This study guide will help you analyse the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective.
Presentation of the text
Title: “Hills Like White Elephants” (1927)
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Genre: Short story
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was an American writer and journalist. Through his succinct style of writing, Hemingway became one of the most recognisable modernist authors in the US. He is credited with adapting the psychological iceberg theory to literature. “Hills Like White Elephants” was originally published in a literary magazine called transition. Later, it was included in the author’s short story collection, Men Without Women.
Below, we provide a short extract from our study guide:
The title of the story, “Hills Like White Elephants” is a simile that seems to refer to the setting of the narrative, without giving too many details about the plot. In the story, Jig is the one that describes the mountain view in this way: “ ‘They look like white elephants,’ she said.”
However, the title has a deeper symbolical meaning, beyond being a reference to the setting. White elephants are usually a metaphor for an unwanted gift. The story suggests that Jig is pregnant and is going to have an abortion. Consequently, the title also refers to Jig’s unwanted pregnancy.
Repetition is an important literary device in the short story. Most of the conversation is made up of the characters repeating certain lines or part of what has just been said by the other. These repetitions reveal hidden details about the characters’ traits and mood.
For example, the American keeps repeating that the operation Jig is supposed to have is “perfectly simple”, in an attempt to rationally persuade the girl that an abortion is the best course of action. Repeating this expression shows both that the man is cold and rational as well as annoyingly persistent.