Symbolism in Hills Like White Elephants

Symbolism in Hills Like White Elephants
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The story Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway opens up at the railway station where the girl and the American are waiting to board a train from Barcelona to Madrid. They are outside a bar taking a beer, and the lady notices the surrounding landscape looks like white elephants. The remark made by the woman obtains inconsiderate reception from the American counterpart. As they continue taking the beer, the American introduces a new motif encouraging the young lady to procure an abortion. He justifies his subject that the operation is a simple one, and their relationship will be okay regardless of the situation. The woman strongly opposes the discussion in which the partner is persuading her to procure an abortion. The situation irks the relationship between the two as they have diversified opinions over the pregnancy (Rankin 235). Seemingly, the male protagonist dominates the discussion, and it seems that Jig submits to the American’s will and contends to procure the abortion though not clearly shown. The storyline is entirely a dialogue featured with lots of symbolism and leaving the reader to fill out many blanks. Hence, in this context, the reader has a lot to do in terms of unraveling the exact happenings in the bid to gain a deeper understanding.

Use of symbolism and its importance

Hills like white elephants

The symbolic title of this story is characteristic of an unusual and cumbersome problem. For instance, the couple is arguing about the impending pregnancy, the reluctance to have the baby, and the abortion. Besides, the symbolic white elephants can illustrate the reluctance of Jig to procure the abortion or the way the American is insisting that Jig procures an abortion. Though the man is describing the abortion as an awful simple procedure, Jig resists to his idea and questions him whether he does have anything to hold about the baby. Further, the white elephants can be the couple since they have diversified opinions. The use of the white elephants helps the reader to realize the intensity of the problem experienced by the couple.

The bitter taste

In the story, Jig asserts that everything tastes like licorice. The licorice flavor comes about due to the anise used in the Anis del Toro. The symbolism in this context reveals the sour part of the relationship between Jig and the American. Contextually, the bitterness triggered a comment that made her realize the state of their relationship. The discussion brings about multiple emotions and images that reinforce the symbolic nature of the bitter taste. The lady did not expect the man to force her into procuring an abortion. Thus, the entirety of the bitter taste surrounds the pregnancy and the abortion. Jig wants to keep her baby, but the man persuades her saying that it is a simple thing to get rid. However, an abortion is never simple as superficially described hence symbolic. For example, the girl says that everything tastes like licorice. The symbol highlights the pains the lady is undergoing when the man is forcing her to procure the abortion.

The things left unsaid

In the story, the couple is evading the use of the word “abortion.” The period is in the 1920s where abortion was illegal and given that they were in a public a place they tried to avoid its use. The lady was uncomfortable in the mention of the word abortion and hence the man kept the term away to evade reminding the lady of the things in store for her. Similarly, the American man does not want to let the lady know the realities of abortion. Thus, he keeps telling her that it is a simple thing, and she should not be worried. Evidently, Ernest Hemingway decided to use this approach to display an era where abortion was illegal. Given that the man and the woman exhibit different nationalities, saying the word “abortion” could be easier for others to understand, and this could bring complications and even get him arrested.

The clues of Ernest Hemingway

In the story, Hemingway does not state the reason for the couple’s conflict rather, he talks of the hills that seem to look like white elephants and the bitter taste of licorice. The vivid illustration opens the reader’s mind to realize the nature of the conflict that is between the lovers. Additionally, the there is no reason given as to why the couple is traveling to Madrid. As the story unravels, the idea comes to the limelight where the scenery points that the man wants to go to Madrid to help the girl secure the abortion.


Apparently, the story ends without giving explicit answers to the questions that linger in the mind of the reader. For instance, the reader is left wondering why the people in the context did not explicitly use the term abortion. Another question is about the place from where the characters were coming. The author did not leave a hint where the couple emanated from, but he states the destination of their journey as Madrid. He also did not indicate whether the lady finally changed her mind. Further, the readers are at a state of haywire about what will become of the couple.

Work Cited
Rankin, Paul. “Hemingways Hills like White Elephants.” Explicator 63.4 (2005): 234-237. Academic Search Premier. Web. 20 May 2015.