A White Elephant: Symbolism In
Certain moments in life carry a great significance, and with them the idea that time itself may stop, creating a clear view of the minuscule and hidden details of our own realities. Ernest Hemingway, a masterful writer of the twentieth century, shows us in his short story Hills Like White Elephants a glimpse into the apparently simple and yet complex threads of the human psyche. This story, a dialogue of a couple discussing a pressing situation at hand (an abortion), is a clear illustration of how sometimes the words that are not spoken may have a heavier meaning than those that are. Through powerful and concise dialogue, Hemingway shows us the ways that fine symbols and details reveal the greatest fear and thought of his characters. The particular details of the characters are left to the emotional response of the reader, allowing the characters to speak for themselves, without an omniscient narrator’s subjective interpretation. Though apparently simple and irrelevant, these elements of Hemingway’s writing take on a greater journey that an otherwise simple dialogue could not.
From the beginning of the story, Hemingway clearly denotes the importance of the setting, not only using it as imaginary base, but also as a recurring theme in which the couple rely heavily upon to express inner feelings. The story begins with a concise introduction: “The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white”(172). This assures that the image of physical hills, which will later become the metaphorical entity of an elephant, is already placed in the story from the very beginning. A hot day in a vast valley, lost in between Barcelona and Madrid, a station flanked by a rich river on one side and a barren field on the other; this symbolic placement tells of how the mind is neither directed here nor there, rather just suspended in this timeless limbo, awaiting the arrival of something new. Here Hemingway creates a...