Contemporary Literary Theories, Problems with Those Theories, and Why Students of Literature Will Benefit from Right-to-Life Literary Theory

Jeff J. Koloze
Copyright 2021, Dr. Jeff Koloze
Paper prepared for the annual LifeTech conference
Accompanying PowerPoint Presentation
Reproduced with Permission

Abstract: After summarizing contemporary literary theories used in colleges and universities, this paper highlights both the positive aspects of the literary theories and their gaps and deficiencies. The paper then demonstrates how right-to-life literary theory is a more comprehensive foundational tool to help readers appreciate and critique literature before they apply the standard literary theories. A passage from Nicki Minaj's rap song "Autobiography" (abortion), an excerpt from Thomas Rydahl's novel The Hermit (infanticide), and a portion of the Teri Schiavo television episode from Family Guy (euthanasia) will be examined, using the five questions of right-to-life literary theory. This paper corresponds with the companion PowerPoint presentation used in the video for the LifeTech 2021 conference. The organizers of the 2021 LifeTech conference posted the video presentation here:

I would first like to thank the organizers of this year's LifeTech conference for asking me to consider presenting the following material. I am not only impressed that a pro-life organization would continue its work despite the social upheaval of a pandemic, but also honored that conference organizers asked me to discuss one of my current research projects.

[slide 1] Attendees and, since it will be remotely conducted, viewers of this year's conference are encouraged to submit their comments and questions either by email or phone. Since I would like to present this continuing research project at other academic and pro-life venues, comments obtained here may refine my ideas about right-to-life literary theory and therefore improve the presentation.

[slide 2] The structure of this presentation is as follows. After providing a functional definition of "literary theory", I will first review contemporary literary theories used in academia; most of these theories have been taught in colleges and universities for decades, while some are recent innovations in literary study. I will then discuss problems, gaps, and deficiencies in most of these theories, particularly from a pro-life perspective. The presentation then advances to what I call right-to-life literary theory, which consists of five questions. I then apply the five questions of right-to-life literary theory to three contemporary examples of literature: Nicki Minaj's rap song "Autobiography" (which concerns abortion), an excerpt from Thomas Rydahl's novel The Hermit (which includes the topic of infanticide), and a portion of the Teri Schiavo television episode from Family Guy (which attempts to promote euthanasia). "Literature" is broadly defined in academic circles to include all formats (the written word, the spoken word, the sung word, etc.), but this study will examine the texts of the three examples to demonstrate the utility of right-to-life literary theory.

Normally, I end this customary introductory slide of my presentations with the notation that time will be reserved for questions and answers or the joke that I would give my audience utterly hopeless deer-in-the-headlight stares. Since this presentation is online (and not merely online, but asynchronous), any possible embarrassment of my looking like the deer in this slide is obviated. Joking aside, I would greatly appreciate participants' comments and questions for the reasons stated above and will answer any queries as quickly and efficiently as possible.

[slide 3] Before delving into the various literary theories used in colleges and universities (and, increasingly, high schools), a simple functional definition of "literary theory" may be helpful. A literary theory is a way to look at literature, and, since there are many perspectives or ways to approach the study, appreciation, and application of literature, many theories have developed over the centuries. Since ancient times, literary criticism was essential not only to heighten the appreciation of literature, but also to help us learn something from the literature. Moreover, as mentioned above, "literature" includes not only written works (poems, short stories, dramas, and novels), but also lyrics of songs (for example, the contemporary genres of rap and trap) and material in other formats such as films (both traditional and internet-based) and other items. Finally, this listing of literary theories is alphabetical for the reader's/viewer's convenience.

Archetypal or Jungian Criticism

Developed by Carl Jung, archetypal criticism concerns dominant symbols, called archetypes, which are common to our culture and which generate the same reactions and responses in all of us. Colors, seasons, and other symbols can become such archetypes. For example, red is standardized as the symbol of passion, martyrdom, and whoredom, and white is symbolic of holiness and purity. How we "universally" react to these colors is culture-bound; for example, while white symbolizes purity in the West, in China white symbolizes evil. Seasons, similarly, are highly symbolic and conjure the same images and ideas for all of us. Spring represents the beginning of new life. Summer is that time or age when our lives are most productive. Autumn is that time period when we can harvest our goods (either literally, as in garden or farm products, or figuratively, as in 401k wealth). Winter is the time which symbolizes lives well spent and an era of resting, realizing that death will end our physical existence.

