Hills Like White Elephants

The short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is written by Ernest Hemingway. The story takes place in Spain, between Barcelona and Madrid. At a train station where we meet a man and a girl. “Hills Like White Elephants,” tells the story of a man and a woman drinking beer and anise liqueur while they wait at a train station in Spain. The man is attempting to convince the woman to get an abortion.

Throughout the story, it is clear that the man would like the woman to get an operation, which he describes as “awfully simple,” “perfectly simple” and “not really an operation at all.” He promises to stay with her the whole time and promises that they’ll be happy afterward because “that’s the only thing that bothers us.”

The girl does not seem to be sure of this suggestion. But she loves the man, and if that is what it takes for them to happy, she probably would go through with the abortion. But she is asking him if he really wants to. He answers that he is perfectly fine with her going through with it if it means something to her. He is indicating if he means anything to her. It is an awfully hard decision, and he is completely clear that he doesn’t want a baby.

The origin of the phrase is commonly traced to a practice in Siam (now Thailand) in which a king would bestow the gift of a white elephant on a member of his court who displeased him. The white elephant was considered sacred, so on the surface, this gift was an honor. However, maintaining the elephant would be so expensive as to ruin the recipient. Hence, a white elephant is a burden.

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