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Nagel believes Hemingway did this to "portend eventual separation for the couple" (2).
The woman has said that if she agrees to the abortion, when she makes comments like the hills being white elephants "…you'll like it" and things "will be nice again" (Weeks, 76).
By referencing the skin of those white hills, Weeks believes Hemingway is hinting at an image of "…the fully pregnant woman, nude and probably lying on her back with her distended belly virtually bursting with life and with her breasts, engorged by the approaching birth, making a trinity of white hills" (Weeks, 77).
For one, a white elephant (an albino) is extremely rare.
For another, Weeks explains that a white elephant is associated with "potentates"; kings and powerful leaders have "royal elephants" and those beasts are said to have "sacred attributes and spiritual powers" (76).
And when Jig (the pregnant woman) sees the shadow -- "The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain…" -- that could well portend the "foreshadowing" of the death of her unborn child, according to Wyche's use of a reference by Kenneth Johnston (1).
But a reader could take issue with that interpretation because Jig's comment about the shadow included this line: "…and she saw the river through the trees." Seeing the river -- a symbol of life's movement from mountains to the sea -- through the trees could just as well mean she has hopes for a positive outcome. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition. The hills were "long and white" initially but into the story a few lines they present a nice literary juxtaposition; they are "…white in the sun" but the land around them was "brown and dry" (Weeks, 1980, p. This contrast opens the literary door for further imagery, irony, and friction between the two characters.Hence, the woman notes that they look like "white elephants," and the reader is introduced to some tension for the first time when the man says he has never seen one.In this story, the ultimate meaning is that the man does not wish to take responsibility for the woman's pregnancy and on the other hand she has superior imagination, vision, understanding, and knowledge of the natural world and of humanity.The white elephant to her is a rare and beautiful thing but to him the white elephant is something of less value he would rather avoid.Notwithstanding the initial response a reader might have, the actual richness and complexity and irony of this story is revealed upon closer inspection.Indeed, according to Lewis Weeks, writing in Studies in Short Fiction, there is depth in the imagery of the hills that look like white elephants, pointed out by the author in the first sentence of the story.Rather than agreeing with her description, he takes a contrary position.And an alert reader wonders why she is gazing into the distance anyway as they wait for the train.For example, the destination for this couple -- once the train arrives -- is Madrid, Spain, and according to Timothy O'Brien, Madrid is very similar to the word "madre," the Spanish word for mother (Wyche, 2002).This seems at first to perhaps be a stretch, but it is worthy of mention because in fact the first four letters in Madrid and madre are identical.