Archetypal criticism is important for pro-life readers for an obvious reason: we all have the same negative reaction to an abortionist as we all have the same positive reaction to the terms "mother" and "unborn child." These reactions occur no matter how forcefully authors may try to change the archetype of an abortionist to a positive one by calling him or her a "doctor" instead of the killer that he or she is. For instance, the abortionist Dr. Swain in Grace Metalious' 1956 novel Peyton Place is, for all the "good" work he does for the community, still an abortionist.

Biographical Criticism

It seems much too simple if not tautological to assert that the facts of a writer's life may be important to help us understand what he or she wrote. If one is interested in the background of an author, then one has chosen biographical literary theory as a way to appreciate the literature.

Biographical criticism - curiously, a method of appreciating and interpreting literature which is often ignored in the academy and in textbooks of literary criticism - is crucial for pro-life readers. Knowing that John Irving is an active supporter of the abortion business Planned Parenthood, for example, will affect one's reading of his famous abortion novel, The Cider House Rules (1985), as mere propaganda for the abortion industry. This may account for the film version being beloved by anti-life Hollywood and severely criticized by pro-life critics.

Critical Disability Studies

The analysis of able-bodiedness and disabilities in literature is a newer literary theory which has produced some interesting interpretations and re-interpretations of literature. This theory challenges the anti-life idea of "life unworthy of life", a Nazi concept embraced by anti-life writers and activists in contemporary society, thus contributing to the pro-life movement recognizing this theory as life-affirming. It is striking, however, that, with notable exceptions, many academics using this theory are hesitant to connect anti-life philosophy with the movement which supports abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia of persons with disabilities.

Pro-life readers, therefore, have an opportunity to affirm the value of human life depicted as inferior or disabled by adopting the principles of this theory. Literature which shows disabled or differently-abled characters ranges from the mid-nineteenth-century character Hetty, called "retarded", in James Fenimore Cooper's 1841 novel The Deerslayer to the contemporary example of F. X. Toole's 2000 short story "Million $$$ Baby", which later became an Academy Award-winning film.

Critical Race Theory

Contemporary activists and parents protesting at school boards have pointed out the inherent racism of critical race theory, yet that was not the original purpose of the theory. While some textbooks may use confusing nomenclature, critical race theory as a type of literary criticism functions to highlight racial differences between characters, showing, for example, how African slaves were mistreated by white slave owners.

It would be a serious challenge for any pro-life reader to use critical race theory for any purpose except to assert the equality of any human being, no matter his or her race. Accepting the principles of the aggressive political movement which bases its ideas on radical race consciousness is abhorrent to the pro-life community, since pro-lifers follow the principles of respect for all human life, no matter its condition of dependency, gender, or, in this case, racial identification. Furthermore, as pro-life social media commentators have noted, critical race theory does more to divide humanity in terms of race instead of uniting them in what should be a concerted effort to stop assaults on human life, the most egregious being the much ignored fact that African-American mothers abort at a rate three times that of whites. Activists in pro-abortion race-conscious groups and businesses, like Black Lives Matter and Planned Parenthood, can learn much from Ramona Treviño's 2015 biography Redeemed by Grace: A Catholic Woman's Journey to Planned Parenthood and Back . Nowhere does Treviño, a Latina, blame white society for her abortion decisions, unlike race-centered groups, which deflect responsibility for women's abortion decisions onto whites.


While formalist literary criticism (see below) focuses on the meanings of words as an author intends and looks for the inherent unity of a literary work, a deconstructionist critic argues that words are so inherently unstable that a standard meaning can never be obtained. While this idea may be a fun exercise in the classroom, this essential criterion is farfetched for many ordinary, competent readers.

