Symbolism In Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants

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Symbolism plays a fundamental role in Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”. The different symbols used throughout the story are capable of subtly conveying intricate concepts to the readers of this recognized literary work. It then becomes essential for them to detect all these symbols, and discern the deep meanings which they hold in order to truly grasp the story’s message which the author intended to transmit. Without this insight, many first-time readers may view the story as a simple and casual dialog between two people, a man and a woman, waiting for a train from Barcelona to Madrid. Thus, they become unaware of the intense conflict the two main characters are actually facing, haunted by the difficult decision of terminating a pregnancy…show more content…
A white elephant symbolizes something unwanted. It could also have roots in “elephant in the room”, an English metaphorical idiom for an extremely obvious problem that nobody wants to discuss. As the conversation between the two begins to unfold, the girl makes a comment the surrounding hills “look like white elephants” (Mays, 2014, p. 115). It seems to be a casual and spontaneous remark, but it actually serves as the onset to their discussion about an operation, which is believed to be an abortion. It can be presumed that the girl’s comment about the hills hints to the unborn child which refers to the “something unwanted” which they do not want to discuss. However, when she later makes the remark that the hills “don’t really look like white elephants”; that they looked like white elephants only at first, but actually, “They’re lovely hills.” (Mays, 2014, p.116). This change in views could be a subtle indication to the man that she does not want to terminate her pregnancy, while he ignores it and continues to encourage her for undergoing the medical procedure, making it even more difficult for making a decision. The contrasting landscapes described in the story also suggest that the girl is torn between both landscapes, which represents two contradictory choices. Half-way through the story, the girl stands up and walks to the end of the station, where she sees from afar the “fields of grain…show more content…
The dialog between the American and the girl, as she is referred to by the narrator, occurs at the bar near the station. It begins by the man saying “It’s pretty hot.”, and the girl replies to him with a simple suggestion: “Let’s drink beer” (Mays, 2014, p.115). This reference to the high temperature and the hot sun at the beginning of the story supports the idea of extreme tension between the two characters. Heat and hot climates are symbolic of tension and adversity. But the gist of the idea here is how her suggestion of drinking beer contradicts and cools down the sense of tension brought by the man’s complaint of the heat with cold alcoholic drinks, which symbolize the need to temporarily avoid a problem. Furthermore, the curtain at the entrance of the bar, which is made of bamboo beads, may also carry valuable meanings to the story. The girl looks at the bamboo bead curtain and asks the man what is written on in, while he replies “Anis del Toro. It’s a drink” (Mays, 2014, p. 115). Bamboo is known to be very strong; hence, the curtain could symbolize the unbreakable differences and disagreements between them, while the painting on it (the name of the drink) symbolize their constant avoidance of the conflict they are facing and of their differences. This point of view is also identified when
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