Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

Last Updated: 17 Aug 2022
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Ernest Hemingway’s short story ‘Hills like White Elephants’ depicts a couple, “the man” and “the girl”, casual conversation over drinks while awaiting the arrival of a train to Madrid. The story ends, as vaguely as it started, with the two about to embark on the train. Heminways’s use of ambiguous and vague language, dialogue, characterization, and metaphors in ‘Hills like White Elephants’ could leave his readers bewildered to the underlying subject matter of its plot.

However, by properly citing and analyzing the literary techniques used by Hemingway; one is able to conclude that the main characters discuss their feelings and concerns about the possibility of an abortion. Throughout the short story ‘Hills like White Elephants’, Hemingway has chosen to address his main characters as “the man” and “the girl”. By patterning these words in addressing his main characters, Hemingway alludes to their difference in age and emotional maturity towards the conflict that they face.

Hemingway, to suggest the female character’s younger age and her naivety about an abortion, uses the word “girl”. The reader is able to confirm that Hemingway does not conceder all females to be “girls” through the introduction the secondary character, the waitress, who brings the couple their drinks. Hemingway then continues to address this secondary as “the woman”; and thus, alluding the word “girl” only refers to the young and naive character of Jig.

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On the other hand, Hemingway’s usage of the word “man”, in referring to his male character, indicates a more mature and realistic view the character has on the idea of an abortion as a solution to the unwanted pregnancy. The metaphor employed by Hemingway to allude towards an abortion can be found in paragraph 46, where “the man” explains to “the girl” that the operation will simply “…let the air in and then it’s all perfectly natural. ” (p. 445). The male character then ambiguously refers to his feelings to the pregnancy as, “…the only thing that bothers us.

It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy. ” (p. 445). An earlier allusion to the differences between the main characters, and how each will respond to their conflict, has been conveyed through their conversation found in paragraphs 17-32. The dialogue by, and associated with, “the man” is confidante, assuring, tentative, and slightly condescending towards “the girl”. Likewise, the dialogue in paragraphs 17-32 connected with “the girl” is uncertain, passive aggressive, childlike, and earnestly striving for her partner’s guidance.

Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills like White Elephants” depicts a young couple in the mist of an uncomfortable conversation regarding their choice of action towards an unwanted pregnancy. Though the subject of an abortion is not directly addressed, in “Hills like White Elephants”, Hemingway uses ambiguous metaphors, vague dialogue, and generalized characters help him to set mood between his two main characters. The reader’s understanding and ability to recognize the usage of literary tools by Hemingway is the key to decode this hazy plot.

Love and Responsibility in Hill Like White Elephants

Love and Responsibility in Hills Like White Elephants

“Hills Like White Elephants” written by Ernest Hemingway that is the controversy revolving around the theme of abortion between the American man and the girl named Jig waiting for a train at the station. Through their conversation and their difficult decision that whether or not having an abortion, the story shows love and responsibility in a relationship between the couple. While waiting for a press, they drinking beer and talking together. The girl was looking at the hills and said “They look like white elephants”.

The hills can be symbolized the pregnancy and “white elephants” can be interpreted as baby that is the trouble they are facing. That leads the couple to biggest conflict in their relationship. Although he knows that the girl is pregnant, he still has allowed her to drink beer and liquor. It’s not good for her health and unborn child. Besides, it is revealed from the American man’s words “It’s really an awfully simple operation” and “It just to let the air in” that he is trying to convince the girl to abort the child.

Having an abortion can be damaged for her, but he does not worry about that because “It’s perfectly simple”. In addition, he also is afraid of the responsibility of having a child. He does not want to be father. He considers baby as a burden. “That’s the only thing that bothers us. It’s the only thing that’s made us unhappy”, said the man. He wants to be free. He does not want to be encumbered with child. For these reasons, it can be seen that he is not responsible for her. Moreover, love is the understanding each other.

Nevertheless, through Jig and the American man’s conversation, there is the misunderstanding in their relationship. Jig wants to keep baby whereas the man doesn’t want to. He does not care about her feelings because of his lacks of imagination. “They look like white elephants”, the girl means “white elephants” is baby that is her “whole world” while the man’s “whole world” is freedom. She loves baby very much but he is not, “I love it now but I just can’t think about it”. In another way, the man loves Jig not too much.

He just wants her, nobody else. He is selfish man because he just thinks of himself. However, Jig loves him. She will have an abortion if it is pleasing to him. She tries to reassure herself that “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine”. She does not care about herself because she loves him and she wants to have a happy family with him in the future. Because of the different point of view between the American man and the girl about abortion, their relationship arise problems and different resolutions.The story leave us think that their love is like liquorice which is bitter. Therefore, if they want to maintain their relationship, they have to love and be responsible for each other.


