"Hills Like White Elephants" Themes and Symbols

This Storyboard That activity is part of the lesson plans for Hills Like White Elephants

Themes, Symbols, and Motifs in HLWE


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Activity Overview

Themes, symbols, and motifs come alive when you use a storyboard. In this activity, students will identify themes and symbols from the story, and support their choices with details from the text.

Themes to Look For and Discuss


While abortion may be illegal at this point in time, Jig and the American man are still facing a choice of whether or not to seek one. The American man seems to think it will save their relationship and put everything back to normal, but Jig realizes that it is not a trivial decision. She must decide whether to change their lives completely by having a child, or to try to put things back to the way they were, even though they never will be again. In either scenario, Jig and the American man will probably drift away from each other, as they have already started to.

Breakdown in Communication

Jig and the American man are not speaking plainly about what each one wants to do. Jig is making her decision based on the American man’s happiness, even though she seems reluctant to have an abortion; the American man wants her to have the abortion, but he doesn’t want her to do it if she doesn’t want to do it. They are hiding behind drinks and train schedules, rather than simply having a conversation about what they want to do. It is this breakdown in communication that reveals the bigger problem in their relationship, which is a lack of honesty and trust. Without that, their relationship is doomed anyways, and Jig seems to know it.

Gender Roles

Jig, the woman, seems to need permission from the American man to get a drink, to try a new drink, etc. She looks off at the hills and romanticizes that they look like something else, but the American man is unable to see what she sees. He is very straight-forward and rational about most topics, although he, too, seems to be unable to voice exactly what he wants from Jig. His opinion carries a lot of weight for Jig, so her choice is being influenced strongly by him. He tells her how she should or shouldn’t feel, and while she is assertive, she doesn’t seem willing to defend her own emotions for very long. Hemingway does portray the man as having more power in this conversation, and Jig, as the woman, seems to feel powerless as a result.

Motifs & Symbols to Look For and Discuss


The two most well-known references to elephants come with the saying, “The elephant in the room”, and a “white elephant gift.” Both have negative connotations. The elephant in the room is the abortion procedure that Jig and the man must decide to do or not to do. A white elephant gift is an outrageously ugly gift that is often given in jest, that no one really wants. At first, Jig compares the mountains to white elephants, but then decides they they don’t really look like them. This seems to be a metaphor for the baby she seems to want to keep while the man wants it to be just the two of them again.


The drinks are a distraction for Jig and the American man. Jig wants to have a beer, and then she wants to try the Anis del Toro. Jig remarks that everything tastes like licorice, especially the things she’s waited so long to try, like absinthe, and it’s always a disappointment. This could also be a metaphor for the baby she is thinking about having, or for her hopes that the man would be more open to having a baby, and instead he lets Jig down by advocating for the abortion.


Jig looks out at the hills and compares them to white elephants, but the American man is no longer dazzled by anything she says. He chalks it up to worrying about the pregnancy, and says that worry could be taken away if she has the operation. She seems compelled to do it because she wants to make him happy. As she looks at the hills again, though, she seems to realize that nothing can go back to the way it was before in their relationship. The beauty of the hills represents their happiness, and she knows they will never have that back - not fully.

Bead Curtain

The bead curtain becomes a part of the story as well. The curtain keeps out the flies from the bar, and it holds Jig’s attention several times. It allows her a distraction from her tense conversation with the man as she realizes it is advertising Anis del Toro. She touches the beads as the man tells her he wants her to have the operation. The bead curtain separates them from the actual barroom, and as the man walks back from the platform, he hopes that she will be feeling “better”, or more agreeable, as he passes through the curtain and returns to her.

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Template and Class Instructions

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Student Instructions

Create a storyboard that identifies recurring themes in ”Hills Like White Elephants”. Illustrate instances of each theme and write a short description below each cell.

  1. Click "Start Assignment".
  2. Identify the theme(s) from ”Hills Like White Elephants” you wish to include and replace the "Theme 1" text.
  3. Create an image for examples that represent this theme.
  4. Write a description of each of the examples.
  5. Save and submit your storyboard.

Template: Theme


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