Symbols have always been helpful tools for the understanding of something. Literally speaking, symbols are images that have a meaning beyond its literal role. They make the reader sense that there is more than meets the eye. Especially in literature, the symbolism of an object, a setting or an incident may be very important for a better interpretation of the meaning of the text. A good example is the short story "Hills like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemmingway. In this particular story, the author has focused his style on symbolism, which leads the comprehension of the overall meaning depend on the various symbolic elements within the story. The three main significant symbols and their relationship with the chain of events in the story demonstrate this process of symbolism.
The symbolic setting of the story at the beginning and all the way through the narrative plays a major role for the understanding of the situation by the reader. The author did not choose a train station for the setting arbitrarily. It has a certain purpose. Train stations are known as the doors to a new life. It is a place that signifies a step to something new. It is also a place where important decisions have been made trough in-depth reflection. In addition, the station was between two lines of rails that go in the opposite direction and the author states that "on this side there was no shade and no trees" (Hemmingway 205) and "Across on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains." (207). So on the side of the barren hills, there is no life, no changing, only dryness; but on the other side, there is a living area with life and fertilization which symbolizes the changing, the future and the hope of a better life. The opposition between the two landscapes emphasizes the importance of the choice of the characters because the consequences will be totally different.