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Symbolism of "Hills Like White Elephants"

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In Ernest Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” there is a controversy at the end of the story, whether or not the couple decides to have the abortion. Through out the story Hemingway uses symbolism to show two different paths the couple may choose to take; the fertile green side or the barren side with the white hills. The paths are two train tracks on either side of the train station. Although Hemingway may leave the ending of the story up to the reader, I think it can be argued that the couple didn’t go through with the abortion.
The setting and surroundings of the train station are very important because they symbolize the two paths the couple may take. In the beginning of the story Hemingway explains the setting, “On this side there was no shade and no trees/ The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and country was brown and dry” (Hemingway 132). This is the side where the couple is sitting as they drink. This side symbolizes abortion because it is so barren, and the white hills are also on that side. The girl states in the story that the white hills look like “white elephants” to her. A white elephant can be symbolized as something unwanted or useless, in this case the baby may be considered a white elephant. On the other side of the train station the scenery is much different; Hemingway explains, “Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro” (134). This side symbolizes fertility because it is so full of life. The couple can make a decision to take either path, and although through out the story they talk about getting the abortion in the end they decide to take the fertile path. One might argue that the couple would get the abortion because many readers may think the American has the authority in this relationship, but I disagree. While reading the story one can interpret that the American wants the abortion but the girl is unsure of what she wants. The girl, however, does want to make her “partner” happy and she doesn’t want to loose him, but it is easily understood that she does want the baby. When she walks over to other side of the station where everything is full of life she says, “And we can have all this” (134). By saying “we can have all this” at that side of the station where it is full of life, one might think she is saying we can have the baby which would give us life. I think the girl is very confused and she apparently young since she is referred to as a girl in the story. Although the American can be viewed many different ways I feel he does care about what makes her happy, but he also does want the abortion. In the story he says numerous times, “I don’t want you to do it if you don’t really want to” (132-34). The American is trying to make sure whatever decision they choose to make is going to be one the girl is comfortable with.
All through out the essay one would think the American and the girl would make the decision to have the abortion. There are ways the story leads to this assumption symbolically. Such as the reference to the number two through out story; the two beers, the two felt pads, the two bags of luggage, the two strings of beads the girl grabbed, and the train only stopping for two minutes. The couple has always been happy with the just the two of them, they are not sure if they will be happy if two turns into three. Another way the story leads to this assumption symbolically is the shadow of the cloud that moved across the field as the girls notices the scenery on the other side of the station. The shadow of the cloud might symbolize what society would think of her. In that time period women were not supposed to have children outside of wedlock. So that shadow is hovering over the side of fertility. All these symbolic meanings may stray the reader toward the conclusion that they did get the abortion, but the ending is where one could clearly make the assumption they didn’t.
Toward the end of the story the couple has an argument that results in the decision to have the baby. During their argument they were talking about the abortion and how the operation was perfectly simple. The girl begins to get irritated and ask the American to stop talking about it, and he finally says, “But I don’t want you to, I don’t care anything about it” (134). After the argument he says the he is going to move the bags to the other side of the station, the fertile side. The moving of the bags is a very important point in the story because it is the final decision of the couple. When he walks back over to girl, she smiles at him and the American says, “Do you feel better?” The girl replies, “I feel fine, there’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine” (135). One can argue the reason why the girl smiled and said that she was fine. Perhaps she’s smiling because she decided to go through with the abortion or because it is "just a hint of smug triumph" (qtd. Wyche). Wyche pointed out in his essay about the ”metaphorical abortion” of “The Hills Like White Elephants” that there can be many assumptions about the way the couples’ conversation ended, but the girl could have been smiling because they decided to make the right decision. Through out the story it may be difficult to figure out the conclusion, with all the symbolic meaning towards the couple getting the abortion. The fact they have been perfectly happy with it being just the two of them, and not having to worry about the pressures society might have on them having a baby in that time period out side of wedlock. One also might disagree because the girl does seem to care more about what the American wants, and what will make him happy then what she wants. She all though seem have some authority in the relationship and the American shows that he does care for her because repeats many times in the story he “doesn’t want her to do anything she doesn’t want to”. The American is just afraid the lifestyle he has known will change, and will not be able to travel as they have been doing. Their monogamous relationship will have to become serious and they could possibly get married. All of this pressure a person could make one snap under pressure and take the easy way out whether it right or wrong. But the evidence of two different paths at the train station, and the path the couple decided to take by the placing of the luggage, one can make the assumption that they didn’t go through with the abortion. Although this story is very vague on the history of the couple and how serious they are, they must be on some line of being serious because they do talk about the option of keeping the baby. The girl clearly wants to keep the baby and the American say many times he doesn’t want her to do anything she doesn’t want to. So in the end one can assume they do care for one another and they want to make the right decision in the end, and by placing the luggage on he other side the station where everything is full of life, they made he decision to no

Works Cited
Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants.” The Norton Introduction to
Literature. Eds. Alison Booth, J. Paul hunter, and Kelly J. Mays. New York: Norton, 2005. 132-35.
Wyche, David. “Letting the air into a relationship: metaphorical abortion in “Hills
Like White Elephant.” 2002. Literature Resource Center. Thompson and Gale.

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