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Hills Like White Elephants

Ernest Hemingway


Important Quotations Explained

1. “Yes,” said the girl. “Everything tastes like licorice. Especially all the things you’ve waited so long for, like absinthe.”

Even though the girl had asked the American man to order the absinthe because she had never tried it before, she immediately puts her glass back on the table after the first taste, surprised by the drink’s sharp bite. She remarks that her drink tastes like licorice and then tries to subtly broach the subject of her pregnancy again, because the American had ignored her earlier comment that the nearby hills look like white elephants. Basically rehashing the adage “be careful what you wish for because it may come true,” the girl recognizes the irony in not liking the taste of the drink she’d asked the man to order for her, just as she presumably dislikes being pregnant when she’d always wished for a baby. The man, however, perhaps senses the underlying message of the girl’s seemingly casual remark and tells her to be quiet, prompting her to once more bring up the subject of white elephants.

2. “But if I do it, then it will be nice again if I say things are like white elephants, and you’ll like it?”

By this point, midway through the story, the girl has already retracted her previous comment that the surrounding hills look like white elephants, hinting that she wants to keep the baby instead of having an abortion. The man had been upset at this, feigning indifference but pushing for the abortion because he doesn’t want the child. Still hoping to save their broken relationship, the girl asks her boyfriend whether things between them will return to the way they used to be if she goes through with the abortion. Her indecision and desire to placate the man demonstrate her dependence on him. At the same time, however, the mere fact that she asks the question may imply that she believes that nothing can save their relationship.

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