An Analysis of Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants".
"Hills Like White Elephants", by Ernest Hemingway, is a short story published in 1927, which is set at a train station in Spain. In this story the reader eavesdrops on a conversation held by "the American and the girl with him". Most of the story is predominately dialogue between the two characters. During this conversation, the reader may determine that the couple is at a critical point in their lives when they must make a life-or-death decision on whether the woman should have an abortion. Although this short story crosses timelines to become relevant to both the early twentieth century and today, Hemingway uses setting and symbolism throughout the story to show that making a decision on whether to have an abortion or not is indeed a difficult decision to make.
The setting of the train station symbolizes the decision that the couple must make. On one side of the station, there is vegetation and "fields of grain"; the other side is dry and barren. The fact that the station divides these contrasts of environments represents each choice in the abortion decision. The choice to have the abortion is represented by the dry and barren side, while the lush fields of grain represent the fertility of having the baby.
Our first encounter with Hemingway's symbolism is in the title, "Hills Like White Elephants", which offers some hints to the ensuing conflict within the story. The imagery associated with the hills can be taken to represent the pregnant woman's abdomen and breasts swollen when she is with child. White elephants are considered to be a sacred being something to be revered, whereas in American culture a white elephant is a gift that is unwanted. As a result of symbolism, the title gives us the first indication of the conflict to come.
Hemingway never mentions the word abortion directly to let the reader know that this is the position of the man.