The characters underlying feelings about the decision are unclear until certain symbols are implicated in Hills Like White Elephants by Ernest Hemingway; the location, the station and train, and the beverages develop the importance of the decision to the characters.
The location is in the hills of Spain. Jig, the female character, keeps pointing out that the hills look like white elephants . The hills surrounding the station probably aren t snowy, but she views the hills to be a pregnant woman s belly and the statement of white elephants is showing us that she views them as a burden. This develops the readers feeling that she is under distress over the decision of whether to have the abortion.
The man in the story, The American, wants her to have the abortion so he can keep his free wheeling life style. The burden of the decision is further developed when he gets a drink at an isolated bar in the station. He observes that many people are reasonably waiting for the train, supposedly in contrast to what he sees as unreasonable behavior from jig. The secluded bar is a symbol of the man's unbound and carefree lifestyle and the rest of the station, where jig is present, represents the life he fears. Another symbol used by Hemmingway is the train itself. We are told it is arriving in five minutes. This applies the feeling of pressure on the women to make the decision. The train tracks also symbolize the two separate ways the two lovers could follow. In Jig s eyes, the choice to keep the baby means she will lose her lover.
The author uses the distinctive drink of anis for the sole purpose to enhance the bitterness of the decision at hand. Jig states Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you ve waited so long for, like absinthe . The licorice symbolizes the bitterness of the decision that has to be made. Jig appears to have waited to play her role as a child bearer, but now that it has arrived under sour circumstances. The word absinthe is interesting, and means wormwood which in hand means grievous. The word grievous stands for to cause or feel sorrow therefore the licorice taste could also be a symbol of the man's lack of feeling sorrow for the woman s position.
Hemmingway s uses of symbols within the setting enhance the melodrama between the two characters. The location, the station and train, and the beverage all symbols used to develop the weight of the decision on each character using only sparse dialog.