Pro-life readers, of course, can use deconstructionist principles to argue a life-affirming interpretation of literature, especially literature which advances a pro-abortion, pro-infanticide, or pro-euthanasia position. Thus, pro-life readers can critique Philip K. Dick's 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? not merely as a classic science fiction work, but as a fulfilled prophecy of how abortionists and others degrade human life.

Feminist Criticism

The earliest form of gender criticism, feminist literary criticism should be distinguished from feminist political activism. This theory argues that literature shows women as victims of "patriarchy", the idea that men are oppressing women. Feminist literary criticism attempts to highlight female characters who overcome such oppression; moreover, the theory argues that women's writing is different from that of male authors. One can be a feminist literary critic and still accept the Judeo-Christian heritage of the father being head of the family; one simply looks at literature from a woman's perspective.

While the above paragraph severely oversimplifies feminist literary criticism, it should be obvious to all pro-life readers that this criticism is particularly fertile as a means to advance pro-life interests. After all, if the idea of feminist literary criticism is to emphasize the oppression of women by men, then abortion can easily be documented in fictional literature as the most oppressive force against women and their success in society. Unfortunately, contemporary anti-life feminist pro-abortion fiction still suffers from the myopic perception that abortion is necessary to overcome patriarchy, as evidenced by Elizabeth Keenan's tedious 2019 novel for teens, Rebel Girls . Pro-lifers will enjoy countering biased work like Keenan's novel, however, by using the principles of feminist literary criticism against what such literature advocates.

Formalism and New Criticism

The standard literary theory used in the academy, if one ever had a teacher or faculty member ask what a term in any story, novel, drama, or other literary work means, then that teacher or faculty member was using formalist literary criticism, the idea that, unlike deconstruction, words have stable meanings and the ideas expressed by an author can be understood. Moreover, a formalist critic is concerned about the unity of a literary work's plot, consisting of four steps: the exposition, the problem to be addressed in the literary work; the crisis or crises between the protagonist and antagonist characters; the climax, the essential conflict between the characters; and the denouement, the literary work's conclusion, which may or may not be satisfactory in the reader's estimation.

Formalist criticism is certainly beneficial to a pro-life reader since such a reader adopts, consistent with pro-life principles, the idea that words have stable meanings; "mother", for example, refers to a female parent, and no corruption of the idea of motherhood with a verbose phrase such as "birthing parent" can destroy the essential meaning of the term. Regarding the unity of the literary work, a pro-life reader or critic would find much anti-life fiction faulty, especially if the ending of that work results in the killing or death of a human being. Such is the case with Lisa De Niscia's 2011 novel Momentary Mother ; the denouement leaves the reader wondering why the main character aborted, given what seems to be loose ends in the plot.

Gender Criticism/Gay and Lesbian or Queer Studies

The category of gender criticism originally consisted only of feminist literary theory, arriving in academia around the time of the second wave feminist movement. It quickly became apparent that, if literature can be appreciated and interpreted through the lens of a feminist, then it could also be viewed from a man's perspective, thus creating a masculinist approach to literature. Persons with same-sex attraction established the gay, lesbian, or queer studies division of gender criticism, the last term sequenced in the title of this heading being politically-correct usage. Transgender activists have added another aspect to gender literary criticism, and no doubt the category will expand when adherents of other sexually-confused categories claim their right to interpret literature according to their agendas.

The political machinations of extremist gay and lesbian activists aside, pro-life students of literature can use gender criticism in support of human life threatened by abortion, infanticide, or euthanasia on the principle, stated above, that human life is sacred no matter what condition of dependency or gender recognition (or confusion) may obtain. In fact, since the aggressive gay and lesbian political agenda has argued that actively homosexual persons or persons with same-sex attraction have the right to exist as heterosexual persons do, activists in any category would appreciate input from pro-life activists supporting their first civil right, the right to life. After all, no person should be killed because he or she may be confused about his or her sexuality, as happens in, for example, Islamic nations, where gays and lesbians are executed in horrible ways. Moreover, some gay and lesbian novels can generate sympathy that only pro-life people, who are by definition compassionate, would understand, as in Tim Murphy's 2016 novel Christodora , a tortured account of persons with same-sex attraction who cannot understand that their actions suggest a yearning for heterosexual normativity.