  • APA citations Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills Like White Elephants.
  • " The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway. New York: Collier, 1987. 211-14.
  • Literary Analysis: Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants. Retrieved from http://www. customessaymeister. com/customessays/Philosophy/16907.
  • htm http://www. 123helpme. com/hemingways-hills-like-white-elephants-view. asp? id=152214

Reaction to Hills Like White Elephants

Throughout this school year, we analyzed and discussed several awesome poems, novels and stories. One that I particularly liked would have to be "Hill Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway. The first thing about it that caught my attention would have to be its title, "Hills like White Elephants'. To be honest, I really thought that it'll be about some elephants in Africa or something but I was wrong. There were no elephants! The story is about an American man and woman having some beers as they wait for the train to Barcelona.

So, just through the title, I guess you could say that this is an ambiguous text. To decipher it, you need to read it again and again! The text of Hemingway appears to be simple but then again his works are ambiguous, so his text may be further from the truth. The story makes use of sparse dialogue some even say that the way Hemingway's characters speak is sometimes more important than what they say so when reading his text you really have to take in the dialogue and decode it.

At first, when I just went through the story, I really didn't get what the couple were talking about and then after several readings I found out that it was about abortion. It's really beautiful how Hemingway could subtly bring about a message without even having it written directly. The powerful writing of Hemingway definitely has made a huge impact in me. Aside from me discovering a beautiful story, I learned not to take everything too literally and to have patience in order to understand.

The Development of Jig in “Hills Like White Elephants”

In Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants,” Jig undergoes a transformation enabling her to realize and declare her own feelings. At the story’s beginning Jig is passive, unaware of her own feelings, and in the habit of looking to the American direction. She soon comes to realize her own desires and struggles to assert herself for the first time. The story is structured around the two sides of the valley, the division symbolizing the opposition between the American’s values and Jig’s. The two sides of the valley of the Ebro represent two ways of life, one a sterile perpetuation of the aimless hedonism the couple have been pursuing, the other a participation in life in its full natural sense” (Renner, 32). On one side are the values associated with abortion, and on the other are the values associated with having the child. “In this setting, then, Hemingway works out the story’s conflict, which revolves around the development of his female character” (28).

The dialogue between Jig and the American about hills and drinks “is in actuality an articulated but decisive struggle over whether they continue to live the sterile, self-indulgent, decadent life preferred by [the American] or elect to have the child that Jig is carrying and settle down to a conventional but, in Jig’s view, rewarding, fruitful, and peaceful life” (Holladay, 1).

The American argues adamantly for the abortion while Jig, being accustomed to doing what he wants, “has not yet developed the mechanism to know what she wants, much less to articulate it. Thus she cannot forthrightly contest her companion’s urging, but neither, because of what is at stake in this case, can she stifle her own feelings” (Renner, 29). Up until this point the American has been the leader of the couple’s relationship, managing their life together in a manner consistent with his own desires.

At the beginning of the story, the couple is sitting at a table on one side of the station, “facing out toward the hills on the same side of the valley,” the side “associated with the barrenness and sterility both of the implications of going through with an abortion and of the current state of the couple’s relationship” (Renner, 30). Jig looks at the hills on this side of the station, noting that they look like white elephants.

A white elephant, in a North American cultural context, “is not only a rare and sacred creature, but also a metaphor for an expensive and burdensome property…the burden at issue in this story is the unborn child” (Link, 67). The American responds that he has never seen a white elephant. “No, you wouldn’t have,” Jig replies. “To Jig, the unborn child she carries is eminently, painfully real; to the American it is a concept, an abstraction, and too expensive to keep” (Wyche, 59). Jig goes on to say, “That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks? This statement articulates “an increasing awareness of the emptiness of the couple’s lifestyle to date” (60). Jig stands up and walks to the other end of the station, “effectively [distancing] herself from the influence of her male companion and [enabling] herself, evidently for the first time, to realize what is in her own mind” (Renner, 32). She is now able to see the other side of the valley, “the fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro,” and the river, which are representative of the values associated with having the child.

