The hills were "long and white" initially but into the story a few lines they present a nice literary juxtaposition; they are "…white in the sun" but the land around them was "brown and dry" (Weeks, 1980, p. This contrast opens the literary door for further imagery, irony, and friction between the two characters.
By the time the reader realizes the woman is pregnant her gazing into the distant hills and seeing an image like a white elephant has more meaning for the reader.
As Weeks points out, there is powerful irony in the concept of a white elephant for several reasons.
And when Jig (the pregnant woman) sees the shadow -- "The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain…" -- that could well portend the "foreshadowing" of the death of her unborn child, according to Wyche's use of a reference by Kenneth Johnston (1).
But a reader could take issue with that interpretation because Jig's comment about the shadow included this line: "…and she saw the river through the trees." Seeing the river -- a symbol of life's movement from mountains to the sea -- through the trees could just as well mean she has hopes for a positive outcome. The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition.
Rather than agreeing with her description, he takes a contrary position.
And an alert reader wonders why she is gazing into the distance anyway as they wait for the train.
In this story, the ultimate meaning is that the man does not wish to take responsibility for the woman's pregnancy and on the other hand she has superior imagination, vision, understanding, and knowledge of the natural world and of humanity.
The white elephant to her is a rare and beautiful thing but to him the white elephant is something of less value he would rather avoid.
[and moreover] scholars have seen this allusiveness as an indication of her superior imagination and knowledge" (Nagel, 1994, p. This is easy for a reader to grasp because she is the only one who seems interested in the big picture -- that is, what is on the other side of the valley, and symbolically, what is out there for her beyond this train station setting -- while he looks at her and at the table and seems to care only about the drinks and himself.
What the reader should glean from the man's comments is that he really doesn't want any obligations (Nagel, 2).