I have been speaking and writing about the right‑to‑life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia for academic audiences for about ten years now. While most of my research primarily concerns abortion, I have also investigated infanticide and euthanasia since, in the American scheme of things, they are necessary consequents of having abortion legalized throughout the entire nine months of pregnancy for any reason whatsoever. I have discussed these issues as they are portrayed in twentieth‑century American literature, European literature, and science fiction and will consider, two months from now, how these issues are presented in film.
Of all the perspectives from which one can view abortion, I have considered the woman’s (more correctly, the mother’s) view and the unborn child’s view, but I have never looked at the literary evidence of abortion from the man’s or the father’s view. I was delighted, then, to see that this year’s conference of the American Men’s Studies Association could challenge me not only to investigate the literary evidence of men in American abortion fiction (restricted to major works of the twentieth century), but also to summarize what the literary evidence can suggest for men in this new, twenty‑first century.
There are few literary examples of fathers overjoyed that their wives, girlfriends, or just plain lovers are pregnant and even fewer examples of fathers deeply in love with their unborn children. Instead of men who love their unborn children and the mothers who carry them, the opposite is the general archetype of the American man in fiction, an archetype which is consistent in canonical twentieth‑century American fiction which concerns abortion.
Theodore Dreiser set the stage for the archetype of a young man concerned more with his sexual gratification than with his commitment to his lover and the child they created by giving us Clyde Griffiths in An American Tragedy (1925). Interested in Roberta Alden only for the sexual opportunities that she presents, Clyde’s failed effort to seek an abortionist to “remedy” the situation for the couple ineluctably leads him to the crime for which he will be executed at novel’s end. Clyde’s pursuit of an abortionist is followed by Ernest Hemingway who gives us the anonymous “American man” in “Hills Like White Elephants” (1927). The American man tries his best to persuade Jig that abortion is a simple matter, expressed in the famous naive phrase that abortion is “just to let air in” (72). That the uncertainty of the short story’s denouement has endured for nearly eighty years is a testament not only to Hemingway’s terse style, but also to the ambiguity which surrounds any abortion decision devoid of a moral compass.
Progressing into the 1930s, John Dos Passos presents us with a variety of characters in his U.S.A. trilogy (1938), women whose pursuit of abortion is virtually never countered by the fathers. There is, however, one noteworthy scene of opposition to abortion from a father in this novel. When J. Ward Moorehouse hears about Annabelle Marie Strang’s abortion, he
stood beside the bed with his fists clenched without saying anything. At length the nurse said to him that he was tiring madame and he went away. When Annabelle came back from the hospital after four or five days announcing gaily that she was fit as a fiddle and was going to the south of France, he said nothing. She got ready to go, taking it for granted that he was coming, but the day she left on the train to Nice he told her that he was going to stay on in Paris. She looked at him sharply and then said with a laugh, “You’re turning me loose, are you?”
“I have my business and you have your pleasure,” he said. (198)
While it would be an overgeneralization to say that this exchange typifies the masculine reaction to abortion in all cases, the anger and silence leading to abandonment of a loved one are stereotypical characteristics of men.
The litany of men concerned with abortion continues with William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms (1939). The novel juxtaposes the sexually free lifestyle in the “Wild Palms” half–which ends in abortion, death, and imprisonment–against the “Old Man” portion, wherein respect for the family–father, mother, and child–are suggested. While Harry Rittenmeyer, the protagonist of the “Wild Palms” half, performs an abortion on his lover, the escaped prisoner in the “Old Man” section reveres the young mother and her newborn child. Richard Brautigan’s The Abortion: An Historical Romance 1966 (1971) advances the archetype by presenting us with the Librarian whose role in seeking abortion for his girlfriend has become the modern template for many other late twentieth-century fiction. Finally, John Irving’s The Cider House Rules (1985) continues the archetype of twentieth-century American men concerned with abortion. Men in the novel are either abortionists like Wilbur Larch who consider the act comparable to life-giving divine power or young men like Homer Wells who are unable to recognize the humanity of the unborn child, even though they are aware of the fetological evidence.
The panoply of characters concerned with abortion now has an extensive history which can be reviewed. What are the characteristics of the men involved in the abortion schemes of some of the major novels of the last century? Do these characteristics comport with what the role of a man should be? If what these novels teach young men is correct, what are the ramifications? If what these novels teach is not correct, how can they be challenged?
Characteristics of men in the abortion novels
Men in abortion novels display three obvious and consistent characteristics. First, they are oblivious to the choices before them. Granted, the men engaged in sex with their lovers for their own satisfaction and may view abortion as merely a means to eradicate the impediment to their continued sexual lifestyle. However, virtually no male character in canonical fiction explores other choices as a solution to the untimely pregnancy, such as marrying the mother of his child, or staying single and supporting the mother and child. Most twentieth-century American fiction presents us with men devoid of a paternal instinct. The men in the canonical works do not conjecture what it would be like to be a father, to enjoy seeing a child mature, or to be satisfied with the status of fatherhood. The emotional bond of father to child is missing.
