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In Hills Like White Elephants, Hemingway incorporates symbolism to discuss controversial topics in society and culture. Using a plethora of symbols Hemingway portrays a couple having an apathetic dialogue at a train station merely grazing the taboo situation at hand. Hemingway utilizes this dialogue as a comparison to the prohibition upon speaking on major societal issues. Hemingway courageously tackles the subject of abortion using clever symbolism. A major theme of this short story is communication in society. Society chooses to gracefully dance around major issues rather than forcefully confront the problem. This conversation lacks communication and brushes over a major problem in their relationship. Jig’s pregnancy and the American’s constant insistence on an abortion are never directly stated, even though the issue becomes increasingly apparent as the conversation progresses in a negative way. They’re merely skating around the issue and not acknowledging the elephant in the room as this smoldering issue threatens to tear them apart. Hemingway highlights the tension of their dialogue, the implications of their comments, and the subtle suggestions of their personalities and the conflict between them. In this story Hemingway’s ability to do so much with so little, creates a tense scene without direct physical or verbal conflict. The titular reference to “white elephants,” metaphorically represents an item of considerable value that is too troublesome and expensive to keep, in this case the baby serves as a major symbol in this story. Jig’s comment in the beginning of the story that the neighboring
Boyd 2hills appear like white elephants initially seems to be a casual, conversational remark, but it serves as a plot device for her and the American to discuss their baby and the possibility of having an abortion, “They look like white elephants” (Hemingway 239). Comparing the hills and the metaphorical baby to elephants signifies the use of the expression “the elephant in the room”, which is anidiom for a topic that is obvious and no one desiresto discuss it. This is a significant symbol of their lives, of their relationship, and of the choices that must be made. The white elephant is something that is both rare and sacred, as it is also useless. It is a symbol of their lives spent traveling which only has surface value. They are those hills like white elephant’s, barren and lacking character. The reference to the bamboo bead curtain at the entrance to the bar is symbolic of rosary beads, indicating that Jig must be a Catholic, causing her to beresistant to an abortion, “Close against the side of the station there was the warm shadow of the building and a curtain, made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door to the bar, to keep out flies” (Hemingway 2). She resists an abortion because her religious heritage opposes certain action. The curtain also represents the separation between these two characters in the story and their opposing views on the subject of abortion.Hemingway uses dialogue and alcohol as symbols in this story focusing on the difference between talking and communicating which the couple in the story fail to do. The American oversimplifies the issue, making it clear to the readers that he does not desire the baby with the young woman, calling the abortion first “an awfully simple operation,” and then “not really an operation at all” (Hemingway 212). The couple sweep the issue under the rug having drinks throughout their conversation to avoid each other and the problems with their relationship. Their
Boyd 3conversation contains quick, meaningless exchanges signifying the underlying issues between them. The train and luggage serves as another prominent form of symbolism introduced by Hemingway. The couple in the short story are in a rigid, old train depot that doesn’t offer much comfort or serenity. The couple are between making a decision to get married, and making a decision to get an abortion. Different methods of transportation, when found in stories, give us the sense of change, of being between worlds, between experiences. These are symbols of bodies in motion, of transience and travel. Since the man and the girl’s suitcases have stickers that give a record of their travels, the luggage can be seen as a map of the journey that brought them to this point: “He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights” (Hemingway 99).The stickers on the suitcases also serve as a visual reminder of where and how the girl fell pregnant which again underlines the similarities between the couple’s being stranded halfway between decisions and opposing viewpoints and the couple’s being lodged between different worlds. Their luggage can also serve as a symbolism of problems they carried whiletraveling and issues they never emotionally dealt with. Nearing the conclusion of this short story the American is seemingly unsettled about their resentment filled dialogue. The American looking down the tracks, straining to glimpse a future moving toward him as the approaching train, certainly indicates a feel of uneasiness on his part, as does his stopping to have another drink, alone, before returning to the girl using alcohol as a coping mechanism once more. Hemingway ends the story with a note of doubtfulness. Jig
Boyd 4remarks that she “feels fine,” once again completely grazing over the complications in her relationship and furthermore dissolving in to the dialogue without completely discussing her emotions towards the American’s insistence of her havingan abortion. Ernest Hemingway’suse of images throughout the short story reflects on the couple’s situation in every aspect.Manyinstances of symbolism in this short story to coincide with the themes and feelings of the characters, such as the description of the scenery and emotions. Both the American and Jig speak in short sentences and fail to communicate their emotions to another one. Hemingway also avoids using dialogue tags and skips any internal monologues. These elements leave the characters’ thoughts and feelings completely up to the reader’s own interpretations and understanding of the story. Hemingway presents a dramatic conflict built on subtle implication and inference, making this brief narrative a masterpiece of short fiction.Hemingway usesthis story as a way to address the unspeakable topic of abortion in the early 1920sand discussesfairly taboo situations such as, abortion, alcoholism and teen pregnancy. Hiswriting utilizes literary elements in order to entice the reader and enhance each piece that he writes. The use of symbols in Hills Like White Elephantsis important to the plot line and to the fundamental meaning of the story. This use of symbolism, the reader can discover the hidden themes in this short story. Doublespeak, allusions and setting are also major plot factors used to develop the theme in this story. Hemingway courageously tackles the subject of abortion using clever symbolism throughout this short story

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