“The Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway is a short story about an American man and a girl named Jig. In the story the two are sitting in a rail station waiting for the train to Madrid. While they are waiting, they have an intense, ongoing discussion over whether or not Jig will get an abortion. At the end of the story, the train is about to arrive and the man carries the baggage to the tracks as they prepare to depart. The ending of the story leaves unclear the outcome of her decision.
She says, “I feel fine” at the end of the story– her happiness is a central theme of the story, but we are left wondering if she went through with the operation. Of the many symbols from the story, the main three are the hills, white elephants, and the railroad station. Hemingway uses these elements to develop the theme of the story. The theme is about how Jig sees the possibility of keeping her child and having a happy life, while the man fails to see the possibilities and works to persuade her to go through with the abortion.
In the story, Jig looked at the hills and said, “They look like white elephants. ” The man replied, “I’ve never seen one. ” Then she replied, “No, you wouldn’t have. ” The hills symbolize big obstacles that we must climb, but they are not enormous mountains. This represents the fact that the girl’s baby is a major obstacle in her life, but it is not the end of her life and she will make it through. Hills also are viewpoints to look out from, but also block the view for those who dwell in the valley.
This represents how in the story Jig looks at the hills and sees opportunity, yet at the same time the man looks at the hills and sees nothing– his vision of a positive and happy future is blocked by the enormous obstacle of the child. Hills are beautiful, natural and completely stationery. In other words, they have always been in the same place, and they will always be that way– that’s just the way it is. This shows how settling down would be a necessity with a baby. It also shows that being pregnant is no small thing. Regardless of the girl’s decision, it is not something that the girl will ever be able forget about.
Hemingway may have chosen to use hills because a pregnant mothers belly is a bit of a hill itself. Being pregnant ties a mother down, making her less mobile and more stationary. At one point in the story, Jig looks at the scenery and says, “And we could have all this. ” She said this because on a deeper level, hills represent challenge, new life, and possibility. While jig sits down and looks at the hills, she sees opportunity and is considering the possibility of new life, a newborn child in her life. The element of white elephants is symbolic of the baby.
A white elephant is a precious item that has a cost which perhaps surpasses its usefulness. For example, a person may give a “white elephant” gift to someone as a joke. The gift is totally useless to the recipient. This is the reality of what Jig is going through. She has received a gift which is, at this time in her life, useless to her. It is a gift that could be priceless to another. Hemingway uses this play on words to develop the idea of Jig’s possibility of having an unexpected child. A second symbol is the white elephant. The man said that he had never seen a white elephant before.
This is because he is not open to considering the possibility of keeping the child and wants the girl to have the abortion operation. The element of the railroad station is symbolic of being at the crossroads of life during a time of crisis. The American man and the girl cannot stay at the station forever. They are traveling and there will be change. There must be a decision of where to go next. All of this is symbolic of the decision of whether or not to keep the child. All traveling has a cost and so does the outcome of this decision. To either keep or abort the child is a costly decision.
At the end of the story when the man picks up both his and the girl’s baggage and carries it out to the railroad tracks, the tension of the story is relieved. The girl claims to be fine and then the story comes to its open-ending. This is representative of the fact that the decision was made and they are moving forward, whichever way that may have been. In conclusion, the Hills Like White elephants is a story about crisis. The American man and Jig the girl have a decision to make and there is no easy way out. Even making no decision is a decision. We all can easily relate to being in this type of situation.