Adolescent Fiction on Abortion:
Developing a Paradigm and Pedagogic Responses from Literature Spanning Three Decades

Works Cited


1  With language as similarly connotative as mine, the more scholarly literary critics Ross Murfin and Supryia M. Ray corroborate my extemporaneous definition when they define the Gothic novel as:

a romance typically written as a long prose horror narrative that exhibits the Gothic qualities of doom and gloom as well as an emphasis on chivalry and magic. Dark, mysterious medieval castles chock full of secret passageways and (apparently) supernatural phenomena are common elements used to thrill the reader. Gothic heroes and heroines tend to be equally mysterious, with dark histories and secrets of their own. The Gothic hero is typically a man known more for his power and his charisma than for his personal goodness; the Gothic heroine's challenge is to win his love without being destroyed in the process. (149)

2 That is, with all due respect to the (young?) man, Fabio before his aviary mishap. [Back]

3 Again, Ross and Ray record the contemporary understanding of the romance novel not only as "a fictional account of passionate love prevailing against social, economic, or psychological odds, but any plot that revolves around love" (346). [Back]

4  However, this conclusion was not the final one reached by the disproportionately large number of students who found this story so interesting that they culminated their final research project on an analysis of this short story. Apparently, this story is resilient enough to withstand a feminist literary critical attack as much as it is malleable to a biographical or a masculinist interpretation. What is most surprising is that many students were able to discover in the course of their research Stanley Renner's fine critical article, which argues that, since the characters do not explicitly suggest that the abortion is definitely going to occur, an easy anti-life extrapolation of the plot of the story may be faulty -- a position which refutes most students' initial reading of the story.

I would also like to point out that I presume that at least one student was painfully aware of the message of the story. It was difficult for me during one class to press on with an explication of the story when one young woman became visibly upset while discussing it -- to the point of needing to leave the room for the balance of the class time, a full forty minutes. Granted, this is a subjective comment on my part and the student herself did not confide anything to me. Unfortunately, however, we who are faculty can often gauge whether a student who becomes distressed over this one story and not others which might be more graphic, more sexual, or more politically-charged may have had an abortion and is now suffering the emotional symptoms of post-abortion syndrome. [Back]

5 See especially his commentary on SAT scores (4-5) and the lack of "shared information" in American education (19-25). [Back]

6 Sometimes, even the library community may not be helpful in collating titles on the subject of abortion. Abortion as a subject entry does not appear in Spencer's massive 692-page bibliographic compendium What Do Young Adults Read Next? A Reader's Guide to Fiction for Young Adults (Detroit: Gale, 1997). Many authors who are considered in this paper, however, are featured as are other titles which they have written. [Back]

7 Of course, I am aware that only a fraction of the total number of teens who are eligible to vote do so and that this lack of civic pride in electing quality candidates will remain at a plurality level when the teens become young adults in their twenties. After all, this is the decade when the United States elected someone as president on a plurality vote not once, but twice in the span of four years. [Back]

8  In the course of my reading I discovered two intertextual references to schemes or paradigms of teen abortion fiction. Both passages ridicule the simplistic plot development of such fiction. The first passage, from A. M. Stephensen's Unbirthday (1982), has the main character recount her analysis of the teen abortion fiction she has read when she herself must decide whether or not to have an abortion:

"I thought back on stories I'd read. The ones I could remember were always about a girl who lost her head in the heat of passion and went all the way with some guy in the backseat of a car. Usually at a drive-in. Usually with a guy she really didn't give a damn about. Always without a contraceptive. And -- surprise! -- she got pregnant.

"Then she had the baby. If she married the guy, she'd end up staying home, cooking supper, washing bottles, changing diapers, and waiting for her husband to return from a long day pumping gas, after which he'd take out his frustrations on her and the kid. Or if she didn't get married, she'd leave school and put the tyke up for adoption, and since she was known to one and all as a 'bad girl,' she'd move to another part of town and after much effort find a dead-end job answering phones or selling shoes. Once in a while, she'd keep the baby. Then she'd move in with her alcoholic mother and, after trying valiantly to support her child, end up on welfare. And whiskey.

"There was only one book I could remember where a girl got an abortion. It was so badly botched she ended up puking blood all over the upholstery of her boyfriend's car on the way home, and when she got into her house and puked more blood on the rug before collapsing to the floor, her exceptionally swift parents suddenly realized what was going on and virtually disowned her." (51-2)

Another passage, in Norma Klein's Beginners' Love (1983), similarly reduces the simplistic plots of most teen abortion novels to set patterns. The lead female character in Klein's novel comments about teen abortion novels with her boyfriend, suggesting that a standard set of steps in plot development has made the classification trite:

"God, don't you hate those books for teen-agers where they have to get married and she drops out of school and they live over a garage and he works in some used car lot. And there's always some scene where some girl who had an abortion comes to visit and she's gone insane and becomes a Bowery bum, just in case you didn't get the point."

"I never read a book like that," I said.

