Where It All Goes Down
A train station, overlooking the Ebro River, somewhere between Barcelona, Spain and Madrid, Spain
Modified Setting:Spain was very important to Hemingway, and there are lots of tours of ‘Hemmingway’s Spain,’ and even study abroad programs at universities where you can study Hemmingway’s works. Though the exact location of the train station is not given, it is often thought to be in Zaragoza, Spain. In any case, we don’t experience much of Spain in the "Hills Like White Elephants," though the fact that both Spanish and English are being spoken is important to the theme of "Language and Communication."
One way of understanding the setting is to make the connection that the white hills are supposed to represent the pregnancy. Let's check out two passages from the story that describe the hills.
The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry. (8)
The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees. (69)
On one side of the hills we have life (lush, green vegetation), and on the other side we face death (brown, burnt landscape). This description of the hills can be seen as a visual representation of the choice with which the couple is faced.
It’s important to remember that the hills (and the rest of the setting) existed before the couple came on the scene, and will remain after they leave. The landscape only represents choice in the context of the story. Many readers resist or reject this limited interpretation. Another part of why the interpretation is resisted is because it doesn’t mean anything. It isn’t significant outside of the story. Unless, that is, we take it deeper.
For example, if we consider that the analogy between the setting and the situation is created by Jig, understood by the man, and artistically rendered by the narrator, we can see this as a comment on the projection of a problem. When we have a problem, we project it onto everything we see. This story could have taken place anywhere, and we guarantee that Jig would have found something in the landscape on which to project her concerns. The symbolism of the setting can be seen as a comment on the phenomenon of projection. It can also be seen as Jig’s creative and intelligent (thought not necessarily effective) way of trying to overcome communication difficulties.