Hills Like White Elephants Book summary

Ernest Miller Hemingway



Hills Like White Elephants was published in 1927 as a part of Hemingway’s second collection of short stories titled Men Without Women. The short story is believed to be partly autobiographical since he struggled so often to form meaningful relationships in his life.


Plot Summary

The story begins on a sunny day in the hills across the valley of the Ebro in Spain. There is no shade or tree on this side of the valley, except for the warm shadow of a train station. There is a bar in the station, and an American sits outside with a girl in the shade of the building, separated from the bar with a curtain of bamboo bead strings. They are waiting for an express train from Barcelona that stops at the railway station for three minutes before continuing to Madrid. The couple is bothered by the heat, and the girl suggests they get some beers. The man translates the order of two beers to the Spanish woman who comes out from the bar hidden behind bamboo curtains. The woman soon brings back two large glasses of beer, but the girl is distracted by the sight of the white hills in the dry and brown country of the valley. She notes that the hills look like white elephants.

The man tells her that he’s never seen one, and she says that she knows he hasn’t. They argue pettily over whether the man could have ever seen a white elephant. The girl notes an ad on the beaded curtain and asks the man about it. He tells her that it's about a drink called Anis Del Torro, and she tells him to get them some. The man calls for the woman, and they discuss whether the couple should have their drink with water or not. The man translates the conversation for the girl, and the woman comes back with their drinks. The girl notes that it tastes like licorice, and the man tells her that everything seems to taste that way. She agrees and retorts that everything he’s ever wanted has tasted like licorice, especially Absinthe. The man reacts with annoyance and asks her to stop arguing with him, but she protests that she has been trying to have a fine time. She points out that she had made the remark about the white elephant, and had wanted them to try the new drink. She notes that those are the only things they seem to do together, they either look at things or try new drinks. The man agrees with her offhandedly.

She goes back to looking at the hills and decides that they don’t look like white elephants. They order more beer, and both of them enjoy the drink. The man comments that the beer is nice, and he goes on to talk about an operation. He tells Jig, the girl, that it is a simple operation, and too simple to be called an operation since it only required air to be let in. Jig doesn’t respond as she studies the legs of the table where they are sitting. He continues to trivialize the abortion as he tells her that he would accompany her throughout the process as well as recovery. He goes on to claim that the operation is all perfectly natural and simple. Jig wonders how things will be after the operation, and he reassures her that everything will go back to normal. She tries to disagree but he convinces her that this is the only matter that has impeded their relationship.

Jig holds onto a couple of the strings of the beaded bamboo as the man tells her that he’s known several people who have been unaffected by the operation. She agrees and knows that many of them have been happy. The man backpedals and tells her that she should only do it because she wants to but he again adds that it is just a simple operation. Jig asks him if things will become nice again if she does the operation, and whether he would love her. He tells her that he loves her now, but she reiterates the question as she asks him whether he would like it when she said things like the hills look like white elephants. He responds that he loves it now, but isn’t able to express it right now because he is worried. She asks if he’ll stop worrying once the operation is done. He tells her that he wouldn’t worry about it, and she decides to go through with it because she doesn’t care about herself. He tells her that he cares for her, but she doesn’t listen to him and repeats her point. He tells her that he doesn’t want her to do the operation if she feels that way.

Jig walks to the other side of the station, and begins to observe the fertile regions around the Ebro riverside, where trees and fields of grass bloom aplenty. She notes that they could have all of this, but they make it more impossible each day. The man tells her that they can still have all of it, but she doesn’t believe him. He protests but she tells him that you can never have something once they’ve taken it away. The man tells her to come out of the sun and into the shade. He tells her that she shouldn’t feel that way but she says she knows these things. He tries to go on talking, but she interrupts him with a request for a beer. The man continues to put across his point that she has a choice and that he is willing to put up with it if she doesn’t want the operation. Jig asks him if it means anything to him and tries to tell him that they could all get along, but he tells her that he doesn’t want anyone except her. She sarcastically retorts that she understands that it's all "simple". He tries to continue talking about the matter, but the girl begs him to please stop talking about it.

The man turns and looks at their bags, stamped with the tags of all the hotels they’ve visited. He can’t help himself, and turns to speak about the operation again, however, the girl tells him that she’ll scream if he continues to talk. The bar woman comes with the beers and tells the man that the train is expected to arrive soon. The man translates the woman’s words to Jig upon her request, and the girl turns to smile politely at the woman. The man tells Jig that he’s going to put their bags on the other side of the station, and she tells him to hurry back so they can finish their beer. He carries the heavy bags and lays them on the other side of the train station but he doesn’t catch any glimpse of the train. He makes his way back to her through the bar room but stops to have another shot of Anis Del Torro. He observes the other occupants of the barroom and notes that they all seem to be waiting ‘reasonably’. He asks Jig if she’s feeling better when he returns to the table, and she replies, “I’m fine.”

  • Author(s)

    Ernest Miller Hemingway
  • Publication date


  • Language


  • Classification

    Modernist Fiction

  • Pages



Iceberg Theory, Modernism


Transition (Literary Magazine)