This is a story about a man only referred to as the American and a lady referred to as Jig. These characters are sitting at a train station in Spain, and they are waiting for a train that will take them to Madrid. The train station is surrounded by hills, and, at one point, lady Jig says that the hills look like white elephants. The two characters order some beer, and they start drinking as they wait for the train. Then, they start discussing the problem that is facing them. They talk about “an operation” that the lady is to undergo. The nature of the operation is not discussed in details by the two characters, but they say enough things to make the reader conclude that the operation is an abortion. The man seems dominant in this situation, and the lady agrees, passively, to the impending operation.
Jake Stukas says that the title of this story is very symbolic. This phrase also appears in the dialogue between the two characters. The lady says that the hills resemble white elephants, but the man says that he has never seen any. Jake Stukas then goes ahead to explain the symbolism of this image, and he says that white elephants are albino elephants in Thailand. These elephants were considered sacred, and they brought much pride to the owner. However, these elephants were not allowed to work, and they were, at the same time, a burden to the owner; they had no use for the owner since they could not work (Stukas). The relationship between the two characters is like white elephant since the American seems to be fed up with Jig. This is because he wants Jig to have an abortion. He is not ready to take the responsibility for the child. Therefore, the girl has become a problem to him despite the fact that they were happy before the girl became pregnant.
Thomas Muller writes a book in which he explores Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory in two stories, The Killers and Hills like White Elephants. The American appears cold in this story, and this advances this theory; he is a symbol of this theory. The readers can see the American’s “concern” for the lady, yet he is pushing the lady towards procuring an abortion. He hides this side of him in his words, and he pretends to care for the feelings of the lady (Mullar 08). At one time, he even tells the lady not to undergo the operation if she does not feel comfortable. However, the American is the source of the idea of abortion, and he is pushing the lady towards it. This can be seen because the lady envisions a future with the baby. The character of the American is hidden in the story, and the reader can just get the real feelings of this man through the cold approach that this man tackles issues. The lady is in agreement with this man simply because the man seems dominant in their relationship; he determines the actions of the lady (Mullar 09).
According to Shmoop, the train station and the luggage are also symbols in this story; they symbolize bodies in motion. In the story, the two lovers spend most of their time travelling. In fact, the two do not stay at one place for long. These symbols also represent the unstable relationship that the two characters have. They could also act as a premonition of their impending break up (Shmoop 18). This is because the two characters have different perspectives of what they want in the relationship.