Hills like white elephants (2023)

Summary and analysis hills like white elephants


In the early 1920s, an American and a girl, probably nineteen or twenty years old, are waiting at a Spanish train station for the express train that will take them to Madrid. They drink beer and two liquorice-flavoured aniseed drinks and finally more beer, sit in the warm shade and discuss what the American says will be "a simple operation" for the girl.

The tension between the two is almost as intense as the heat of the Spanish sun. The man, while insisting that the girl has surgery, repeatedly says that he really doesn't want her to do it when she really doesn't want it. However, he clearly encourages her to do so. The girl tries to be bold and nonchalant, but is obviously afraid to undergo the surgery. She throws in an imaginative, colloquial idiom - remarking that the hills behind the station "look like white elephants" - and hopes the man will like the idiom, but he gets annoyed at her ploy. He insists on speaking more about the surgery and the fact that from what he's heard it's "natural" and "not quite a surgery".

The express train finally arrives and the two prepare to board. The girl tells the man that she is "fine". She lies, goes along with what he wants, hoping to calm him down. Nothing has been resolved. The tension remains, agitated and tense as they prepare to leave for Madrid. Hurt by the man's deceitful and paternalistic empathy, the girl is also very scared of the surgery that awaits her in Madrid.


This story was rejected by early editors and ignored by anthologists until recently. The first editors sent it back, thinking it was an "outline" or an "anecdote," not a short story. Back then, publishers were trying to guess what the reading public wanted, and they felt they should buy stories that told stories that had a plot first. "Hills Like White Elephants" does not tell a story in the traditional sense and has no plot.

(Video) Hills like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway | Summary & Analysis

Part of the initial rejection of this story lies in the fact that none of the editors who read it had any idea what was going on in the story. Even today, most readers are fascinated by the story. In other words, it takes an exceptionally astute reader to immediately realize that the couple are arguing over the girl's abortion at a time when abortion was considered blatantly illegal, immoral, and generally dangerous.

Early objections to this story also cited the fact that there are no traditional characterizations. The female is referred to simply as "the girl" and the male is referred to simply as "the man". There are no physical descriptions of either person or even their clothing. Unlike traditional stories, where the author usually gives us some clues as to how the main characters look, sound, or dress, here we don't know anything about "the guy" or "the girl." We don't know anything about his background. But can we expect something from them - for example "the man" is a bit older and "the girl" maybe younger, maybe eighteen or nineteen? One reason to adopt this assumption is the "girl" tone. Her questions are not those of a mature, wise woman, but those of a young woman eager to please the man she is with.

It's a miracle that this story got published. When it was written, the writers were expected to guide the reader through a story. However, in “Hills Like White Elephants” Hemingway withdraws from the story entirely. Readers are never aware of an author's voice behind the story. Compare this storytelling technique to the traditional 19th century method of telling a story. Authors like Dickens and Trollope used to address their readers directly.

In contrast, we have no idea how to respond to Hemingway's characters. For example, if Hemingway had said that the girl spoke "sarcastically," or "bitter," or "angry," or that she was "confused" or "indifferent," or if we were told that the man with "a air of superiority", we could become more friendly with these characters. Instead, Hemingway withdraws so far from them and their actions that he seems to know little about them himself. Just by sheer coincidence, it seems, the girl got the nickname "Jig".

However, this story became one of Hemingway's most anthologized short stories in the second half of the 1990s. Part of this new appreciation of the story lies in Hemingway's use of dialogue to convey the "meaning" of the story - that is, there is no description, narrative, character identification, or intent. We don't have clear ideas about the nature of the discussion (abortion), but the dialogue conveys everything we conclude about the characters.

(Video) Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway (Short Story Audiobook)

Furthermore, the popularity of this story can be found in the changing expectations of the readers. 1990s readers had become accustomed to reading between the lines of fictional narrative and did not want to know everything about the characters in minute detail. They liked the fact that Hemingway doesn't even say whether the two characters are married or not. It just presents the conversation between them and allows its readers to draw their own conclusions. So readers are probably assuming these two people aren't married; However, if we're interested enough to speculate about her, we have to ask how marriage would affect her life. And to answer that question, we need to pay attention to one of the few details of the story: her luggage. Their luggage has "tags from all the hotels they have stayed in". If these two people, the man and the girl, were to have this child, their ceaseless wanderings would have to stop and they would probably have to start a new lifestyle for themselves; moreover, they may have to decide whether to marry or not and legitimize the child. Given her seemingly free lifestyle and her desire for freedom, a baby and marriage would make huge changes in her life.

Everything in the story indicates that the man desperately wants the girl to have an abortion. Even if the man claims that he only wants the girl to have an abortion if she wants it, we question his sincerity and honesty. When he says, "If you don't want to, you don't have to. I wouldn't let you do it if you don't want to," he's unconvincing. It is clear from his previous statements that he does not want the responsibility that having a child would entail; Apparently he desperately wants her to perform this abortion and definitely doesn't seem to be responsive to the girl's feelings.

On the other hand, we have the feeling that the girl is not sure if she wants to have an abortion. She is ambivalent about the choice. We sense that she is tired of traveling, of letting the man make all the decisions, of letting the man talk endlessly until he convinces her that his path is the right one. He became their guide and guardian. He still translates for her today: Abortion is just a doctor who "lets air in". After that they will embark on new journeys. For the girl, however, this life of always being on the go, living in hotels, traveling and never settling down became tiresome. The girl describes her life of transience and instability as living on the surface: "[We] look at things and try new drinks."

