Symbolic Details in Hills Like White Elephants

In “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway there are many symbolic parts to this story. This story is about a young woman named Jig, and an American man who remains nameless. The setting takes place at a train station while they are both awaiting their train to Madrid, Spain. While waiting for the train Jig, and the man get into an intense discussion about if Jig should go through with the abortion or not. “It’s really a simple operation Jig” (281). “If you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to. But I know it’s perfectly simple” (282). After going back and forth awhile, Jig has had enough and asks the man “Can you please please please please please please please stop talking?” (283). Jig wants to continue with her pregnancy and carry her baby to full term. The man did not want to keep the baby at first, but he then states “I don’t want you to do it if you don’t want to. I’m perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you” (283). At the end of this story the

man is carrying their bags to the other side of the train tracks as they prepare to board their train to in route to Madrid. The ending leaves us with an unclear understanding as to what Jig chose to do. At the end of the story Jig states “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (284) . Which leads us to wonder if she is going to go through with the abortion or keep her baby. Throughout this story many symbols appear, but the three that are most substantial are the hills, white elephants, and the train station.

The hills embody many things such as obstacles that Jig and the man must climb in order to accomplish great things. Being that they are just hills and not enormous mountains, they will overcome them as long as the relationship stays strong and they work together. Jig’s baby is a symbol of a hill, and also an obstacle that her and the man must overcome to resume their worry-free lives. The hills also represent viewpoints. Jig views the hills as an opportunity while the man sees nothing. He is too concerned that bringing a baby into this world will disrupt his and Jig’s happiness and his future. After viewing of the hills Jig mentions “And we could have all this” (282) . “And we could have everything, and every day we make it more impossible” (282) . The hills portrayed a new challenge, and a new life to partake in, and an opportunity of happiness for the both of them.

The white elephants are another symbolic piece in this story. Which could be symbolic of the baby. White elephants are very valuable possessions to their owners, as a baby would be to its parents. White elephants are expensive to care for, just as a baby would be. Even if the cost of upkeep outweighs the usefulness of these two, it doesn’t mean you can just dispose of them. What may be a precious gift to someone, may be useless to the next person. With that being said, the baby is priceless to Jig, but her significant other could care less about being a father.

The last item of symbolism in this story is the train station. The train station represents that Jig and the man are at a crossroads in their lives. Jig and the man are stuck between the locations of Barcelona and Madrid waiting for their train, and also stuck between coming to an conclusion of keeping the baby, or having an abortion. One side of the train station is a dry valley which exemplifies abortion and death of their unborn baby. While “Across the other side of the train station were fields of grains and trees along the banks of the Ebro” (282) . Symbolizing a wonderful life and new-found beginnings for both Jig and the man. Other than the landscape, the train tracks also hold some symbolic meaning. At a train station, the railroad tracks run parallel meaning that they never intersect nor run into one another. This also could be symbolic of Jig and the man’s relationship.

Works Cited

  1. Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills like White Elephants.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound & Sense, by Greg Johnson et al., Cengage Learning, 2018, pp. 280–284.