The Symbolism in Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway is an incredible writer, known for what he leaves out of stories not for what he tells. His main emphasis in Hills Like White Elephants seems to be symbolism. 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 (WWWebster Dictionary). He uses this technique to emphasize the importance of ideas, once again suggesting that he leaves out the important details of the story by symbolizing their meaning.

This short story is filled with symbolism, some of which the reader may never find. The title itself can be analyzed a lot deeper. The "hills" refers to the shape of the female body during pregnancy and the "white elephants" symbolize a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit (WWWebster Dictionary). The story is about a man and a woman taking a train to get an abortion. The train is supposed to show change and movement, something this couple appears to need because their life is very routine.

The reader is told that there is a curtain made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The bamboo beads not only keep them from their problems (known as flies) but it also keeps their lives separate from all of the other people at the bar. Hemingway then tells the reader that the train will stop at this junction for two minutes and then go to Madrid. The train only stopping for two minutes is to show the importance of the girlís decision to have the abortion. It is a big decision and there is not that much time for her to sit around and think about it.

The guy and the girl are now sitting at a bar deciding what they should drink. The girl takes off her hat and puts it on the table. This action symbolizes her putting her feelings on the table to talk about them with the man. Instead of coming straight out and talking about the problems the couple decides to drink beer. The act of consuming alcohol is another way for them to run away from their problems. Later on, the man and the woman are talking and the woman says, "They look like white elephants." He replies to her comment by saying, "Iíve never seen one." Knowing what we know about white elephants (their meaning of valuable things that are hard to maintain) this shows that the man has never had to deal with a situation like this. Her retort is "No, you wouldnít have." This reveals that she thinks heís a coward who has never faced a problem like this before.

The couple continues to drink throughout the story. At one point the girl shows that she has some faith in what the man thinks by asking him what way they should drink their drinks, with or without water. The couple then orders two Anis del Toro. This is a new drink to the woman, so like any curious drinker she wonders what it will taste like. She hopes that the drink will taste different than others she has tried but finds that it tastes like licorice. The girl then says, "Everything tastes like licorice. Especially all the things youíve waited so long for, like absinthe." When she says this it refers to how she thought that this relationship would be different than others, but once she got into it she realized that he is just like all the other guys she has dated in the past. Later in the story she adds to this feeling of repetition by saying, "Thatís all we do, isnít it- look at things and try new drinks." She really seems to be bored with the same things this relationship continues to produce.

Alcohol continues to be a factor in this story. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Hemingway seemed to deal with a lot of his problems by drinking. The couple orders more drinks and continues to try and discuss the issue of the abortion. "It is really an awfully simple operation, Jig. Itís not really an