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.
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.
Notwithstanding the initial response a reader might have, the actual richness and complexity and irony of this story is revealed upon closer inspection.
Indeed, according to Lewis Weeks, writing in Studies in Short Fiction, there is depth in the imagery of the hills that look like white elephants, pointed out by the author in the first sentence of the story.
Moreover, Hemingway was always extremely careful with every word; each word had meaning that was often deeper than what it appeared to be.
It could be argued that he was a pathological tightwad when it came to his use of words; in other words, less was more for Hemingway. "Staking everything on it: a stylistic analysis of linguistic patterns in 'Hills like White Elephants'." The Hemingway Review, 23.2 (2004): 1-5.
The woman has said that if she agrees to the abortion, when she makes comments like the hills being white elephants "…you'll like it" and things "will be nice again" (Weeks, 76).
By referencing the skin of those white hills, Weeks believes Hemingway is hinting at an image of "…the fully pregnant woman, nude and probably lying on her back with her distended belly virtually bursting with life and with her breasts, engorged by the approaching birth, making a trinity of white hills" (Weeks, 77).