Hills Like White Elephants

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The Train Station Symbol Analysis

The Train Station Symbol Icon

In literature, crossroads often represent a situation in which a character needs to make a crucial decision—just as the character must choose a physical path, they must symbolically choose a life path. In this story the couple’s prolonged stay at a train station beside the Ebro river plays such a symbolic role. Their wait at the train station suggests a stage of suspension, the sense of things coming to an intolerable standstill until they resolve whether or not to get an abortion and, accordingly, which direction their relationship will go next.

The Train Station Quotes in Hills Like White Elephants

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

He did not say anything but looked at the bags against the wall of the station. There were labels on them from all the hotels where they had spent nights.

Related Characters: The Man
Related Symbols: The Train Station
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a poignant moment, as the man glances at the luggage after recognizing that he has not yet persuaded the girl to see the abortion his way. The luggage, with all the labels from far-flung hotels, is symbolic both of the life of freedom and adventure that they've had so far, and of the burden (the "baggage") that the pregnancy has placed on their relationship and the limits that a baby (in his opinion) would place on their future. It's powerful that the same luggage can simultaneously symbolize opposite realities--this is emblematic of the impasse in their relationship, as they cannot agree about whether the baby would be a good or a bad thing. It is significant, too, that the man is having this reckoning inside the train station. To board the train represents a choice; it represents the way in which they will go forward with their lives. The man must move the luggage because he knows that the train, like this significant choice, is coming soon, even though they have reached no resolution.

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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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The Train Station Symbol Timeline in Hills Like White Elephants

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Train Station 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
The story opens with an extended description of a train station located in Spain’s Ebro valley. In these opening details the landscape’s barren, hot, and... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Choice Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
The girl gets up from their table and walks to “the end of the station,” taking in the landscape around her. Through her eyes the barren hills look fertile, full... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...to scream. The woman appears from the bar to let the couple know that their train will be arriving in five minutes, which the man translates for the girl. The girl... (full context)
The Limits of Language Theme Icon
Freedom vs Family Theme Icon
Men, Women, and Relationships Theme Icon
...the table, explaining that he should move their bags to the other side of the station. The man carries the heavy luggage to their tracks where the train is not yet... (full context)