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"Hills Like White Elephants" & Abortion

Ernest Hemingway's short story "Hills Like White Elephants" portrays what is very probably the end of a relationship between a man and a woman over their differences with respect to her pregnancy and his urging her to have an abortion. This study will analyze the story and the effects the proposed abortion has on the woman and on her attitude toward the man and the relationship. The study will also consider the reality of abortion in the early twentieth century---when Hemingway wrote the story and before abortion was legal and socially acceptable--and the effect that this reality had on the woman in the story. The argument of the study in this regard will be that the legal and social specifics of the reality of abortion in the era of the story played little if any role in her feelings about the pregnancy, the abortion, and the relationship. It will be argued that she would have felt as she did even if abortion had been legal and safe and easy to obtain.

There is, first of all, no doubt that there was at the time Hemingway wrote the story a different situation existing than today with respect to the legality and social acceptance of abortion as an alternative to carrying a fetus to term. As Peter L. Hays writes, "One must remember that the setting for the story is Catholic, conservative Spain of the 1920s: abortions are illegal, condemned by the church, difficult to obtain, and dangerous" (Hays, 1990, 56-57).

Hays makes certain assumptions here which are perhaps not justified. It may be that the man and woman, who are obviously wealthy (traveling around Europe for an extended period of time with no apparent concern for finances), are considering having the abortion in another country more hospitable to abortion. It may be that they have made plans for an abortion under circumstances far more safe, and far more expensive, than would be available to a less wealthy couple. It may be that with the money they clearly have such an abo...

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"Hills Like White Elephants" & Abortion. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 08:20, February 20, 2017, from