Disenfranchised Mothers and Maternity Insurance – Tracing Progressive Arguments in Ernest Hemingway’s Short Stories

Alina Schumacher


The Hemingway corpus has often been analysed towards its perceived focus on the masculine perspective and experience and has therefore taken its female characters as mere dependents and modifiers of this experience. While a number of critics have, in recent years, turned towards gender as a fruitful approach to Hemingway after all, the mother character especially has received very little scholarly attention still. In this essay I would like to explore parallels between Hemingway’s short stories “A Canary For One” and “Hills Like White Elephants” and contemporary progressive, reformist arguments by Olive Schreiner and Elsie Clews Parsons, which will allow me to temporarily exclude second-wave feminist approaches on these texts. I will investigate the relationship between mother characters and tropes of maternity in Hemingway’s short stories and the argumentative structures of contemporary progressive texts, aiming to illustrate that the parallels I will point out allow a more differentiated analysis of the motherhood trope within this selection of Hemingway’s short fiction. This essay contends that the mother character in “A Canary for One” and maternity as a concept in “Hills Like White Elephants” display a similar pre-progressive character and thereby appear as a fictionalisation of the circumstances out of which Schreiner and Parsons develop their progressive arguments towards female selfhood and individuality.


Progressive Era; Feminism; Motherhood; Reception History; Selfhood

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