Literary Analysis Essay on "Hills Like White Elephants" By Ernest Hemingway

Published: 2023-04-01
Literary Analysis Essay on "Hills Like White Elephants" By Ernest Hemingway
Type of paper:  Essay
Categories:  Ernest Hemingway American literature
Pages: 7
Wordcount: 1817 words
16 min read

The short story "Hills Like White Elephants" is about an implied abortion that is a significant aspect of the story. It was not stated explicitly through the text but was implied throughout, as it can be seen from the dialogue between the young lady and the man. Through the use of various literary terms by the author, the meaning is brought out, whereby multiple aspects contribute towards building up the entire story. The use of symbolism, allegory, and imagery form the basis of most literary devices that are seen throughout the text. The major theme, as implied, is abortion, where the two principal characters have contrasting opinions, which leads to a heated argument between them. The issue of abortion is the elephant in the room, as implied by the story's title, upon which the reasoning and entire setting are based.

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First and foremost, the primary literary device used in the story is that of symbolism, where various symbols are referred to, which have a meaning attached. The title of the story, first and foremost, is the first use of symbolism in the text. The primary issue in the story, the elephant in the room, is the implied issue of abortion. That is the primary cause of the disagreement that is seen between the young; lady and the man. They have different stands concerning the issue. The man is for the idea of abortion while the lady is against it. That difference of opinion and preference causes them to disagree as they stand for different ideas about the issue. The main problem, which is abortion, lays the basis for the entire setting of the story as the whole story is basically about the issue with abortion.

Furthermore, there is the use of symbolism when there is a reference to a bamboo bead curtain is another aspect of symbolism that is used in the story. In a real sense, a curtain is used to separate two sides, so that one cannot see through. In this case, the bamboo curtain makes it hard for the couple to see the other hand, which has a mountain. Concerning the setting in the story, there is a separation between the lady and the man. That is a matter of their opinion and preference. The separation is whereby the man prefers that the lady undergoes the abortion process. On the other side, the lady is of a different opinion, where she p[refers to keep the baby. The difference, in their opinion, or worlds of thinking, is highlighted by the use of the beaded curtain. It separates them from the outside, by obscuring their proper view of the mountain.

The issue of pregnancy is the curtain that the couple is handling in their real life, where they prefer different options. The use of a white elephant in the story is another use of symbolism, whereby the white elephant refers to the unborn child. A white elephant refers to an unwanted item, which is a liability to the person responsible. In the case of the story, the unborn child is the white elephant, because the man does not want it. That is because of the responsibility that the baby will have on the couple when it is born. It is a burden that the man does not want to carry at the moment. Furthermore, there is the use of symbolism through the description of the mountains. The curves of the hill can be likened to the figure of a woman. In this case, an expectant lady that the story is based on primarily. The fact that in the story, she says, "No, you wouldn't have" means that the man would never know about what being expectant feels like (Ernest,229).

Drama is the other literary device that is used in the story through the conduct of the two principal characters. In the beginning, the couple looks quite calm through the way they talk to one another. However, Jig's mood suddenly changes, which is a dramatic twist from what was seen at the beginning of the story, that was a calm setting. The two significant characters become emotional in the story, which is a form of drama, displayed through the way that the man talks to the man. She is emotional, while the man, to some degree, is apologetic and tries to convince the lady to change her mind. However, after trying and seeing that the woman is emotional, he encourages her to do whatever she prefers. Dramatically, the lady, Jil, states that she does not care about herself, and she will do what the man prefers, and she will be fine. But I don't care about me. And I'll do it and then everything will be fine." which is an unexpected statement given the logic behind it.

Allusion is another literary device that has been strongly used in the story, which aids in building up the plot. The story is about, as implied, abortion, although it has not been explicitly mentioned. The man would like the lady to procure an abortion, which is opposite to her preference. That is shown by the manner in which the story is structured, where the man is coercing the lady to get rid of the pregnancy. There is an indirect reference to the issue of abortion, which is the major issue that is the source of drama in the story. Furthermore, there is an allusion about the fertility of the lady. That is symbolically shown by the reference to the river that enables the vegetation to thrive. The fact that the lady is considered fertile explains the fact that she was able to conceive, hence point us to the fact that she is expectant. 'Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro,' a statement used to refer to the fertility of the land, supported by the flowing river.

