The mood of “Hills Like White Elephants” is simultaneously frustrating and depressing. The entire story is centered on an argument between the man and the girl that goes in circles and has no clear resolution. Even before the topic of the girl’s potential abortion comes up, the couple is already bickering, leading to a frustrating mood from the very start of the story:
“Well, let’s try and have a fine time,” [said the man].
“All right. I was trying. I said the mountains looked like white elephants. Wasn’t that bright?”
“That was bright.”
“I wanted to try this new drink: That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?”
“I guess so.”
This passage makes it clear that the couple was already fighting before the story began. The man is demonstrably frustrated with the girl as he says, “Well, let’s try and have a fine time,” and the girl reveals her own dissatisfaction when she says, “That’s all we do, isn’t it—look at things and try new drinks?” Because Hemingway does not temper any of this resentful dialogue with gentler descriptions of the characters’ inner worlds, readers experience the mood only through this harsh dialogue.
The mood of the story is depressing in addition to frustrating because, as the characters talk in circles, repeating their arguments for and against the girl having an abortion, readers sense that this couple is likely not going to stay together, whether the girl chooses to have the abortion or not. The melancholic mood emerges from the fact that this story is ultimately a portrait of a couple on the brink of breaking up (even if they haven't recognized this yet themselves).