The story starts out by describing the setting in very great detail. "The hills across the valley of the Ebro were long and white. On this side there was no shade and no trees and the station was between two lines of rails in the sun" (211). This description represents the relationship between the man and woman of the story, but this first line doesn't become clear until we take a look at the rest of the story. Everything in the setting is dry, hot, and dusty. They seem to be at the end of the road, both literally and metaphorically. It is a barren landscape. The only way out is the train they are waiting for. And the only way back to how things were for them "before" is for her to have the abortion. Take, for example, that the hills "were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry" (211) represents sterility... for example, sterility of their relationship. The fact that these hills look like white elephants speaks to the phrase "the white elephant in the room" -- that is, the big problem no one acknowledges (in this story, of course that is the abortion). Have you ever heard of a "White Elephant Sale"? This is the same concept. It represents a burden that must be gotten rid of. It comes up several more times in the story: "'I said the mountains looked like white elephants' . . . 'They don't really look like white elephants. I just meant the coloring of their skin through the trees'" (212).
"The girl stood up and walked to the end of the station. Across, on the other side, were fields of grain and trees along the banks of the Ebro. Far away, beyond the river, were mountains. The shadow of a cloud moved across the field of grain and she saw the river through the trees" (213).
This description of the landscape shows the immense amount of possibility she sees for the relationship. She believes that they can have it all and be happily in love. She even immediately says after this description: "'And we could have all this . . . we could have everything" (213). However, they define "everything" quite differently. "They sat down at the table and the girl looked across the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table" (214). By the end, the realization comes that their relationship is fruitless and "dry." Consider the dry and barren lands as representing not only their relationship but also her womb after the operation. The land also represents all the bad that has happened. Outside of the landscape, the setting of the train also holds significance. It also