The Importance of Symbolism in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway

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Within Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” story, symbolism helps to demonstrate that Jig has a troubled romantic relationship with an unnamed American man. To this end, Jig and this American man drink a Spanish beer whose name indicates that it is meant for bulls. Further, Jig observes that some distant hills resemble white elephants. This essay shows that in “Hills Like White Elephants”, symbolism highlights the troubled nature of Jig’s relationship by analyzing the following aspects: Jig and her companion drink Anis del Toro, a Spanish beer whose name literally means ‘bull’s beer’; and Jig observes that some distant hills resemble white elephants.

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Given that Jig and her companion drink Anis del Toro, a Spanish beer whose name literally means ‘bull’s beer’ (Portland World Theatre, n.d.), symbolism reflects the troubled nature of Jig’s relationship. It is instructive to note that the American man chooses this beer. For this reason, a reader would validly hold that this American man personally prefers this beer. Interestingly, Jig does not like the taste of this beer. Given that the American man does not respond kindly to Jig’s displeasure in this beer (Hemingway, n.d.), it is evident that this beer has some symbolic meaning. To decipher this symbolism, a reader would consider that Jig is pregnant. Even though the American man is responsible for this pregnancy, he states that he does not want Jig to give birth. The American man thus urges Jig to have an abortion. He declares that this is the only way he can sustain his relationship with Jig (Ibid.). Here, Hemingway depicts Jig as a victim of male domination. Without caring about Jig’s feelings, the American man asks Jig to have an abortion (Ibid.). Importantly, this abortion is meant to only serve the man’s interests. It is thus not surprising that the man insists that the couple drinks Anis del Toro; this beer helps to cement the notion that the man takes precedence over Jig. In other words, this beer symbolizes the idea that Jig is an underling to the man. Consequently, Jig’s relationship is unequal and thus troubled.

Moreover, Jig observes that some distant hills resemble white elephants, thus symbolizing the uneasy nature of her relationship with the American man. To appreciate this symbolism, it would help to consult English language dictionaries for the meaning of the phrase ‘white elephant’. According to the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s Dictionary, a ‘white elephant’ refers to a possession that needs much monetary input and care but produces minimal profit or enjoyment. This definition aptly describes Jig’s relationship with the American man. This is because, whereas Jig has to go through the pain of an abortion to sustain this relationship, the only trouble the man experiences is being ‘worried about Jig’s pregnancy (Hemingway). Given this unequal scenario, a reader would notice that Jig significantly suffers to retain this relationship. Conversely, the American man does not go thorough significant suffering. A reader can thus reasonably declare that, from the perspective of Jig, this relationship amounts to a ‘white elephant. The phrase ‘white elephants’ thereby symbolizes the uneasy status of Jig’s relationship with the American man.

In conclusion, within “Hills Like White Elephants”, symbolism illustrates that Jig’s relationship with the American man is troubled. To this end, Jig and her companion drink Anis del Toro, a Spanish beer whose name literally means ‘Bull’s beer’. Further, Jig observes that some distant hills resemble white elephants. It would be insightful to investigate why Hemingway focuses on the theme of gender inequality.

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The Importance of Symbolism in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway. (2022, Oct 06). Retrieved November 30, 2022 , from
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