Hills Like White Elephants

by: Ernest Hemingway

Symbols

White Elephants

A white elephant symbolizes something no one wants—in this story, the girl’s unborn child. The girl’s comment in the beginning of the story that the surrounding hills look like white elephants initially seems to be a casual, offhand remark, but it actually serves as a segue for her and the American to discuss their baby and the possibility of having an abortion. The girl later retracts this comment with the observation that the hills don’t really look like white elephants, a subtle hint that perhaps she wants to keep the baby after all—a hint the American misses. In fact, she even says that the hills only seemed to look like white elephants at first glance, and that they’re actually quite lovely. Comparing the hills—and, metaphorically, the baby—to elephants also recalls the expression “the elephant in the room,” a euphemism for something painfully obvious that no one wants to discuss.