Historical Criticism

As with biographical criticism, knowing the milieu in which a literary work was created is eminently helpful to advance the appreciation of the literature. Unfortunately, contemporary literary critics are more concerned about contentious, if not nonexistent, issues, like "white privilege." Knowing the world of 1850 when Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his masterpiece The Scarlet Letter should help any reader understand his complex and antiquated language and the importance of the effort to establish an American literature which could match the grandeur of European literature.

From the pro-life perspective, understanding the historical circumstances of a literary work is crucial in its explication and application to contemporary life. For example, knowing that a master writer like William Faulkner wrote his abortion novel The Wild Palms in 1939 when it was still an abhorred practice helps the reader understand how dire unplanned pregnancy may have been for hedonistic women at that time. Similarly, understanding the history of abortifacients, touted as alternatives to risky surgical abortion methods, will help readers appreciate how an anti-life author like Sharon Biggs Waller could presume in her feeble 2019 teen abortion novel Girls on the Verge that what was once an abhorrent practice is standard procedure for young mothers who wish to violate the civil rights of unborn babies and possibly harm themselves with dangerous abortifacients.

Marxist Criticism

As with feminist literary criticism above, one does not have to renounce one's (pro-life) Democrat or Republican affiliation or be a political Marxist to use Marxist literary criticism. The theory is dominantly concerned with economic factors and power relationships. The ideas of "ideology" and "counterideology" are important in this theory, since the conflicts resulting between those who arrange social life in certain ways and those who oppose or want to change society are necessary in Marxist thinking to lead to the creation of a better world. For example, the United States once followed the ideology that Negroes (the politically-correct term in the 1950s) could sit only in the back of busses; a counterideology developed that Blacks or African Americans could sit anywhere they wanted. Note that the ethnographic labels themselves indicate a shift in ideology.

The importance of Marxist literary theory to pro-life students of literature is obvious. If a literary work suggests an ideology that the types of killing called abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia are appropriate for society, then it is the pro-life activist's counterideology to assert the opposite and to generate conflict so that those methods of killing human beings are stopped. Fictional accounts of conflicts between anti- and pro-life factions are replete in the literature, ranging from the early days of pro-life fiction, such as Stephen Freind's 1987 novel God's Children , to Matthew Archbold's 2020 work, American Antigone .

Moral Criticism, Dramatic Construction

Some compilations of literary theories, especially the Purdue University Online Writing Lab, categorize the ancient debate of Plato and Aristotle regarding whether literature serves moral purposes or not as moral criticism. There is not much more to say about the utility of this category from a pro-life perspective, the assumption being that literature does serve a moral purpose. That is, people read literary works or watch them enacted in drama or music videos (a format not available to the ancient writers) because they want to be entertained, yet the didactic value of these entertainments cannot be avoided.

Thus, pro-life readers and students of literature can certainly be entertained either by the drug-induced language of Richard Brautigan's 1971 novel The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 or the linguistic free-for-all of Kathy Acker's 1986 abortion novel Don Quixote: Which Was a Dream. Pro-life readers will also learn something about the fantasy worlds that must be depicted in order for the brutal violation of civil rights called abortion to be validated.

New Historicism/Cultural Studies

While some more leftist activists may have corrupted the purposes of this literary theory, the foundational principles still have merit. That is, it is important to consider, or re-consider, past historical events from the position of contemporary life. Also, it is a valid area of concern to study artifacts in any given culture which contributed to the rise of its literature. Thus, for example, while Columbus Day is still known as a day to rejoice over the discovery of America, others reinterpret that historical event as the beginning of the European invasion of the Americas. Reinterpreting a fact of history could lead to a political position justifying the destruction of European culture and ideas in the New World, let alone statues of famous Europeans who saved the aboriginal peoples from human sacrifice.

Pro-life researchers have accomplished much according to the principles of these theories, as illustrated, for example, by Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer's 2017 Gosnell: The Untold Story of America's Most Prolific Serial Killer , a biography of the infamous abortionist Kermit Gosnell. If it were not for their research and exposé, a man whom some thought was performing needed "services" for women would have remained that instead of being redefined as the infamous abortionist and serial killer that he is.

