Hills Like White Elephants Summary

Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

This amazing short story by Ernest Hemingway is the epitome of "show don't tell" writing. Only a few pages long, it focuses on a conversation between a woman, solely referred to as Jig, and a man that can be assumed to be her boyfriend or husband. They are are at a train station between Madrid and Barcelona near the valley of the Ebro. They decide to order two beers while they admire the scenery. Then they add some additional drinks that taste like licorice. The girl seems dissatisfied with their lives, feeling that they are empty as all they do is travel and other selfish endeavors.

Suddenly, the man tells Jig that what they had been discussing is a very simple operation if it could be considered an operation at all. He alludes to letting air in and letting things progress naturally. Jig seems unsure about the proposition, but he assures her he knows many people who have done it and were pleased with the results. Again, she seems doubtful, but he says he thinks it's for the best. Therefore, she agrees to do it because she doesn't really care about herself, she just wants everything to be the way it was.

However, she starts to have doubts again, wondering how things will change, and musing that once it is taken away, she can never get it back. He tries to assuage her fears and explain that she doesn't have to go through with it if she doesn't want to. He only cares about her after all. She requests that he stop talking about it.

The train is announced to be arriving in five minutes, so the man grabs their bags. They watch the people around them. Finally, she repeats to him that she feels fine even though it seems she likely does not.

This entire conversation is about abortion without once mentioning the word or almost any real reference to it. The tone of their voices is apparent using short syntax with almost no adverbs used throughout the entire story to enhance their voices or their actions. The reader gets the sense that Jig is unsure about whether or not she wants the abortion, but the man appears to be pushing her into it. She resolves to do it despite the fact that underneath she might not really want to have it done. However, due to the objective point of view of the story, almost completely consisting of dialogue, the reader never really knows what either character is thinking.

The rampant symbolism in this story helps the reader figure out what the couple is discussing and how they are feeling. A few examples involve the title. An elephant in the room is a topic that people avoid discussing, just as this couple avoids using the word "abortion." The closest they come to saying it is the word "operation." A white elephant gift is one that no one wants. It is when someone gives away something they already own as a gift because they have no use for it, just as this man seems to have no use for a child. The shape of hills mimics the shape of a pregnant stomach. White is a color of purity, just as licorice is a candy which children often eat, both of white highlight the innocence of Jig and how she wants to please this man. Her name, Jig, is also symbolic as it is a tool, which is how he is treating her or a little dance, which shows how they are dancing around the topic without naming it. They are at a train station, or crossroads, in their relationship where they have come to make this important decision. The luggage they carry shows the lavish lifestyle that they have become accustomed to while also representing the baggage the woman feels she is carrying being burdened with this huge decision to make. Ultimately, one feels that she was never really planning to change his mind since she was drinking alcohol even before they began the conversation.

Therefore, themes of this story could be about communication and how people need to really hear what others are saying, not just listen for what they want to hear. Along with that theme, the will of one person outweighing the desires of another person is a theme that relates to the selfishness of the man in the story. This theme also ties to one about choices and how although it's important to seek input from others, people should not discount their own feelings when making important decisions.

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