Summary of Ernest Hemingway’s Hills Like White Elephants

Hills Like White Elephants is a short story by Ernest Hemingway.

The story is set in a valley in Spain, in a train station surrounded by hills, fields and trees. A man simply called the American, and his girlfriend sit at a table outside the station waiting for a train to Madrid.

The man orders two beers. It is hot. The girl remarks that the nearly hills look like white elephants. The man responds that he has never seen one. They order more drinks and begin to complain about the taste of the alcohol. The American chastises her and says that they should try to enjoy themselves. The girl replies that she is merely having fun. She retracts her former comment by saying that the hills don’t actually look like white elephants to her anymore. They order more drinks. The American says that he wants the girl, whom he calls ‘Jig’ to have an operation but he never specifies the kind of operation. He seems agitated and tries to downplay the seriousness of the operation. He defends saying that the operation would be simple, and in fact the procedure really isn’t even an operation at all.

The girl says nothing for a while, but then she asks what will happen after she has had the operation. The man answers that things will be fine afterwards, just like they were before and it will fix their problems. He says that he has known many people who have had the operation and were happy later. The girl reluctantly agrees with him. The American claims that he will not force her to undergo the operation though it may be the best course of action. She says that she will have the operation as long as he will still love her and they will be able to live happily afterward.

The main reiterates how much he cares for her but she claims not to care about what happens to her. The American weakly says that she shouldn’t have the operation if she is scared. The girl then walks over to the end of the station, looks at the scenery and wonders aloud whether they really could be happy if she has the operation. They argue for a while, then the girl gets exhausted and makes the American promises to stop talking.

The Spanish bartender brings two more beers and tells them that the train is coming in five minutes. The girl smiles at the bartender but has to ask the American what the bartender said because the girl doesn’t speak Spanish. After finishing their drinks the American carries their bags to the platform and then walks back to the bar. There are several others waiting for the train. He asks the girl whether she feels better. She replies that she is fine and there is nothing wrong with her.

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