Postcolonial Criticism

Unless one reads literary works from former colonies of the European powers, this theory is rare to find in contemporary criticism of literary works meant for the general reading public, although some scholars are trying to rejuvenate this theory by considering the United States as an imperialist power which had "colonies" around the globe or by altering the definition of what constitutes a "colony." From a pro-life perspective, for example, if one were anti-life, can could claim that the unborn child is a "colony" implanted by a patriarchal "power" in the body of the woman/mother. Arguing such a contorted idea may be an interesting intellectual exercise for a classroom when more important matters are completed (grammar or logical fallacies); however, the utility of such a classroom question would be deemed as more evidence that academia has become so leftist as to make anything coming out of higher education irrelevant for the real world.

However, considering fiction from former colonies of the European powers is often an enlightening educational experience, confirming how pro-life the cultures beyond Europe and the Americas are. For example, pro-life readers will appreciate the angst and post-abortion syndrome which the aborted mother experiences in Buchi Emecheta's 1994 novel Kehinde . Similarly, pro-life readers can use this theory to advance the movement by pointing out that anti-lifers use the bodies of unborn babies, whether dead or alive, for "research" as much as colonial powers may have used the people whom they colonized for their purposes. The difference, of course, is that anti-lifers use those bodies in ways which destroy human life instead of enhance and protect it.

Psychoanalytic Criticism

While it has been my experience that incorporating Freudian ideas about phallic and yonic imagery in literature to discover the repressed desires of authors or characters often led to comedy in the classroom instead of serious discussion of psychological principles, the core beliefs of psychoanalytic criticism are useful. It is important to know what an author may have been thinking in the creation of a literary work, as it is important to understand or try to perceive a character's emotions in the work. Sometimes the author him- or herself will identify those emotions in interviews or ancillary material; even those disclosures, however, may not be reliable, thus necessitating biographical research to affirm or negate an author's claims.

The psychological problems associated with post-abortion syndrome and the medical killing of euthanasia or the killing euphemistically called "assisted suicide" are creating a new genre of literature for pro-life readers and critics to explore. This theory can assist pro-life readers in reevaluating the evidence of post-abortion syndrome in Graham Greene's 1988 novel The Captain and the Enemy as much as the depersonalization of a human being, antecedent to euthanasia, in James T. Farrell's 1978 novel The Death of Nora Ryan .

Reader-Response Criticism

Of all the literary theories introduced to students over the last two decades, I think most students appreciate reader-response criticism more than any other since this theory gives the reader the authority to interpret a literary work instead of relying or, worse, adopting, how the teacher or faculty member interprets it. While proponents of this theory argue that a reader must be competent before he or she can derive a valid interpretation of a literary work, reader-response criticism is liberating for ordinary readers who may not be versed in all the literary terms and concepts in which faculty have been trained. After all, literature is not produced for academics to study and determine if the literary work comports with their ideological positions. Literature is meant for consumption by ordinary readers, whose opinions about a literary work could differ greatly from those who think they are more qualified not only to read literature, but to discourse and to write about it. In fact, among today's highly leftist higher education elites, readers must counter the often contorted opinions of a literary work with their own commonsense interpretations.

The utility of this theory for pro-life readers is clear. Pro-life readers are not obligated to accept the received academic opinion of the abortionist Wilbur Larch as a hero in Irving's The Cider House Rules , nor must they accept the idea that euthanasia or medical killing comports with pagan values, as April Genevieve Tucholke seems to suggest in her 2018 novel geared for teens, The Boneless Mercies .


I know of no colleague or ordinary person who ever consciously thinks of structuralism or post-structuralist principles before he or she reads a novel, short story, poem, or rap or trap song, let alone anyone who consciously thinks of semiotic concerns of a literary work as academics demand. If he or she is concerned with the meaning of words used, however, then that reader is probably concerned with formalism literary theory, where the meaning of the words that a novelist or a poet uses are important to determine.

