Narrative Elements in the Short Story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Hemingway

Just like most of Hemingway’s stories, “Hills Like White Elephants” describes an experience from the author’s real life, and thus, offers a moral lesson for his readers as no one is guaranteed against similar problems. In his short story, “Hills Like White Elephants”, Ernest Hemingway discusses the theme of the problems, which couples may encounter in their relationships through the use of a variety of symbols such as the scenery at the train station, compared to white elephants, barren and fruitful sides of the track, and so on; the main of these problems is a misunderstanding which often occurs between males and females on the reason of their psychological differences. In addition, the writer contributes to the development of the theme using introducing a reader to a special setting at the beginning of the story.

First, speaking about the theme of Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, it is important to explain the very notion of theme of the short story. According to Clugston (2010, p. 108), “the theme in a story is associated with an idea that lies behind the story”. The theme of the short story is a broader notion than the plot because it is the very idea behind what is taking place in the story (Kazantseva, & Szpakowicz, 2010). The theme of a short story is revealed through the other important elements including plot, point of view, tone, setting, characters, and symbolism. Below, the two examples will be analyzed to see the way the theme in a short story can be narrowed using setting and symbolism.

The short story “Hills Like White Elephants” takes place in the 1920s in the Ebro River valley which is located in Spain (Flohr, 2010). Its main characters are on a train trip. As they arrive at a railway station to take their train, the readers may observe the scenery they see. The scenery is not very pleasant in general, which is explained by the hot weather that is usually observed in Spain during that period. However, one of the sides of the track is more appealing with its greenery and freshness. This setting shows the choice, which the main heroine makes of whether to obey her gallant, and become barren and fruitless, and maybe even dead or to oppose him, and be a fruitful lady, and a mother of a child.

The main theme of the story is also shown through a variety of symbols including the barren terrain, the fruitful side of a track, hills, compared with white elephants, etc. It is in difficulties that men and women have in communication, which is explained by the differences in their world vision, and the difficulties in gender relations. The man is shown as a selfish coward, who wants to protect his interests despite any possible problems including the girl’s death, whereas the woman is represented as a victim, who is subjected to a very serious problem because of her thoughtlessness. The story teaches young girls to be cautious about their choice if they do not want to appear in such a situation. Men and women will always encounter problems in communication because women think romantically, with bright images and beautiful prospective, whereas men are pragmatists.

In conclusion, the short story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway is a thought-provoking appeal by the author to young girls such as Jig. Through a variety of symbols such as the scenery at the train station compared to white elephants and barren and fruitful sides of the track and the story setting, the author suggests the theme, which is in the problems, which couples may encounter in their relationships.


Clugston, R. (2010). Journey into literature. San Diego: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.

Flohr, S. (2010). Teaching Literature: Language and Cultural Awareness Using the Example of “Hills Like White Elephants.” The United States: GRIN Verlag.

Kazantseva, A., & Szpakowicz, S. (2010). Summarizing short stories. Computational Linguistics, 36(1), 71-109.

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