Language and Setting Discussion of Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” begins with a long description of a valley in Spain surrounded by hills, trees and fields. An unnamed American man and a young woman named Jig, wait for the train from Barcelona. The couple talks and drinks beer while they wait at the train station. Jig stares out at the hills and remarks that “They look like white elephants.” (Hemingway 350). The American mentions to Jig that she should have the operation, though the kind of operation is never specified. He argues that the operation will be quite simple, but seems to be downplaying the seriousness of the operation. Jig tells him she’ll have the operation as long as he’ll still love her. As they gather their bags, the American asks Jig if she feels fine, to which she replies “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” (Hemingway 353). The main idea of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is about talking versus communicating. Although the story is a conversation between Jig and the American, neither of them truly communicates their feelings. This lack of communication between the couple illustrates their disconnect from one another. “The setting, especially the mysterious white hills, and the dialogue, which, with the exception of several brief paragraphs, carries the entire story.” (O’Brien 19). The use of concise language and symbolism in the setting connect to the main idea of communication or lack thereof.

In “Hills Like White Elephants” Hemingway uses brief diction in an exchange of short phrases to develop tension in the conversation between Jig and the American. They talk about the “awfully simple operation” (Hemingway 2). but fail to communicate their true feelings with one another. The lack of depth in the conversation between the couple creates a tension filled tone. An example of connotation in this story is the term “white elephant” which reffers to a possession unwanted by the owner but difficult to dispose of. In this case the white elephant is the unbord child. The imagery in “Hills Like White Elephants” is very minimal since the story consists mostly of dialogue. The minimal details provided by Hemingway are a product of his “iceberg method”. An example of this minimalist description is when we are told that “the hills across the valley of Ebro were long and white.” (Hemingway 1). but not why the hills are white. This method of writing provides a precise description of the “surface” but vey little of the “depths” of the story, which leaves the story up for interpretation and personal assessment from the reader. Hemingway uses similes and metaphors as a form of figurative imagery. An example of a simile in this story is in the title, “Hills Like White Elephants” where Jig compares the hills across the valley to white elephants.

A “white elephant” is considered to symbolize a burdensome possession but “depending on one’s point of view, both an “annoyingly useless” and a precious gift, something to be reclaimed and/or cherished.” (O’Brien 23). The white elephant symbolizes the unborn child, a burden to the American but a gift to Jig. In the story, Hemingway uses verbal irony in order to create tension between the two speakers. An example of this irony is when Jig says “I don’t care about me.” (Hemingway 2). The irony in her statement is that Jig cares about herself, which is why she is attempting to voice her opinion and with this statement she implies that the American doesn’t care about her. Hemingway’s use of language in “Hills Like White Elephants” helps to develop the main idea of the story in which the “language of distance and control dominates.” (O’Brien 22). and creates a lack of communication or rift between both characters.

Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” is set in a train station in Ebro, Spain. The setting of this story is specific because the time and place are clearly specified. We know that the couple is in Ebro, Spain., waiting for forty minutes until the train from Barcelona takes them to Madrid. The setting in “Hills Like White Elephants” symbolizes the emotional environment of both characters and where they are in life. The contrast between the long white hills and the dry and barren valley highlights the difference between fertility and sterility. “The natural setting between fertility and sterility mirrors the tension between the girl’s desire to have the baby and the man’s “sterile” wish to continue their relationship without it.” (O’Brien 19). The train station “between two lines of rails in the sun” (Hemingway 1). ilustrates that the relationship between Jig and the American is at a crossroads. The setting of this train station in which there is “no shade and no trees” (Hemingway 1). symbolizes the need for communication between both speakers. This is a conversation neither Jig or the American can avoid or hide from.

Hemingway ends “Hills Like White Elephants” with an ending up for enterpretation. It remains unclear whether or not Jig will agree to have the abortion or decide to keep the unborn baby. From the beginning to of the story, it is clear that Jig is dependent on and compliant to the American. This changes toward the end of the story when Jig realizes that her opinion will not be truly considered by the American.