When the man promises to be with the girl for the "simple" operation, we again see his insincerity, because what is "simple" for him can harm her mentally and physically.

The man uses his logic to be as convincing as possible. Without a baby to anchor them, they can travel on; they can "have it all". However, the girl contradicts him and at that moment suddenly seems strong and in better control of the situation. With or without an abortion, it will never be the same again. She also realizes that she is not loved, at least not unconditionally.

(Video) Hills Like White Elephants

This brings us to the title of the story. The girl looked at the mountains and said they looked "like white elephants." Tension immediately builds between the two until the man says, "Oh, cut it out." She claims he started the argument, so she apologizes and explains that of course mountains don't look like white elephants - just "their skin through the trees".

From a man's point of view, the mounds don't look like white elephants, much less have fur. The girl, however, has moved from the man's rational world into her own world of intuition, where she seems to know that the things she desires will never come to pass. This perception is best illustrated when she looks across the river and sees fertile cornfields and the river - the fertility of the land contrasted with the barren sterility of the hills like white elephants. She naturally desires the beauty, charm and fertility of wheat fields, but she knows she must be content with the barren sterility of a threatened miscarriage and the constant presence of an unsuitable man. What she ends up doing is beyond the scope of the story.

During the very brief exchange between the guy and the girl, she goes from being almost entirely dependent on the guy to someone more confident and aware of what to expect from him. At the end of the conversation, she is in control of herself and the situation: she is no longer acting like she used to, like a child. She tells the man to please shut up - noting that the word "please" is repeated seven times, suggesting she is extremely sick of his hypocrisy and constant insistence on the same subject.


or Ebroa river in northeastern Spain; the second longest river in Spain.

(Video) Hills Like White Elephants -- Analysis

the espressoa direct non-stop train.

white elephantsomething of little or no value.


Hills Like White Elephants is set in Spain. An American and a girl are sitting in a sidewalk cafe at a Spanish train station, waiting for a fast direct train from Barcelona that will take them to Madrid, where the girl will have an abortion.

In the story, Hemingway refers to the river Ebro and the bare, barren looking mountains on one side of the station and the fertile plains on the other side of the station. The hills of Spain are like white elephants to the girl in their nudity and round, arched shape. Also of note is that "white elephant" is a term used to refer to something that requires a lot of care and yields little profit; an object that no longer has value to its owner but has value to others; and something of little or no value. During this dialogue, the girl's crumbling realization that she is not truly loved is a powerful undercurrent, creating tension and pent-up fear.

(Video) Hills Like White Elephants

A Clean and Well-Lighted Place also takes place in Spain. It revolves around two waiters and an elderly man who visit the cafe late at night before it closes. He's a drunk who just tried to kill himself. One of the waiters is older and understands the loneliness of the elderly and the importance of coffee for the mental health of the elderly.

Hemingway explores the loneliness of older men by using the older waiter as a sounding board for the old man's defense. Although the elderly person is unattended or waiting for him at home, he surrenders with dignity and cultivates his loss of reality, which is expressed in the choice of a clean and well-lit place in the late hours of the night. The importance of a clean and well-lit place to sit is essential to maintaining dignity and formality amid loneliness, despair and despair.


What is the meaning behind the story Hills Like White Elephants? ›

From the man's point of view, the hills don't look like white elephants, and the hills certainly don't have skins. The girl, however, has moved away from the rational world of the man and into her own world of intuition, in which she seemingly knows that the things that she desires will never be fulfilled.

What is the main point of Hills Like White Elephants? ›

The major theme in Hills Like White Elephants is the unwanted pregnancy the couple does not directly refer to. Choices, especially as they relate to gender roles, are also important themes in the story, as well as the limits of language and the breakdown in communication between the two characters.

What is the irony of Hills Like White Elephants? ›

The irony in the story is evident when the American tells Jig that he is not concerned about whether she decides to do the abortion or not, but he needs her to stay happy. The jig is not comfortable going through the procedure, which implies that she is not happy with the idea of doing an abortion.

Is Hills Like White Elephants a metaphor? ›

In “Hills Like White Elephants”, Ernest Hemingway is using personification and metaphors to paint us a picture of a troubled relationship between a couple who are trying to find a solution to a problem that can't seem to agree on a solution.

What is the conclusion of Hills like White Elephants? ›

Abstract. The ending of Hemingway's 1927 story, “Hills Like White Elephants” was interpreted for decades in one way: the female protagonist surrenders to her partner's wishes that she undergo abortion.

Does jig want to keep the baby? ›

Because of this she becomes a feminine hero who not only asserts herself but also protects her unborn child. In conclusion Jig grows during the short story and finally decides not only to keep her baby but also to leave the American.

Does the girl want the baby in Hills Like White Elephants? ›

By this point, midway through the story, the girl has already retracted her previous comment that the surrounding hills look like white elephants, hinting that she wants to keep the baby instead of having an abortion.

What happens to the couple at the end of Hills Like White Elephants? ›

"And they lived happily ever after." ...is probably not the postscript to "Hills Like White Elephants." In the story, Jig seems to want to get married and have a baby. However, the American man seems to want her to have an abortion and for them to then continue the relationship as it was before the pregnancy.


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3. Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway (Summary and Review) - Minute Book Report
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5. Audio for "Hills Like White Elephants"
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