A Critical Appreciation of the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway


The very name Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel Prize Laureate (1954) is embalmed with the true essence of American Literature. And his works reflect his versatility and genius in the field of Literature. In the year 1927 Earnest Hemingway published ‘Men Without Women’, a collection of short stories by the renown American publication namely Charles Scribner’s Sons, in both hardback and paperback covers. And among all those brilliant short stories, ‘Hills Like White Elephant’ is the most extensively read and analyzed by the readers and literary critics, displaying several vital issues regarding human psychology. This story is a masterpiece with a subtle thought and writing technique. The story barely contains a thousand words but with this striking precision, the story penetrates the hearts of the unnumbered readers like a needle of emotion. And this outstanding brilliance makes him one of the greatest Literary Figures of America and of the whole Globe as well.


The plot of the story reveals the chatting between an American man and a girl, sitting at the table drinking beer outside a bar that neared a railway station in Spain and waiting for the train to reach Madrid.


“Close against the side of the station… The American and

the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building.”


The man is trying to convince the girl for an abortion and the girl condemns it from the core of her heart. Though in the whole story, there is no single line that reveals it straight. It is only their conversation that unmasks it.


The story contains a plethora of symbols and images. The story is featured with the symbolic conflict between productivity or fertility and barrenness or sterility. The male dominion over the female in the society is inked in this short-story with the use of brilliant symbols. The very title of the short story Hills Like White Elephant’ is symbolic. It is symbolically referred to as the sacred things just like the pregnancy of the girl. And in another way, it is also reflecting the devoid of any color that symbolically reflects the desolate mental condition of the girl having a devastating feeling of a forceful incoming abortion.

The setting of the story shows the beautiful valley of the river Ebro with the greenness of sylvan Nature and the magnificent view of the hills across the valley. This panoramic vision of fertility creates a stark contrast or conflict with the mental and psychological condition of the girl, sitting on the table and drinking beer. The thought of the incoming abortion makes her glum, morbid, and finally indifferent to her own existence and values. Her agony of the thought of abortion seems to make her sterile or barren completely. The man consistently tries to convince her about the simple process of abortion and the charming prospect of their future life free from unwanted responsibilities.

“ “It’s really an awfully simple operation, Jig,” the man said. “It’s not

really an operation at all.” ”


But each time the man discusses this issue the girl rejects it passively without denying him. But her conversation and the attitude condemn every argument of the man regarding the issue of abortion though she never verbally refuses him.

“ “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.”

The tremendous anguish and agony force her to accept her fate. Another beautiful symbol of this story that perfectly represents her sterility is the hills that resemble a white elephant to her. The term ‘elephant’ bears the taints of the Classical Greek tragedy. The beautiful hills seem to be white, devoid of color.

“The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun

and the country was brown and dry.

“They look like white elephants,” she said.”


The nickname of the girl ‘Jig’ can also be interpreted in a symbolic way. The word ‘Jig’ lexically means ‘a dance; or a kind of ‘joke’. So, it can be said that the author carefully selects this name to unveil the man’s ultimate condescending attitude to her. Their chatting is continually accompanied by alcoholic drinks and beers that perhaps symbolically works for both of them in the course of their conversation where the man who apparently expresses his concern for the girl and leaves the choice of having the abortion entirely to her, while actually argues in favor of the abortion and the girl who apparently accepts it but inwardly protests it from her soul. The story ends with the symbolic and ironic saying of the girl denoting her catastrophic condition, just before their leaving the bar to reach the station.

” I feel fine,” she said. “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.”


The story is highly appreciated by the different critics. The dialogue of the story is extremely praised as the dialogue snaps the flavor of a private conversation and at the same time linking the relevant narrative background. The distinguishing features of dialogue represent the rejection of emotional language and the male’s motto-oriented vocabulary and the woman’s emotional and relational language. The brilliant technique of the recurring use of keywords (like ‘yes’, ‘no’ ‘drinks’, ‘love’, ‘want’ etc.) and have a tendency to form puns from the characters, create subtle allusiveness to the Biblical reference to the conflict of man and woman. The dialogue also presents a variety of social issues the calling of the man as ‘Jig’ and his urging her to have an abortion (‘simple operation’) show the male’s aggressive, mechanical and manipulation of the women, her pregnancy, and to the laws of Nature, too.


The story ‘Hills Like White Elephant’ by Hemingway, beautifully depicts his characters ‘American man’ and the girl ‘Jig’ as the representatives of two lost generations having no resolution and became isolated from each other spiritually to an unknown world where the future is uncertain. In this regard, the story can be compared to the immortal work ‘The Wasteland’ by T.S Eliot.



Work Cited

  1. O’Brien, Timothy. “Allusion, Word Play, And The Central Conflict In Hemingway’s’ Hills Like White Elephants'”. 2020, Accessed 5 Dec 2020.
  2. Yageskli, Robert. “Ten Core Concepts”. 2020, Accessed 5 Dec 2020.
  3. Wagner Martin, Linda. A Historical Guide To Earnest Hemingway. 2020.
3 Comments on "A Critical Appreciation of the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway"
  • erotik Reply
    March 1, 2021 at 6:47 pm

    Good write-up. I definitely appreciate this site. Keep writing! Ashla Alfy Ward

  • Rima Reply
    May 2, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Amazing. Kreo up the Great Work!

  • Rima Reply
    May 2, 2021 at 5:50 pm

    Amazing. Keep up the Great Work!

Leave A Response