To assess the contemporary relevancy of the short story "Hills Like White Elephants" by Ernest Hemingway, it is important to understand what the story is really about. A couple is sitting at a small station in the Ebro Valley in Spain, waiting for a train to take them to Madrid. The man, identified only as an American, and the woman, who is nicknamed Jig, behave politely towards each other although it is obvious that there is a great deal of tension in their conversation.
Although it is never specifically stated, it soon becomes evident that they are going to Madrid so that the woman can get an abortion. The man reassures Jig that "it's really an awfully simple operation." Several times he tells her that it is up to her, but he is obviously eager for her to go through with it. The woman, however, is ambivalent. She is not sure that having the abortion is the right thing to do. She fears that if she has it, things will never be the same with them as a couple again. In the end, Hemingway does not resolve this dilemma. He leaves the ending intentionally ambiguous and leaves it up to readers to decide whether she gets the abortion and what happens to them afterwards.
In some ways, the setting in Spain in the late 1920s is important because it affects the way that readers regard the couple. They are expatriates, and in that era many people left their homelands to travel in Europe and live loose lifestyles, including Hemingway himself. Additionally, in that era in Catholic Spain, abortion would have been illegal and medically very risky, not a "simple operation." The man is making light of what could be a very dangerous procedure for the woman.
In another way, however, "Hills Like White Elephants" is completely relevant to our modern era. Couples nowadays still make anxiety-ridden decisions about whether or not to go through with abortions after pregnancy, and often men and women do not agree about what should be done. This dilemma could apply to many periods of history, as the existence of abortions has been recorded as far back as Ancient China, Ancient Egypt, and the Roman Empire. The theme of this story is relevant for any period of history in which men and women attempted to make decisions about whether to abort conceptions or allow pregnancies to fully develop.