Hills Like White Elephants

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Earnest Hemingway’s “Hills like White Elephants” is a story of a verbal battle and contest of wills between two characters. The reader is asked to decipher much of the information in the story through the use of symbolism and imagery. The reader must also come to a conclusion as to how the character chooses in the end. Beginning with the title “Hills like White Elephants” and through further description of the terrain surrounding the couple, the reader can sense the internal struggle between the two characters over the issue of whether Jig will agree to have an abortion. The story is set in a bar beside a train station. A woman and an American man sit together at a table discussing something that is unknown to the reader. The couple is enjoying a beer while awaiting their train. The young woman seems disconnected as she looks out over a line of hills and says, "They look like white elephants". The American discounts the young woman’s remark and keeps drinking (Napierkowski, par. 2). This statement and the title are symbolic to the meaning of the story. At the time the story was written, it was well known that if one was given a white elephant then they are given an unwanted and useless gift. This leads the reader to believe that this is what the story is about. Jig seems to see the hills in the distance as bearing the signs of promise, while the man sees only complications to their lives. The empty, deserted landscape on the one side and lush, fertile farmland on the other in the form of “fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro” also reflect the two sides of the couple's current discussion. Jig is found looking out at the fields and wondering whether “we could have all this, and we could have everything and every day we make it more impossible.” As a reader, one wonders if Jig means herself and her child, or herself and the American man.

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