Ernest Hemingway’s, Hills Like White Elephants”, is a story of a young girl who becomes pregnant and receives pressure from her lover to receive an abortion. In the story, her lover makes multiple remarks as an effort to persuade her to go through with the “operation” that she is clearly uncomfortable with. As the story progresses, she experiences a moment of realization to which she becomes conscious of the man’s true intentions. The dilemma and overbearingness that the girl experiences are applicable to women from decades ago to now. Some men have a sense of entitlement in dictating what women should do with their bodies.
The story resonates well with any woman who has ever felt pushed into doing something that they did not want to do. The story takes place at a train station in Spain. Hemingway does not provide a specific time period but it can be assumed that it occurred in the early 1900s, since it was published in 1927. Abortions were completely illegal and taboo in society. Extramarital relations or any type of fornication was frowned upon. The girl displays characteristics of being naïve and impressionable, often attempting to please the man and breaking down some of the tension in their conversation. After he convinces her that operation is “simple” and that he will no longer be worrisome once she undergoes it, she replies, “Then I’ll do it. Because I don’t care about me.” This places an emphasis on the level of eagerness she held to please her lover. She clearly has not reached the age nor the mental capacity of a mature woman due to her ingenuous nature.
Throughout the story, there are moments of confusion where the man tries to conceal what he is really trying to sway the girl to do. “If you don’t want to you don’t have to. I wouldn’t have you do it if you didn’t want to.” At this point he seems comprehensive and sympathetic to the girl’s feelings, which makes the reader temporarily believe that he is allowing her to make the decision on her own. He then finishes his sentence by saying, “But I know it’s perfectly simple.” By stating this, he is attempting to persuade her into believing that the operation isn’t to be extremely concerned about, ultimately revealing his true feelings about wanting her to have it. He also reassures her about solely wanting her and not anyone else. He then finishes with, “And I know it’s perfectly simple.” Not only is he manipulating her, but he is also deceiving a young, naïve girl into undergoing a perilous operation. Abortions were tremendously dangerous and harmed thousands of women due to the lack of protocol and sanitary conditions. Thousands of women would unintentionally afflict harm to themselves when attempting to perform self abortions. It was not until Roe v. Wade in 1973 when the Supreme Court made it legal for women to obtain safe abortions from licensed medical doctors.
There aren’t many details of the young girl’s lover. There are no descriptions of his attire, nor his age or background. It can be inferred that he is older and more clever than she is. During this time period, women were seen as inferior to men and were unequal. The young girl was being pushed into doing something she did not want to do. She was clearly uncomfortable with the idea of having an abortion and even had thoughts of continuing her pregnancy. After the man says “I’ve known lots of people that have done it,” she replies, “And so have I, and afterwards they were all so happy.” The decision of her having an abortion should be solely hers considering she is the one who is carrying the child. She should not have felt trapped into doing something incredibly risky and traumatic. As the story continued, she began to think more rationally and realized that her lover was insincere, and even has the courage and tell him to shut up and stop talking, and repeated “please” multiple times. As a woman and mother of two children, I would not have wanted anyone influencing me to terminate my pregnancy when I did not want to. Similarly, I would not have wanted anyone to persuade me into continuing my pregnancy had I not wanted to either.
To conclude, as a feminist, obtaining an abortion should be a personal decision made by the person who is carrying the child, not external influences. Hemingway does an exemplary job shining light on an issue that was not discussed in the early 1900s. Abortions were an incredibly dangerous procedure and if the man had truly cared about the girl, he would not have attempted to manipulate her in following through with the operation. Women need to be more vocal and dominate their beliefs, wants, and bodies.
“Hill Like White Elephants.” Hill Like White Elephants, by Ernest Hemingway, 1927.
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