How difficult, if not irrelevant to the concerns of ordinary readers, the structuralist and post-structuralism theories can be is apparent by how scholars have defined (or attempted to define) them:

[Post-structuralism] concerns itself with the ways and places where systems, frameworks, definitions, and certainties break down. Post-structuralism maintains that frameworks and systems [...] are merely fictitious constructs and that they cannot be trusted to develop meaning or to give order. In fact, the very act of seeking order or a singular Truth (with a capital T) is absurd because there exists no unified truth. Post-structuralism holds that there are many truths, that frameworks must bleed, and that structures must become unstable or decentered. Moreover, post-structuralism is also concerned with the power structures or hegemonies and power and how these elements contribute to and/or maintain structures to enforce hierarchy. Therefore, post-structural theory carries implications far beyond literary criticism. (Purdue University, "Post-Structuralism")

I have written elsewhere about scholarly psychobabble. [1] If the above quote is challenging for academics to understand, one can only surmise how onerous it is for ordinary readers who, while educated, are unfamiliar with the jargon used by literary critics who function in the academy and seem to be unaware of issues in the real world.

[slide 4] In discussing the problems of the various contemporary literary theories, I will repeat the phrase "human life is not merely about" followed by the phrase "the total life of the human person is more important than." This repetition is necessary to show that, while the various literary theories used in colleges and universities (and, increasingly, high schools) have benefits, they all suffer from a myopic view of human life, ignoring the essential reason why human beings have literature in the first place: literature is written for humans not only to enjoy, but also to aid them in learning deep cultural values.

What, therefore, are some gaps and deficiencies in the standard literary theories?

Regarding archetypal or Jungian criticism, human life is not merely about symbols or our universal reactions to them; the total lives of people are more important than symbols. Human life is not merely about the details of our lives as biographical criticism would dictate; the total life of the human person is more important than just the actions one performs or problems one endures. Human life is not merely about physical conditions of our bodies; the total life of the human person is more important than our abilities and disabilities, as critical disability studies rightfully asserts. Human life is not merely about the quantity of melanin in our skin, a fatal error in critical race theory; the total life of the human person is more important than his or her race. Human life is not merely about how some words can be more playful and have multiple meanings than others or one's inability to determine or establish the meanings of words which human beings have stabilized over the centuries (have deconstructionists never heard of a dictionary?); the total life of the human person is more important than the varied meanings of the words which he or she uses. Human life is not merely about oppression of women by men, as feminist literary critics would have people believe; the total life of the human person is more important than oppression of one gender by another, whether men oppressing women or women oppressing men. Human life is not merely about the meanings of words, a key idea of formalist literary critics; the total life of the human person is more important than determining whether the meaning of a term, like "mother" or "woman", has been stable for millennia. A near repeat of the entry for feminist literary criticism, human life is not merely about gender; the total life of the human person is more important than whether one's sex is recognized - not "assigned", but recognized - either before or after birth as male or female. Human life is not merely about the chronological circumstances of an event or the historical period in which an author wrote; the total life of the human person is more important than his or her milieu. Human life is not merely about economics or forces of power, demanded by Marxist literary critics; the total life of the human person is more important than the money that he or she uses or the political influences affecting him or her. As appropriate and valid as moral criticism is, human life is not merely about whether one perfected one's moral code or whether what one writes follows the four steps of plot development; the total life of the human person is more important than the sins one commits. Human life is not merely about how history is interpreted or reinterpreted by one's contemporaries; the total life of the human person is more important than redefining the importance of Columbus' discovery of the New World as the beginning of the European invasion of the Americas. Human life is not merely about the effect of European powers on Africa, Asia, and Latin America; the total life of the human person is more important than the political influences that may have hampered some cultural development. Human life is not merely about one's psychological repressions or sexual desires expressed through phallic or yonic imagery; the total life of the human person is more important than whatever deviousness exists in human minds. Human life is not merely about whether one reader is able to force his or her opinion about a literary work on another person as the best reading; the total life of the human person is more important than any interpretation of literature. Human life is not merely about worrying about what an author meant when he or she wrote something; the total life of the human person is more important than such intellectually stimulating, yet vapid discourse - especially vapid if people argue over the merits of the structures of works by human authors instead of, for example, understanding sacred scriptures.

