Ernest Hemingway is an incredible writer, known for what he leaves out of stories not for what he tells. His main emphasis in Hills Like White Elephants seems to be symbolism. Symbolism is the art or practice of using symbols, especially by investing things with a symbolic meaning or by expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representations (merriam-webster.com). He uses this technique to emphasize the importance of ideas, once again suggesting that he leaves out the important details of the story by symbolizing their meaning.
This short story is filled with symbolism, some of which the reader may never find. The title itself can be analyzed a lot deeper. The “hills” refers to the shape of the female body during pregnancy and the “white elephants” symbolize a property requiring much care and expense and yielding little profit (merriam-webster.com). The story is about a man and a woman taking a train to get an abortion. The train is supposed to show change and movement, something this couple appears to need because their life is very routine.
The reader is told that there is a curtain made of strings of bamboo beads, hung across the open door into the bar, to keep out flies. The bamboo beads not only keep them from their problems (known as flies) but it also keeps their lives separate from all of the other people at the bar. Hemingway then tells the reader that the train will stop at this junction for two minutes and then go to Madrid. The train only stopping for two minutes is to show the importance of the girl’s decision to have the abortion. It is a big decision and there is not that much time for her to sit around and think about it.
The guy and the girl are now sitting at a bar deciding what they should drink. The girl takes off her hat and puts it on the table. This action symbolizes her putting her feelings on the table to talk about them with the man. Instead of coming straight out and talking about the problems the couple decides to drink beer. The act of consuming alcohol is another way for them to run away from their problems. Later on, the man and the woman are talking and the woman says, “They look like white elephants.” He replies to her comment by saying, “I’ve never seen one.