Don’t Want Any Tension
The theme of Hills Like White Elephants revolves around the tension between the two main characters, the American and the girl, Jig. The author uses a number of different literary elements to reinforce this theme. Each of those elements underscores points of distinction and opposition. In that way, those elements reinforce the opposition between the American and the girl, which is one of the reasons why tension is the dominant theme of this tale.
The setting is one of the main ways literary elements that emphasize the opposition between the American and Jig to create tension in Hills Like White Elephants. The story is set in a train station, which is significant because it is manmade as opposed to a creation of nature. The characters are in a barren setting, described by the author as a place of “no shade and no trees…between two lines of rails in the sun.” However, across from the train station there is a beautiful, natural setting, abundant with life. The author describes this side as full of “fields of grain and trees along the banks of a river.” This side of the setting is filled with natural life, but the side in which the characters are is devoid of such life. These two aspects of the setting are opposite one another, which reinforces the opposition and tension between the two main characters.
The author also uses a fair amount of symbolism to show the tension between the man and the girl that is the chief theme of this story. The pair is arguing about an operation the man wants the girl to have, an abortion. The symbolism the author employs proves that the pair is taking opposite sides on this issue. Once the girl asks the American to stop trying to persuade her to have the operation, the author writes “the girl looked across at the hills on the…valley and the man looked at her and the table”. In this passage the hills and the valley represent nature and its natural order—which symbolizes the girl’s pregnancy. She is focused on this side because she is not inclined to get an abortion. The table symbolizes the train station and man’s influence. That influence is the opposite of nature and symbolizes the abortion the American wants the girl to have, which is the source of tension between them.
Diction is another literary device the author uses to convey that tension between the American and Jig is the dominant theme of the tale.…