Study Guide

Hills Like White Elephants Quotes

  • Language and Communication

    "Let's drink beer." (4)

    This quote might look like it belongs in the theme of "Drugs and Alcohol." We have it here because it shows that Jig is actually the one doing much of the decision making in the story. In many ways, she steers the action with her speech.

    "They look like white elephants," she said.

    "I've never seen one," the man drank his beer.

    "No, you wouldn't have." (9-11)

    Jig’s comment seems a little mean here. As we soon learn, she’s deeply disappointed in the man because he wants her to have an abortion and doesn’t want to marry her. Yet, her jab has nothing to do with that. Instead, she’s taking the underhand approach – jabbing him with an insinuation that he hasn’t traveled as much as she has.

    "It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in." (44)

    The man might be more direct than Jig, but what a way to talk about an abortion. It seems insulting to both of them. We have to remember, though, that it was a federal offense in America to provide anyone with information about birth control in the late 1920s, when this story was published. So, most people knew virtually nothing about how these procedures worked, and even less about how to talk about them.

    "Then I'll do it. Because I don't care about me." (64)

    Here, Jig seems to have consented to have an abortion, but she can’t help but communicate how much she doesn’t want to go through with it. She can only consider doing it if she stops caring about herself. Just like the man is sure that marriage and a family would be bad for him, she's sure that having an abortion would destroy her. She really doesn’t seem to have made her mind up, even though she says she has.

    "Would you please please please please please please please stop talking?" (98)

    Seven pleases. This girl means business. Jig can be direct, too. Not that this stops the man. Jig has to threaten to scream before he will stop talking. She realizes that at this juncture, they will both keep repeating themselves and getting mad. This is another instance where Jig acts as a decision maker.

    "Do you feel better?" he asked.

    "I feel fine," she said. 'There's nothing wrong with me. I feel fine." (109-110)

    Aside from showing that at the end of the story the two characters are communicating on a low level, this informs the reader that anything can happen at this point. Many readers see Jig’s behavior as an expression of numb consent to have the abortion she doesn’t want to have. On the other hand, she might be refuting the idea of her pregnancy as something "wrong," and giving him the hint that she plans to keep the baby – whether they marry or not.

  • Choices

    "What should we drink?" (2)

    This casual question is the first sentence of the conversation between the man and Jig. They are able to make the choice easily, with a minimum of drama. Yet, as we soon learn, they have much bigger choices to make.

    "Then what will we do afterwards?"

    "We'll be fine afterwards. Just like we were before." (47-48)

    Jig isn’t necessarily asking the man what they "will" do, like she says, but what he thinks they will do. She seems to be testing him with every breath, and growing more distraught each time he fails.

    "I think it's the best thing to do. But I don't want you to do it if you don't really want to." (57)

    This sounds like a very reasonable set of statements. He’s telling her how he feels (though not why) while (reluctantly?) acknowledging her right to choose.

    "We can go everywhere."

    "No, we can't. It isn't ours any more." (78-79)

    Regardless of what happens, the shared magic, the shared beauty of the world no longer belongs to them, as a couple. Jig might never be able to get over the fact that the man doesn’t want to share parenthood with her.

    "I'm perfectly willing to go through with it if it means anything to you."

    "Doesn't it mean anything to you? We could get along." (91-92)

    "Go through with it" is code for "get married," and is definitely low on our list of most romantic proposals. It doesn’t sound like he sees it as much of a choice. Could they, in fact, get along now that Jig knows that he doesn’t really want to marry her or be a father?

  • Identity

    The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. (1)

    "American" and "girl" are how the narrator identifies the two main characters. Interesting how the narrator says Jig is with the man, instead of that he is with her. Does this tell us about the narrator’s outlook on relationships, or is this a comment on how the two characters act when they are together?

    "All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn't that bright?" (31)

    It seems important to Jig’s identity in this moment that the man think her intelligent. We also detect a note of sarcasm in her voice. If the man is a Hemingway-esque character (i.e., a writer), is she also slyly insulting a major part of his identity, the part that speaks in simile and metaphor?

    "It's really an awfully simple operation, Jig," the man said. (42)

    We wonder if the man believes what he is saying, or if he’s saying it try to persuade Jig. How you answer that will determine how you look at his identity, whether you think he’s a dishonest, manipulative, or severely misinformed person. For more on the man, check out his "Character Analysis."

    "That's the only thing that bothers us. It's the only thing that's made us unhappy." (50)

    It seems unlikely that the man is that naïve. But maybe he is young and inexperienced and truly thinks that this is their only problem.

    "I'll scream," the girl said. (101)

    It seems like Jig's identity is shattering. She’s coming to the realization that her outlook on life will have to change. She needs to be alone with her thoughts, at least for a moment, or she’ll crack, right there at the train station.

  • Foreignness and 'the Other'

    The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. (1)

    Faced with what might be an obscure landmark, the Ebro River, some readers become disoriented and have trouble putting the story in context.

    The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. (1)

    If the narrator didn’t tell us, would we think the man a foreigner? Jig’s lack of knowledge of the language pegs her as a non-native of Spain, which is perhaps why the narrator doesn’t need to tell us where she’s from.

    The girl looked at the bead curtain. "They've painted something on it," she said. "What does it say?" (13)

    We think Jig can read the words Anis del Toro and put together that this is some kind of alcoholic beverage, whether she speaks Spanish or not. Since she says this right after the argument about who is a bigger world traveler, she might be flattering him, or indulging his love of translation to try to smooth things over.

    He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights. (99)

    Maybe Jig and the man have been traveling through Spain, maybe even more places. We can picture these bags, and they lend a sense of worldliness to the story, as sense of motion, and travel and experience.

  • Drugs and Alcohol

    "Four reales." "We want two Anis del Toro." (17-18)

    This is an interesting but potentially confusing moment. We can see by the two pairs of quotation marks, that we have two speakers. The second speaker is the American. The first speaker is probably the woman serving the drinks, charging another customer inside the bar "Four reales" for his or her order. A reale was a unit of Spanish currency in circulation during the 1920s, at the time this story was written. Today, the official currency of Spain, like many European countries, is the Euro.

    "Yes," said the girl. "Everything tastes of licorice. Especially all the things you've waited so long for, like absinthe." (27)

    Absinthe is an important part of Hemingway lore. Many famous writers and artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, and Oscar Wilde used Absinthe as part of the creative process. The fact that Jig knows what it tastes like seems to irritate the man. Why?

    "I wanted to try this new drink. That's all we do, isn't it – look at things and try new drinks?" (33)

    Jig seems a bit tired of her fashionable, cosmopolitan existence with the man. Next to the idea of marriage and a family, it strikes her as empty. She craves change.

    He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. (108)

    This is an interesting moment, because it’s the first time we see the couple apart in the story. The narrator makes a choice to follow the man into the bar, rather than wait at the table with Jig. Do you think Jig would have ordered an Anis del Toro on the sly, too?