The story “Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway centers upon the literary element of setting. The railroad tracks form a dividing line between “fields of grain and trees” and hills “brown and dry” in the country, displaying the decision between the girl Jig and the American concerning the operation. While Jig casually refers to the barren hills as “white elephants,” the American sees the hills as an approaching obstacle to their relationship. Additionally, the established setting of a bar divides the American and Jig further, as they are sipping their beer instead of talking face to face.
The station “between two lines of rails” with the fertile Ebro river on one side and barren hills on the other side is symbolic of the decision faced by each of the characters. The fertile side of the river represents Jig and the American’s relationship without “any one else.” This life includes absinthe, beer, and the American’s statements including “We can have the whole world” and “We can go everywhere.” The readers know that the operation is an abortion by dialogue such as, “I don’t want anybody but you,” “It’s just to let the air in,” and “It isn’t ours any more.”
However, the hills that “look like white elephants” on the other side display the impending child, and each character’s interpretation of it. The girl says, “They’re lovely hills,” while the American says, “I’ve never seen one,” meaning a white elephant. The man also states “We’ll be fine afterward. Just like we were before,” not wanting a “white elephant” in their relationship. Questioning the American, Jig wonders if she undergoes the operation, will she be able to “say things are like white elephants?” But the American “just can’t think about it.”
The bar setting with alcohol prevents the American and Jig from having a mutual conversation. After Jig says, “They’re lovely hills,” the American follows with “Should we have another drink?” The girl also remarks on the repetition of their life with, “I wanted to try this new drink: That’s all we do, isn’t it – look at things and try new drinks?” Indeed, the two are focused on an entirely different future, one of absinthe, beer, and traveling, and the other of sharing the world with a child.
Much of the story “Hills Like White Elephants” is based on the setting. The American picks up “the two heavy bags and carries them around the station to the other tracks.” In this way, Jig is now committed to crossing the tracks, symbolizing her operation. The American walks back into the bar, where the girl smiles at him, claiming “There’s nothing wrong with me. I feel fine.” By tricking Jig into thinking the operation is simple, she crosses the divide into the American’s fertile lifestyle. In this way, the readers can infer that the girl is taking the train to get the operation.