Hills Like White Elephants

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Alcohol Symbol Icon

Drinking is the only source of relief that the man and the girl can find from both the harsh, hot sunlight and the complications of their own relationship. For such a short story, both characters consume an extraordinary amount of beer and liquor. In fact, the only pause in their bickering occurs when they are ordering or consuming their drinks. It is important to note, however, that alcohol is not portrayed as a positive force here. While water produces life and nurtures living things, making them grow, the alcohol in the story affords only temporary relief—the relief of avoidance and the chance to briefly lose one’s self.

Alcohol Quotes in Hills Like White Elephants

The Hills Like White Elephants quotes below all refer to the symbol of Alcohol. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Scribner edition of Hills Like White Elephants published in 1987.
Hills Like White Elephants Quotes

“They look like white elephants,” she said.
“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.
“No, you wouldn’t have.”

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Girl (Jig) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

In this statement, the girl is describing the landscape around the train station bar where she and her boyfriend are drinking. The landscape is described as hot, barren, and dry, and from the girl's observation that the hills "look like white elephants" comes the title to the piece. This is an important observation because it means so much more than it appears to. As the story continues, we learn that the girl is pregnant and the man is pressuring her to have an abortion. The girl's declaration that the hills look like white elephants, then, is her coded acknowledgement that there is a problem between them that the two of them cannot speak of openly. The man's response, that he has never seen a white elephant, reveals his wish that this problem would just disappear, and the girl's rebuttal that, "no, you wouldn't have," lets us understand that this kind of manipulation and denial is typical of him. Significantly, the girl only seems comfortable asserting herself in a coded manner.

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“I wanted to try this new drink. That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?”

Related Characters: The Girl (Jig) (speaker), The Man
Related Symbols: Alcohol
Page Number: 212
Explanation and Analysis:

In this statement, the girl expresses a major dissatisfaction with their relationship and with their life. While the man seems to enjoy their life of traveling and drinking, the girl seems to want something more—perhaps to start a family and have the stability of a home. Obviously, though, because of the splintered communication between the two of them, she can only allude to this disconnect. This statement, however, is a marked departure from their previous chattering and bickering, in that it comes closest to expressing a concrete problem and the corresponding desire that this problem implies. When the man simply responds, "I guess so," the girl seems frightened or regretful, since she walks back her statement by denying that the hills look like white elephants after all. Again, this is an example of the girl's desires being at odds with the man's desires, and the mismatched power between the two of them.

He drank an Anis at the bar and looked at the people. They were all waiting reasonably for the train.

Related Characters: The Man (speaker)
Related Symbols: Alcohol, The Train Station
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout this story, the man and the girl drink copious amounts of alcohol as a means of escaping their reality. So much of this story is about finding ways to avoid confronting their difficult choice: their refusal to speak about it literally, their symbolic preference of the shade over the light, and their relentless drinking, for instance. This moment represents a whole new level of evasiveness, as the man stops at the bar to drink apart from the girl, even though he has a beer waiting at their table. His observation that everyone else is "waiting reasonably for the train" seems to imply that he believes that the girl is out of line, or that she is the only person who is not facing a significant choice with dignity and reason. This condescending and unempathetic observation is emblematic of the sexism that the man displays toward the girl, and the uneven power in their relationship. Even as the man does everything he can not to listen to the girl's perspective and confront their choice head on, he still judges her for not approaching the situation rationally, as he presumably believes he has done.

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Alcohol Symbol Timeline in Hills Like White Elephants

The timeline below shows where the symbol Alcohol appears in Hills Like White Elephants. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Hills Like White Elephants
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Choice Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...of a train station located in Spain’s Ebro valley. In these opening details the landscape’s barren, hot, and shadeless nature is emphasized. Into this landscape appear an American man and his... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
When the woman serves the couple their drinks, they are not talking. The girl is staring at the distant hills, which are brightly... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Choice Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
The girl, seeing a Spanish ad for a special liquor painted on the bar’s beaded curtain, asks the man to translate what it says. He... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
The girl makes another seemingly benign comment about the licorice taste of the Anis drink and how everything tastes like licorice. The man snaps at her, asking her to “cut... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Choice Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
The conversation lapses into small talk, as the two comment on the beer they are drinking, until the man suddenly brings up the subject of “an awfully simple... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Choice Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...“the end of the station,” taking in the landscape around her. Through her eyes the barren hills look fertile, full of grain and trees, a river far off, and “the shadow... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...care about the operation, and the girl threatens to scream. The woman appears from the bar to let the couple know that their train will be arriving in five minutes, which... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...their tracks where the train is not yet visible. As he walks back through the bar he stops to get another Anis del Toro alone. As he looks at the people... (full context)