Setting is important to every story, but the setting used by Hemmingway in “Hills Like White Elephants” adds so much to the meaning of the story, providing an interesting read. His use of the setting to convey the idea of fertility and barrenness helps to generate an understanding of what the story is about, even though he never comes right out and says “It’s about abortion.”

The language used at the beginning of the story is simple and straightforward, telling the reader that the place is the Valley of Ebro, which is in Spain. The reader is also aware that the couple is at a train station. The hills refereed to in the title can be seen in the distance, and resemble the swell of a womb, and white elephants, representing an idiom of something useless and unwanted, which in this case is the fetus growing inside the girl.

The impression presented is that the characters are at a train station in the middle of a dry barren place, under the sun, with no shade or trees, reinforcing the idea of the lack of life. The character are themselves in the warm shadow of the building, separated from the world by a curtain, yet still in nature, where life is.

Use of the train station as the location what the story takes place is significant because of the confusing conversation that dominate the bulk of the story. The conversation between the man and woman is much like the train tracks, running parallel, yet never meeting. The man and woman are talking, but neither is hearing what is being said. The train station also represents the importance of time to the situation. The train they are waiting to catch will only be stopping for a couple of minutes, suggesting that it is an express train, representing the short amount of time that the girl has to change her mind about having the abortion.

The hills are central to the story, for it is through them the reader can find an understanding in the confusion of the conversation. When the girl refers to them as looking like “white elephants”, the man says he has never seen one, indicating that he has never been a father.

The rich description that Hemmingway uses to establish setting in “Hills Like White Elephants” leads to an understanding of the overall story line, which is that the girl is pregnant and thinking of getting an abortion. As she sits staring at the hills in the distance, she begins to question her decision to rid herself of the baby, whom the man thinks of as a white elephant, cumbersome, and unwanted. The setting helps the reader to understand the importance of time, and provides some phallic symbols to suggest the sexual undertones of the relationship between the girl and the man.