Symbolism In Hills Like White Elephants, By Ernest Hemingway

1701 words - 7 pages

What is the use of symbolism in writing? Is it merely to confuse the reader or is its true intent to make the reader think about the meaning of the story? A symbol is a person, object, or event that suggests more than its literal meaning (Meyer 220). In Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants," Hemingway uses a plethora of symbols to convey the idea that the young girl, Jig is ambivalent to having an abortion and that her older American boyfriend does not want to have the baby. Although the word abortion is never used in the story, the reader understands the concept through Hemingway's symbolism.

In the beginning of the story, Jig and her boyfriend are waiting for a train in the valley of Ebro. They did not take a car or any other customary means of transportation. Thus, the train means choice. On a train, the track can only lead one way or go in the opposite direction, which means that Jig has not made a decision about what she is going to do. At the end of the story, we still do not know what Jig is going to do or what train she is going to take. In addition, the valley of Ebro has a river running through it, the river representing life, the life of the baby. Right now, Jig does not know if she is going to keep the unexpected pregnancy and her boyfriend wants their life as it used to be, without the pregnancy. However, the final decision is Jig’s decision.

The use of the words "everything" and "not anything" also have meaning throughout story. The boyfriend is constantly telling Jig, "it's really not anything" (615). He feels that the child that is growing in Jig's stomach is nothing; that he does not even think of it as a part of himself. He does not want the baby and has put it out of his mind. However, on the other hand, Jig, by at the end of the story has started to think of the child as something. She tells her boyfriend that "we could have all this… and we could have everything" (616). Jig knows that having the child will make her look like a whore in the eyes of her community, thus she knows that she has to get rid of the baby, but in her heart she wants to keep it.

Moreover, the story contains the word "two” throughout it, which reinforces that Jig and her boyfriend only are not ready to be a three unit family, that they are happy right now with two people. They had "two glasses of beer and two felt pads," the train only "stopped at this junction for two minutes" (614), and they only had "two heavy bags" (617). They are not ready for a child and that is why there is an emphasis on the word two. Ironically, the word “two” could also mean that Jig feels that she is ready to have the baby. She could be seeing herself and the baby as two and thus she is thinking of keeping the baby.

Jig might be having the abortion because she is drinking during her pregnancy. Jig does not even think twice about drinking, she is the one that even said, "let's drink beer" (614). Even though in this time period a pregnant woman...

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