Hills Like White Elephants

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Light Symbol Icon

The events in the story are suffused with the pounding light of the sun and the heat it produces. From the story’s opening we are aware of the sun’s heat, drying the grass of the hills, driving passengers into the shade of the station’s bar and the comfort of drink. Yet while the light can be seen as harsh, it also represents the light of truth and honesty, which neither the man nor the girl is willing to face. Instead, the two prefer to avoid honestly discussing the serious problems in their relationship. Neither has the strength to face the issue of the abortion head on, and as a result, both spar in the “warm shadow” of the bar, discussing everything except the real terms of their crumbling relationship. The light may be harsh then, but avoiding the light as the man and girl do is portrayed as destructive.

Light Quotes in Hills Like White Elephants

The Hills Like White Elephants quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light. 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

“Come on back in the shade,” he said. “You mustn’t feel that way.”
“I don’t feel any way,” the girl said. “I just know things.”

Related Characters: The Man (speaker), The Girl (Jig) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

The light in this story has been described as beating and harsh--the characters go to the shade of the train station bar just to avoid it. But this avoidance, like their strange and elliptical conversation, represents their unwillingness to talk about the girl's pregnancy, the huge issue in their relationship. In this exchange, the girl has just been fairly honest (in a coded way) about wanting to keep the baby and about feeling that they can't "have everything" without it. In response, the man tells her to "come back into the shade," which represents his desire not to dwell in the harsh truth of her emotions. The man tells the girl that she "mustn't feel that way," referring to her sense of loss, and she recognizes that this is diminutive and manipulative, responding that she doesn't "feel" something, she "knows" something. The man here seems to be playing into stereotypes that men are more rational and that women are more emotional, but when he tries to reduce her choice about the abortion to "feeling" the girl pushes back.


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Light Symbol Timeline in Hills Like White Elephants

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light 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
...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 female partner, called... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...talking. The girl is staring at the distant hills, which are brightly lit in the sunlight, though otherwise barren in appearance. The girl makes a seemingly innocent remark to the man... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Choice Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...barren hills look fertile, full of grain and trees, a river far off, and “the shadow of a cloud.” The beauty of the scene compels her to remark aloud that she... (full context)