A Summary of "Terminal" by Nadine Gordimer

by Andrew Button

"Terminal" deals with the issues of illness and death.

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Nadine Gordimer's "Terminal" is a story of illness, tragedy and betrayal. In this story, the main character (who remains unnamed throughout the story) contracts a terminal gastrointestinal condition and attempts to take her own life. The woman is ultimately revived by her husband, however. The moral dilemma surrounding the husband's decision forms the crux of the story. "Terminal" appeared intitially as part of Gordimer's collection "Something Out There," a collection that was well received by critics upon publication.


"Terminal" has only two main characters: a husband and a wife. The wife has been diagnosed with cancer, while the husband is in good health. The two characters love each other very much, but have different feelings on the nature of the relationship: the wife believes that love requires honoring vows, while the husband believes love is about being together perpetually.


In the beginning of the story, the wife has already been diagnosed with cancer. She talks to her husband about the nature of her condition. She asks him to agree to "help me out of it," or to let her die, if her condition becomes terminal. He agrees to do so. A covenant is firmly established between the two characters; it will soon be put to the test.


As the story progresses, it becomes obvious that the wife's condition is not getting better. Her pain increases in severity, and she decides to take her own life. Initially, she experiences some doubt as to whether her husband will let her die; however, she eventually decides that she can trust him. One day, after her husband leaves the house, she downs a bottle of pain medication and writes him a letter saying not to revive her.


At the end of the story, the wife is extremely scared as she finds herself awake in a hospital bed with her husband holding her hand. She infers that her husband has had her revived, against her wishes. The book closes with a description of the couple sitting in the hospital, the wife feeling betrayed and the husband feeling like he did what had to be done.

About the Author

Based in St. John's, Canada, Andrew Button has been writing since 2008, covering politics, business and finance. He has contributed to newspapers and online magazines, including "The Evening Telegram" and cbc.ca. Button is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in political science from Memorial University in St. John's.

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