This story takes place in Madrid – Spain at a train station in the late 1920’s. Hemingway used symbolism in his story “Hills like white elephants”. According to the Merriam- Webster Dictionary; symbolism is the art or practice of using symbols, especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations of artistic imitations or inventions that is a method of revealing or suggesting immaterial, ideal, or otherwise intangible truth or states.
The whole story is mostly a dialogue between an American man and a girl also called “Jig” who have to make a decision that will forever affect their lives. The author uses the idea of their destinies being able to go in two different directions, just like a railroad track can go; however, there is no way to look back, the only step is forward. Hemingway uses some key elements to develop the theme of the story. The theme is about how Jig sees the possibility of keeping her unborn child and having a happy life, while the American man fails to see the possibilities and works to persuade her to go through the abortion.
The author never names the topic of their discussion but as their dialogue progresses; it becomes evident that Jig is pregnant. Of the many symbols from the story, some of the main ones are the hills, white elephants, and the railroad station. As the story continues to develop the scenery around them plays another role of symbolism. Jig mentions the hills comparing them to white elephants; the color white symbolizes the innocence and purity of her unborn child. These hills seem to be beautiful, natural, and completely stationery.
In other words, they have always been in the same place and they will always be that way, which is just the way it is. This shows how settling down would be a necessity not only for the girl but also for the American man who is definitely not very excited about keeping the baby and is obviously in favor of the abortion, and everything he says is an effort to persuade her into it as he says: “It is really an awfully simple operation, Jig, it is not really an operation at all” (295). The man is being very pushy with his words.
He is basically telling the girl how she should feel about it. The girl does not really reply back to everything he says. But he continues to push by saying, “I will go with you and I will stay with you all the time. They just let the air in and then it is all perfectly natural” (295). He feels that everything will be fine after the operation, and that everything will go back to the way it was before. He claims, “That is the only thing that bothers us. It is the only thing that has made us unhappy” (295).
After the man says this, some other important elements in the place they were; a bar in the train station, come into play when Jig takes two strands of beads from the curtain meaning that she is imagining her life with her first child, instead of the life she has been living with this man, “That is all we do, isn’t it? looking at things and trying new drinks” (295) these give the audience the idea that Jig feels like she is stuck in a place that is very routine, she feels as if her life is very predictable.
Her lifestyle has formed into something that has become more comfortable instead of unpredictable, therefore; she would like to find out what her life can turn into if she keeps the baby. As Jig considers the American man point of view she looks at the dry side of the valley, which is barren and sterile, symbolizing her body after the abortion. The man and the girl continue arguing and stop for a little when she says, “Would you please please please please please please please please please stop talking? ” (296). It also shows that being pregnant is not an insignificant thing.
Regardless of the girl’s decision, it is not something that both will ever be able to forget about. The ending of the story leaves unclear the outcome of her decision. She says, “I feel fine” (297) at the end of the story which leave us wondering if she went through the operation or not. The way they both express themselves also allows us to understand that she does not want to have the abortion and the American wants her to continue with the abortion because he is not ready to change his lifestyle. As we never know the ending of the story, the symbolism in the story lets us interpret our own ending.