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Hills Like White Elephants

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Ernest Hemingway uses symbols found in dialogue and setting to reveal that making decisions requires a great deal of thought, and can sometimes not be mutual between couples. The theme for this story I feel is communication. Clearly they are arguing about something that is of somewhat great importance to Jig. In a sense they aren’t Seeing Eye to eye for some reason, and instead of talking it out, he clearly wants her to just be happy. I think that the symbolism for this story is the mountains. I believe that in the beginning of the story, that they are comparing something to the mountains, and I feel that he is just trying to get her mind off of something and so he makes a statement about the mountains. In the text it says that mountains are a symbol for Holy place (inspiration), safety, and strength. (Clugston, 2010) I’m not sure where the holy place comes into play, but I can see where the safety comes in, he wants her to be happy and safe and with going along with what she is saying then, he is referring to the mountains as a safety net perhaps. The plot of this short story takes place in a train station between Barcelona and Madrid. While waiting at the train station for the next train they decide to sit and have a beer and try some new drinks out. While waiting they start talking about their life together.

He compares her to a mountain and she isn’t really impressed, but rather upset about the comparison. The point of view for this short story is in third person omniscient. The narrator is basically a fly on the wall and basically overhearing what the couple is talking about. The narrator is giving her point of view of what is going on with the couple and what the narrator is seeing. The tone for this story I believe is that the narrator is very controlled and gives us very little information outside the conversation between the man and woman. The narrator gives us the tone that there is some friction between the couple but they aren’t showing it at the point in the train station in front of other passengers. The setting of this short story is in a train station to highlight that the relationship of the couple is at a crossroads. The train station is symbolizing the crossroads because they are simply waiting for the next train and this is basically a stop until they reach the next train. The characters in the short story are kept to a few short people. There is the American woman who the American man calls “Jig”, the American man, and the bar maid. The symbols in this story would be the mountains. In the text it says that mountains are a symbol for Holy place (inspiration), safety, and strength.

This couple seems to be going through something that Hemmingway wanted us to read into rather than just tell us what is going on with the couple. I feel that the mountains are showing that the girl is going through a tough time in her relationship with the man and she has had enough of him telling her what to do. I believe that maybe she has had enough of him and wants to end things right there at the train station. The comment of him comparing her to a mountain probably was the final straw and she wants to start a new life with someone else and somewhere else. I feel that they are going to go their separate ways and never see each other again. “On first reading the title, one assumes the comparison may merely be to the color and to the rounded contour of the hills that constitute part of the setting, a quite literal reference.

This impression is reinforced by the first sentence, the subject of what are “long and white” hills. The second time they are mentioned, they are contrasted with the countryside, which is brown and dry, suggestive of the limitations an aridity of the relationship of the man and the woman, which begins to unfold an which is the basis of the conflict and the meaning of the story.” (Weeks Jr., 1980)I think that he was using the summer symbol to show us the Jig was showing some maturity and seeking a mature way out of her relationship. Hemingway expressed this in saying that it was hot and dry.

In conclusion, Ernest Hemingway uses symbols found in dialogue and setting to reveal that making decisions requires a great deal of thought, and can sometimes not be mutual between couples. The man was a genius when it came to using things to express what he was thinking about. I believe that he used the scenery of the train station to express what he was trying to say without truly saying anything. Using the mountains and train station was just a way of expressing something that he didn’t want to just come out and say.


Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey into Literature. San Deigo: Bridgepoint Education Inc. Weeks Jr., L. (1980). HEMINGWAY HILLS: SYMBOLISM IN ‘HILLS LIKE WHITE ELEPHANTS’. Studies In Short Fiction, pp. 17(1),75.

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