The Meaning and Purpose of Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

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“Hills like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway successfully communicated its purpose through the use of round characters, symbols, and a theme. The purpose of this story was to show the struggle between the girl and her boyfriend. These two characters struggled throughout the story to communicate with each other. They merely heard each other, but never really listened to what the other had to say. This story is significant because it highlights an important and relevant moral. Readers will find this story interesting because it is relatable in many instances.

One important element of this story is the author's use of character development. Hemingway doesn't directly state any background information on the characters which makes the readers think deeply about the characters. Hemingway gives us subtle clues about their personality through dialogue when they are in the bar. Towards the end of the story, readers are able to piece together that both of the main characters are actually round characters and have a lot more to them than meets the eye. For example, we don't know why the girl and the guy are in Spain together. It's apparent that the girl isn't native because she lacks the ability to speak Spanish. On the other hand, the man in the story might not be the man that got the girl pregnant. They could just be dating and traveling together. That's one aspect of the story that makes it so intriguing.

“Hills Like White Elephants” contained many examples of symbols that greatly added to the story. One of the biggest symbols that is in the title and is also the center of the plot is the “white elephant” in the room. A white elephant is commonly used to represent something in a situation that is very obvious, yet no one wants to address. In this case, the white elephant is the baby and the debate to follow through with an abortion or not. The girl and the man talk order drinks to distract them from talking about an abortion. Because the story is centered around this conflict, this symbol of the white elephant is perhaps one of the most important and most obvious in the story. Another important symbol is Hemingway's use of the train station. The train tracks represent the girls drastically different choices regarding her pregnancy. The girl describes the setting of the train tracks very vividly so that the readers can see the contrast between the opposite paths the train can travel. One path contains lush trees, lots of foliage, and represents life. The other path is very barren and represents death. We know that the girl is waiting to take the train somewhere, and her decision of where to go ultimately represented her stance on abortion.

Hemingway's consistent theme added depth to this story that kept readers thoroughly interested. His overall theme was on communicating with others. This is because in the story, the man kept telling the girl that an abortion is such a simple operation and it must be the correct option. However, the girl kept dropping hints that she wanted to think about her options more and possibly keep the baby. Although both people were hearing each other speak, neither were really listening to what the other had to say. If they had been listening, their dialogue would've been different and made the story different as well.

All in all, “Hills Like White Elephants” was an excellent book. Hemingway constructed this story beautifully through his use of character development, symbols, and theme. Both main characters are round characters and developing throughout the story because of their hard, life-changing decision. Multiple symbols helped us realize how much depth this story has underneath the surface. These symbols require readers to think about the story and not just skim. Last but not least, the theme, communicate with others, is also a moral that many people should apply to their lives. These three literary elements used together creat a great book that all readers will enjoy.

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The Meaning and Purpose of Hemingway's Hills Like White Elephants. (2022, Oct 06). Retrieved July 13, 2024 , from

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