The above paragraph is one which no English professor would ever ask his or her students to write: more than one page, repetitive, complex, with no clear topic sentence. However, I trust that I have made my point that every literary theory has a flaw, sometimes a fatal flaw, in that, while it may appropriately concern some aspect of human life, it neglects the essential criterion, the idea that the literary work exists to benefit human life. Thus is born right-to-life literary theory.

[slide 5] I developed the idea of right-to-life literary theory for a paper in 2018 on the right-to-life issues in gay and lesbian literature.[2] Having studied and used the various literary theories established in the academy and, most importantly, knowing what those theories leave out (the importance of human life), I formulated the following five questions which I use to examine all literature, especially works which concern the right-to-life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

  1. Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some "thing" which is priceless?
  2. Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?
  3. If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?
  4. Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?
  5. When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?

The balance of this presentation will apply the five questions of right-to-life literary theory to three works of literature. The questions are repeated for each literary work, followed by brief commentary for each question. It is hoped that students of literature can perceive that each brief response can be expanded into a lengthier analysis or, for college and university students, a research paper.

[slide 6 and 7] Nicki Minaj is one of the most successful rap artists in the world. I recently wrote about her because I wanted to understand what a contemporary cultural force such as Minaj had to say about abortion and what we, her auditors, can learn from her experience. (Readers: please consult the appropriate slide for the text of Minaj's "Autobiography" to be studied.)

  1. Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some "thing" which is priceless?
    • Critical thinking skills must be used to answer this first question of right-to-life literary theory, since, on the surface, life as a philosophical good is not explicitly stated in this excerpt of the song. However, one can conclude that the persona of the song (Minaj herself or the "character" singing the song) does consider life as such a good. Why would she want to have the child with her if she thought that existence in real life was not a noble thing?
  2. Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?
    • Here, also, more critical thinking must be used to reply to this question since the words of the song do not seem to recognize the paramount inherent right of all human beings to exist. The persona recognizes that the conception (fertilization) of a human being is a good thing and that "leaving" that human being is neither in the child's or the persona's best interests. It is interesting to note that the idea of leaving suggests that our rights are connected with our responsibilities, and the persona in this song is keenly aware that she has neglected her responsibility to the aborted child.
  3. If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?
    • The integrity of the family is a glaring issue here; the persona is obviously the mother of the aborted child, and the child him- or herself is "present" because he or she is being addressed. The father, however, is absent. One could write much about the dire situation of the African-American family, which is dominantly matriarchal.
  4. Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?
    • That the mother talks to the aborted child is clear evidence not only of her compassion for him or her, but also of the hope that the child has an existence in the afterlife.
  5. When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?
    • Using the words "God's plan" is rare to find in a rap song, especially one which concerns abortion. Their inclusion here indicates that the persona does have a sense of the divine presence in the world, one which can overcome even a seemingly definitive act of killing called abortion.

[slide 8] Thomas Rydahl's The Hermit (2016) is noteworthy first as a murder mystery novel with a variety of interesting characters and, second, as a lengthy European work which contains a strikingly sympathetic view towards newborn human life. (Readers: please consult the appropriate slide for the text to be studied.)