The use of irony is another device that was instrumental in building up the plot in this story. First is the instance where Jil said that she does not care about herself. That was brought about by the fact that the man was insisting that she procures the abortion. That pushed her to give in, prompting her to say that she did not care about her welfare. That was ironic because she had a stand, which showed she had a preference for her life. If she did not genuinely care about her welfare, then she would not have any stand and would be ready to abort the baby. Furthermore, there is an irony when the man says that she loves Jil and cares about her welfare. That was ironic as he was the one forcing her, through his words, to take the abortion (Nagel, 857). It is common knowledge that abortion has many undesirable side effects. If he loved the lady and cared about her welfare, then he would support her carry the pregnancy to term. However, the fact that he insisted on abortion is ironic, as it betrayed his inner feelings.

Throughout the story, the device of Carpe Diem is evident, as shown through the dialogue between the major characters. Through the conversation, the man is of the idea that the lady procures an abortion, which is because he feels unprepared for the responsibilities of being a dad. Thus, he urges Jil to take the abortion option, so that their present time is free of any inconvenience that may be caused by carrying the pregnancy to term. He gives very little thought about the future in terms of the consequences that may come as a result of the abortion. The lady may end up dying or may not be able to bear children in the future as a result. However, the man is more concerned about what is happening at the moment. On the lady's side, she says that she does not care about what happens to her, as she does not care about herself. That is prompted by the current state, where she is under the influence of the man, convincing her to choose abortion (Nilofer, 72). She gives very little thought about what might happen to her in the future when she wants an abortion as opposed to keeping the pregnancy.

In the story, there is also the use of similes, like the comparison between the hills and white elephants. The hill, just like elephants, is enormous in terms of their size. Moreover, the surface of the mountain was white, which is similar to the skin of white elephants (Lewis, 75). Another device that was used in the story was the foreshadowing. When convincing the lady to take an abortion, the man told Jil that after the abortion, the two would be happy and okay, as he knew many people who did the same and were happy afterward. He was predicting what would probably happen to them in the future as a result of the abortion. There was no total certainty about Jil feeling happy afterward, but he was only predicting what was likely to happen in the future after the abortion. Antagonism is the other device that is evident through the character of the man, whereby he opposes Jil's view of wanting an abortion. In the same story, there is protagonism, whereby Jil gives in to the man's idea to procure the abortion, although she was of the opposite opinion initially.

The plot of the story is at a waiting bay, where the couple was waiting for a train so that they can head to their destination (Doris, 280). They were sitting and were served with drinks by the staff at the station. It is during this time that the dialogue, on which the story is based, happens. Throughout the story, there are only three characters, the lady (Jil), the man and the woman that was serving them as they were talking. After the dramatic conversation that they had, it is time for them to leave, and the man goes to attend to their luggage. One of the overriding elements that are evident in the story is that symbolism, where various objects are mentioned but have a deeper meaning about qualities or ideas. The primary issue in the story is relationships, whereby we see the struggle that the couple has, and how they try to solve it. That is all caused by the idea of abortion, as both parties have different stands.

Works Cited

Hashmi, Nilofer." Hills Like White Elephants": The Jilting of Jig." The Hemingway Review 23.1 (2003): 72-83.

Hemingway, Ernest. "Hills like white elephants." Men without women (1927).

James, Nagel. "Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway, 1927." Reference Guide to Short Fiction,, 7 Feb. 2020,

Lanier, Doris. "The Bittersweet Taste of Absinthe in Hemingway's" Hills Like White Elephants." Studies in Short Fiction 26.3 (1989): 279.

Weeks, Lewis E. "Hemingway Hills: Symbolism in" Hills Like White Elephants." Studies in Short Fiction 17.1 (1980): 75.

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Literary Analysis Essay on "Hills Like White Elephants" By Ernest Hemingway. (2023, Apr 01). Retrieved from

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