responsibility, and the mindset of post-war lifestyles worldwide. Starting at the first paragraph, the setting immediately introduces the tense atmosphere surrounding the rest of the story. The story takes place in Spain in the late 1920s. The setting is described in such words, “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. There was no shade and no trees on this side, and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun.
The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade outside the building. It was boiling, and the express from Barcelona would come in forty minutes. It stopped at this junction for two minutes and went to Madrid.” From then, you notice the couple is in the middle of making a hard decision where there are only two choices, two directions, just like the two rail lines that pass by the station. Also, the loneliness around the railroad station means that there is no way to back out of the problem at stake and that the American and the Jig must address at the moment. The heat makes the scene into a teakettle, boiling and screaming under pressure. Therefore, the setting blossoms a whole new look onto the story and ties into the conflict.
The dialogue in the short story is straightforward; yet, not straightforward. It is never certain if the man and woman, or just a couple. Also, Hemingway never directly says that the operation or surgery that Jig is pondering to have completed is an abortion. Instead, the story starts with a conversational dialogue between the couple. What seems to be a mere debate but has a much deeper surface. Jig and her boyfriend discuss her decision to move forward with the abortion. As they continue talking, Jig becomes even more upset as her boyfriend tries to convince her that everything will be alright. The climax occurs when Jig ends the conversation, saying, “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?” This is when Jig decides she needs to think of her own will.
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“Hills Like White Elephants” is loaded with symbolism entwined into it. The most obvious of the many symbols are the “White Elephants.” When Jig sees the long and white hills, she says, “They look like white elephants.” As she observes the white hills, they seem like the birth of her baby, something different like the unusual white elephant. Not only could the color white symbolize the innocence and purity of her unborn child, but a white elephant is also a large, useless object that may be expensive to own and maintain, according to one of the definitions. Jig also admires the rest of the scenery, “The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were the fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain, and she saw the river through the trees…”
From the perspective of Jig, one of the hills may represent her and the American lifestyle. In the name of the city,? Zaragoza, the last letter of the alphabet, occurs twice in the name of this. Jig and the American may be two z’s that have reached the end of the road. Focusing on color, the Greenside of the Station represents life, the baby, a new beginning. ?The Arid side of the Station represents dissipation and death, the effect of abortion. The Ebro River, which comes from the Cantabrian Mountains and flows to the Mediterranean, represents vitality and life. It can also represent the passage of time. Another strong symbol is baggage. “He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.”
The American wants this abortion because he wants to keep his present, flawless lifestyle. The bags with all the hotel labels on them are symbolic of his free spirit. If the woman goes on with the pregnancy, he would have to settle down and raise a family, which would mean risking his youthful desires of seeing the world. As you skim through this short story, their symbols can easily go unnoticed. But, the second time you read and think through it, they are revealed.
In the end, the story concludes with the couple expecting their train’s arrival in five minutes. However, there is no resolution, and there is no decision stated regarding abortion. Hemmingway’s setting, dialogue, and symbolism help him fluff each sentence to give maximum detail. This short story was not only written for the pleasures of reading but also through provocation. Hemmingway has intentionally left the readers to conclude for themselves what will happen next.