  1. Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some "thing" which is priceless?
    • This excerpt indicates intense sorrow over the child's death. The effort that the police and investigators have taken indicate that the child should be alive, and, if they think this, then they must consider that life is a philosophical good worth experiencing.
  2. Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?
    • This question, also, can be answered in the affirmative as question one, with an important notation: lacking a name, the dead child is called most affectionately the "boy" - not a cadaver to be buried, or a deceased newborn, but a more loving term. The individuality of the dead child is thus affirmed.
  3. If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?
    • This passage clearly indicates that the heterosexual normativity which should obtain in any family has collapsed. The characters note that the father and mother, "the mum and dad", are gone and left only their son, affectionately called "the boy" (51). The lack of heterosexual normativity of the dead boy's family is further highlighted by the fact that the investigators have researched all the remaining couples who recently had newborns, even to the point of giving an explicit number, 187 children. That the dead child cannot be included in that large number of children born to couples increases the pathos of the situation.
  4. >
  5. Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?
    • While no commentary is apparent from this excerpt about the inherent right to exist of other categories of human lives (from the unborn to the elderly), the use of a vulgarism is further evidence of the sadness over the boy's death. The use of "fucking" (51) is entirely appropriate and consistent with the depiction of these male characters as tough men. The term indicates the rage that men who see an innocent person killed would feel, their anger at such injustice manifested not by copious tears that a female character might display, but a solid vulgar term that a man would express. The vulgarism demonstrates not only the man's anger at the injustice of a dead baby boy, but also his frustration of not being able to rectify the injustice.
  6. When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?
    • Answering this question from this brief excerpt is not possible; the entire novel must be read and various other passages and references to religious entities studied. One can suggest, however, that the unanswered rhetorical question, "How can someone abandon a child?" (51), set off as its own paragraph, indicates that at least one character has internally recognized a divine precept that no one should abandon a child. If this recognition were not supplied, then the characters would be perceived as no better than male cats killing newborn male kittens as happens in nature.

[slide 9, 10, and 11] The final passage to be considered is the Teri Schiavo episode from the television program Family Guy , which attempts to justify her starvation. As I argue elsewhere,[3] this episode is inherently not comical yet attempts to use humor to persuade the viewer that the killing of Teri Schiavo was justifiable. (Readers: please consult the appropriate slide for the text to be studied.)

  1. Does the literary work support the perspective that human life is, in the philosophical sense, a good, some "thing" which is priceless?
    • This excerpt makes it clear that human life is not a philosophical good, and one can base this primarily on the high estimation placed on the technology used to maintain Teri's life. The respect for technology over human life is further evident when one character expresses disdain for vegetables, which, like human life, is another item of God's creation.
  2. Does the literary work respect the individual as a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?
    • While all of us know the conclusion to the story (Teri is starved to death), one cannot determine from the excerpt whether individual rights are respected. Again, as with question one, it seems that non-human entities deserve more respect than the human beings, whether it is the technology used or, towards the end of the segment, the reference to the United States Constitution, a document written by humans but more deserving of respect than the humans themselves for whom it was written.
  3. If the literary work covers the actions of a family, does it do so respecting heterosexual normativity and the integrity of the family?
    • Since Teri herself is a silent actor in this episode, it is clear that Michael Schiavo does not meet the standards of what a husband should be, especially in his role as protector of the family. In fact, one can argue that the excerpt shows not only Teri's dehumanization by calling her "The most expensive plant you'll ever see", but also her reduction to a child instead of the adult that she was by calling her "a lively little bugger." The implication is profound; if Teri is a child and not the equal partner in sacramental marriage with Michael Schiavo, then Michael can treat her in a subordinate position as any parent would a child.
  4. Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?
    • The episode requires a negative response to this question, if only because mocking human life as happens here does not comport with the nature of comedy. The episode does, however, illustrate well the disrespect of a human being who needed medical care and compassion more than a legal authority to sanction her starvation.
  5. When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a realization that there is a divine presence in the world which justifies a life-affirming perspective?
    • There is no evidence in this excerpt that any character recognizes a divine presence in the world. If anything, Michael's reliance on the Constitution shows that he and presumably the other characters have replaced God with a man-made legal instrument. These characters apparently do not perceive how unstable their foundation justifying the killing of Teri Schiavo is.

I trust that this presentation has been not only interesting, but also helpful for participants who must engage in the battle against the anti-life movement in the courts, in the sciences, at the sites where killing occurs, and in an area of great importance which pro-lifers have been slow to engage, the humanities, specifically literature. I further hope that what has been discussed here will assist pro-life readers to construct significant reviews of literature that they have read on the life issues. Great work needs to be done to communicate to the general public our objections to literary works which do not support the right to life and our affirmations of those works which do. Whether conference attendees write reviews for Amazon,, some other social media outlet, or their own blogs, I hope that what has been presented here will increase the quality of their work significantly.

[slide 12]

Works Cited