"You're lucky.... Every other book I've read since I was ten is like that. The girl's a moron, the guy's a moron, they never heard of birth control. What I love are the scenes where the father takes the guy aside and says, 'Son, if you marry Betsy, you'll have to give up your football scholarship to Oklahoma State.' They're always going to some godforsaken place like Oklahoma State! And the guy says, 'But, Dad, I love her!'... And then there's a scene where the mother says, 'Dear, you haven't let him take advantage of you? You know what boys are like.' Quote unquote.... God, I think writers must be really dumb! Or else they're living in the Stone Age." (163-4)


9 In the printed form of this paper, I will use the headers just mentioned to collate data from the novels. [Back]

10 The argument that a pregnancy is better described as "untimely" instead of being a "problem" is more accurate in its specificity at least in the literary sense. The novels I have considered show that the pregnancies which result from faulty or non-existent contraception or a hedonistic view towards sexuality are not problems to the young people involved. The characters do not so much doubt the existence of the human entity over whose life they think they have jurisdiction, but rather are much more concerned with how to continue their lifestyles -- their educational choices, their career choices, and their romantic or sexual choices. The term "difficult" when used to refer to pregnancy, seems more proper when used in medical contexts. [Back]

11 The study of transgendered characterizations may be helpful here, especially in the emerging branches of gender criticism called masculinist and queer theory. [Back]

12 Interested persons may be interested in her Beyond Dreams: True-to-Life Series from Hamilton High (1995). Moreover, they may find the performances of Freddie Prinze, Jr. and Jessica Alba in the video adaptation of the novel under analysis convincing. [Back]

13 Bakerman and DeMarr have identified other titles which fall into this category of fiction written from the perspective of the mother who wants to give birth to her baby. Readers may be interested in the following: I Want to Keep My Baby (1977) by Joanna Lee (92-3); Son of the Morning (1978) by Joyce Carol Oates (125); Emmeline (1980) by Judith Rossner (155); and Baby Love (1981) by Joyce Maynard (107). [Back]

14 The situation of an abortion subplot in a larger adult-theme work does not dissolve after Roe, of course. Carolyn Doty's 1980 novel A Day Late uses the stereotype of a seventeen-year-old pregnant runaway to reflect (and deflect) the middle-aged crisis of Sam the protagonist. A traveling salesman, Sam finds the youth of Katy, the mother, disturbing to the point that he becomes violent against her and the young man who had befriended her. He also becomes violent against himself by spending a night with a whore. The climax in the novel is not abortion-related at all: Sam "finds himself" by engaging in a male-bonding dance with his Greek friend. The denouement, however, does return to the abortion subplot: Katy miscarries a malformed unborn child; this is considered "a blessing" (230). [Back]

15 Ballard is one of the bold breed of writers who are clearly identified with the pro-life movement. More importantly from a literary standpoint, her novel is not preachy or didactic which some critics of evangelical and pro-life fiction have claimed are dominant characteristics of such life-affirming material. While there certainly are titles which are preachy if not hostile to religious diversity, Ballard's book contains a few pages (by my estimation three) where one of the main characters, an elderly woman named Vellie, summarizes Christian principles for the other main character, fourteen-year-old Melissa (138-40). It would be interesting to see how anti-life critics or critics hostile to evangelical or pro-life fiction would evaluate the final chapter of the book. Melissa suggests holding a "service" for the aborted child which seems more pagan in liturgical setting than Christian: the service is to be conducted at dawn in the woods and, while she expresses her anger and sorrow, Melissa moves stones in certain formations (143-7). Is this Wicca practice or Christian didacticism? Perhaps this is the author's intent: to frustrate those critics who would categorize her novel as merely "one of those" pro-life books. [Back]

16 In fact, one could even argue that the title signals to the reader (the teen in the public library or the school library or in the bookstore) that the option of abortion is never entertained seriously: if unwed motherhood were so disastrous for the teen heroine, then it would be metaphorically described as a "halt" in her life, not a "detour", which connotatively implies that, while one option has been closed, another option is available. [Back]

17 At least one religious reference is nondenominational. Mia in Beckman's Mia Alone contrasts "the Christian's talk" about sanctity of human life in contrast to her family's ethics (106). [Back]

18 Whatever her personal position regarding this abortion organization, the author is fair when she thanks "the staff of Planned Parenthood of San Diego and Riverside Counties" among others "for their help in understanding what it is like to be young and pregnant" (Cole; opposite title page). [Back]

19 Consider the following analysis of interviews of teen girls' regarding sex and related issues:

To be able to know their sexual feelings, to listen when their bodies speak about themselves and about their relationships, might enable these and other girls to identify and know more clearly the sources of oppression that press on their full personhood and their capacity for knowledge, joy, and connection.... Asking these girls to speak abut sexual desire, and listening and responding to their answers and also to their questions, proved to be an effective way to interrupt the standard "dire consequences" discourse adults usually employ when speaking at all to girls about their sexuality. Knowing and speaking about the ways in which their sexuality continues to be unfairly constrained may interrupt the appearance of social equity that many adolescent girls (especially white, middle-class young women) naively and trustingly believe, thus leading them to reject feminism as unnecessary and mean-spirited and not relevant to their lives. As we know from the consciousness-raising activities that characterized the initial years of second-wave feminism, listening to the words of other girls and women can make it possible for girls to know and voice their experiences, their justified confusion and fears, their curiosities. Through such relationships, we help ourselves and each other to live in our different female bodies with an awareness of danger, but also with a desire to feel the power of the erotic, to fine-tune our bodies and our psyches to what Audre Lord has called the "yes within ourselves". (Tolman 183-4)

1, 2, 3, 4,