Jig rejoins the American at the table, once again facing the “the hills on the dry side of the valley. ” She tries to convince the American that her pregnancy could be meaningful for them, and that they could get along even with a child. The American “resumes his double talk, assuring her that he will go along with what she wants while stubbornly pressuring her to do what he wants” (Renner, 33). Pushed to her breaking point, Jig finally “explodes with real feeling. Even though she still does not state in direct terms her feeling that there can be more to life than their aimless hedonism, she…. vidently for the first time…[asserts] herself openly against the American” (33). “Would you please please please please please please please stop talking? ” Jig no longer wants to hear what the American has to say, demonstrating her “increasing awareness…of the man’s self-centered and insecure motivation for pursuing the abortion” (Rankin, 235). She is resisting both “what he wants for their relationship and the hypocrisy of his efforts to persuade her” (Renner, 33), as she realizes it is the “unencumbered sexual playhouse” that the American is selfishly trying to reserve. The American takes carries their bags to the other side of the station, and upon his return asks Jig if she feels better. “I feel fine,” she responds. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine. ” “The absolute straightforwardness of the last line, a line that incidentally coincides with Jig’s own dramatic epiphany” (Rankin, 234) may well “imply her realization that there is something wrong with her companion” (Renner, 40).

By the conclusion of the story, “the relationship between Jig and the American has been effectively destroyed” (Wyche, 70). However, “we see the result of her development toward self-realization: the reluctant and still somewhat resentful capitulation of her male companion” (Renner, 28). Once the “stereotypical passive female, not even knowing her own mind,” Jig finds herself no longer able to “drift along in mindless accompaniment” (37) and breaks free from her conditioned deference to assert her own feelings to the American.

The Similarity of the Husband in Cat in The Rain and Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway’s “Cat in the Rain” and “Hills Like White Elephants” describe a theme of difference between husband’s desires and wife’s desires. Both stories have the same conflict about an inconsiderate husband who always ignores his wife’s desire. The husband is not a family man.

He indirectly shows that he doesn’t enjoy being with his wife and children. The male characters of Ernest Hemingway emerge as having similarities in their characters and their attitudes with their wives. For the first similarity, both husbands are identical to their inconsiderate characters. The husbands lack of attention to their wife.

The American husband, George, in “Cat in the Rain” is an unresponsive person. He always takes more interest in his books than his wife. In the end of the story, the man doesn’t listen to his wife and keeps reading his book.

His wife expresses many desires, for example, she wants a cat which has a symbol of a child and wants to eat at the table with silver spoon and candle that means she want to be a house wife. George doesn’t pay attention what his wife wants. For example, when the woman wants to grow out her hair, which symbolizes femininity, he responds, “I think you look pretty darn nice.”

He directly speaks to her in an irritated way. “Shut up and get something to read”, George says when she wants the cat in the rain. Similar to George, the American husband, in “Hills Like White Elephants”, is insensitive to his wife and his baby. He says that “it’s just to let the air in. ” His speech hints that he doesn’t want to have a baby.

The American husband wants his wife to abort because he thinks that the unborn baby is a big obstacle for the couple’s happiness. The American husband gives his wife a cold look and doesn’t care about whatever his wife wants or talks.

Furthermore, both the male characters lack fatherhood. While George ignores to have a baby, the American husband hints at his wife to have an abortion. The second resemblance of two male characters is that they have the same attitudes of married life towards their wives.

The two husbands don’t want to settle down and don’t want to start to have a quitter way of life. In “Hills Like White Elephants”, the American husband indirectly doesn’t want to live in one place while his wife wishes to have a warm family and a child.

Because of different married attitudes, their marriage’s life leads to future separation. In “Hills Like White Elephant”, the American husband “waits reasonably” for the train, which suggests us that the couple maybe brake up and go separate way.

George and the American husband can’t get along with their wife. Although they don’t make a terrible quarrel, they are dissatisfied and will break up with each other someday. Moreover, their relationship is about lack of freedom of the woman’s desires. In “Cat in the Rain”, George hardly listen to his wife and doesn’t care for her materialistic wants.

Because he doesn’t want her to get what she wants, he probably thinks that he is the leader of their relationship and has more power than his wife. To resemble in “Hills Like White Elephant”, we obviously notice that the American husband tries to control his wife by hinting her to abort.

The American husband may thinks that he can control anything. He also acts as if he is more knowledgeable and worldly than his wife. The similarities of the male characters in Ernest Hemingway’s fictions, the writer wants to show us about disagreement of the couple’s desires. Two male characters, George and the American husband, are unfeeling to their wife.

They virtually don’t concern whatever their wives’ urge and want. Although two females indirectly express their desires that they want to have a baby, two husbands always pay no attention to their wife’s need.

The men also has no the state of being a father, especially the American husband who circuitously tells his wife to have an abortion. Furthermore, two husbands have a rough relationship with their wife. The couple’s relationship shows us that they are about to separate because they are contrary to each other’s need. The husbands also try to decrease freedom of their wife by controlling their wife what they want her to do and to be.

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Literary Analysis: Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants. (2017, Mar 23). Retrieved from

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