“Hills Like White Elephants” by Ernest Hemingway has a modernist structure, being built on the iceberg theory. The plot reveals very little about the characters, and readers have to interpret their dialogue to understand the conflict and imagine the background of the situation. 

The main characters in the story are Jig and the American man. Very little is conveyed directly about their outer characterisation. Their dialogue and attitudes help construct their inner characterisation, depicting Jig as a woman who has in an inner conflict about whether to have an abortion, and the American as a selfish and rational man.

The setting of the story is 1920s Spain, and the events take place in a train station between Barcelona and Madrid. The description of the physical setting mirrors Jig’s thoughts and dilemmas about having an abortion. The social setting is focused on relationships and identity.

The story has a third-person narrator who is detached from the events and acts as an observer while occasionally using the point of view of the characters.

The language used in the story is simple and minimalist, and the text contains an unusually large amount of dialogue. Repetitions, similes and metaphors help characterise the girl and the man through speech. The also contains some important symbols which help illustrate the themes and the main conflict.

Further help

Short story analysis

For more advice about analysing short stories, you can read our general guide to short story analysis.