Even those fathers in American fiction who like their born children and who seem to be devoted to their unborn ones have something intellectually wrong with them. For example, Sam Pollit, the father of six children in Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children (1940), loves his children as the title suggests, even to the point of masticating food and feeding it, like a bird, to his baby son. However, Sam’s philosophy is confused at best, solidly eugenic at worst. Sam’s idea is that “Monoman” will be accomplished after misfits and degenerates are “weeded out” “by means of the lethal chamber” or “euthanasia” (50). His means of accomplishing such race perfection are specific: Sam sanctions suicide, eugenic murder, and gassing people to death, the latter consistent with his Aryan hope for the improvement of mankind. Although he is outraged over news of a man who fathered his teenaged daughter’s unborn child, Sam lacks compassion for a deformed boy.
The second characteristic of men in abortion novels is that they are docile. If the mother has decided to abort, then the father simply acquiesces. There is little to no counterargument that aborting the child is a moral or religious wrong. If a counterargument is offered, the mother’s response effectively settles the matter. I have mentioned the Dos Passos selection earlier. Another example, about thirty years after J. Ward Moorehouse, involves Frank Wheeler in Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road (1961). Frank recognizes that abortion is “repugnant” and that having the baby “was clearly on the side of the angels” (217). However, the argument that he would make on behalf of the child to his wife is clearly internal dialogue:
How much, he would ask her, would his prime of manhood be worth if it had to be made conditional on allowing her to commit a criminal mutilation of herself? “Because that’s what you’d be doing, April; there’s no getting around it. You’d be committing a crime against your own substance. And mine.” (217‑8)
Perhaps the prime example of a docile father is the Librarian character in Brautigan’s The Abortion. There are four passages in the novel where Vida offers explicit reasons why she should have an abortion; in all four instances, the Librarian simply listens to the litany of reasons and does not counter them. I argue that all four of the passages read not only as mere declarations of feeble reasons why Vida should have an abortion, but also as pleas for some response, some counter from the Librarian. For example, in the second passage Vida talks about her sister’s abortion:
“My sister had an abortion last year in Sacramento, but before she had the abortion, she went to a doctor in Marin County who gave her some hormone shots, but they didn’t work because it was too late. The shots work if you take them soon enough and they’re quite a bit cheaper than an abortion.” (72)
This passage could have been an opportunity to investigate her own abortion decision from a safer narratological perspective; that is, since Vida is speaking about someone else, the Librarian could have argued the matter as though it does not pertain to either of them.
The third characteristic of men in twentieth-century abortion fiction is that, when they acquiesce to the abortions of their children, other social problems emerge. Much like research into post-abortion syndrome, which documents the effects of abortion on mothers years after the events, the fathers in fictional works manifest problems in their relationships with their lovers, their friends, and others in society. All fathers in the canonical works lose their girlfriends, lovers, or wives. Clyde Griffiths loses not only his first lover, the mother of his child, but also Sondra Finchley, the more vibrant and richer lover he pursued when his relationship with Roberta staled. The American man in Hemingway’s short story loses Jig emotionally, and numerous critics have argued that the ending of the story may not be as ambiguous as it seems; I, too, argue that Jig will eventually leave him and carry the child to term. J. Ward Moorehouse eventually divorces the mother of his aborted child. The mother of Harry Rittenmeyer’s child dies after her abortion. On returning from Mexico where the abortion was performed, the Librarian in Brautigan’s work loses not only his job, but also Vida, who develops a romance with Foster, the man who arranged the abortion. Wilbur Larch dies after an accidental overdose of ether. Homer’s assumption of the role of abortionist seems to be a happy ending in Irving’s narrative. However, Homer’s imagining an idyllic time when abortions are legal is an unsatisfactory denouement for contemporary readers. After all, while a minority may view the effects of over thirty years of legalized abortion as beneficial, the majority view them as a national tragedy.
Evaluation of the literary evidence
How to account for this negative archetype of men in abortion novels? What went wrong that the first thing in a man’s mind is not joy over his paternity, but anxiety? I believe that American men lost two cultural legacies–whether deliberately or due to negligence–which for millennia functioned as standards for male behavior: first, a proper view of sexuality and, second, a respect for paternity.
For thousands of years “love” was defined as more than mere sex. The ancient Greeks were well aware of the tripartite nature of what English collapses into the one word “love.” While the ancient world understood love as either “agape” (love for mankind), “eros” (sexual love), or “philia” (the love existing between friends), contemporary society merges and thus distorts all three categories, and some commentary is needed here on all three manifestations of the verb.
Agape is practically non‑existent in the popular culture, or, rather, the culture that we are expected to accept as broadcasted through the major elite media or those who style themselves trendsetters (for example, actors of whatever quality and media critics).
Eros is probably the form of love that most Americans immediately understand, either in its Greek form or in English adjectival equivalents. Citing the erotic component of each of the plot structures of the canonical abortion novels would be repetitive.
And what about philia? The most interesting recent example of philia gone wrong is Brokeback Mountain (DVD issued in 2006). Even though the attention given to the film is waning now that the Academy Awards are over and it is already on DVD, the film not only helps to illustrate not only the consequences of moral laxity, but also (more to my purpose) how far society has distorted sexual tension in male friendships. Undoubtedly, the friendship that two male friends could have for each other may cross not only into sexual musings but also into sexual activity, and male friends may approach their sexual interest in an embarrassed way. The film My Own Private Idaho (1991) presents this embarrassed relationship between male friends much more effectively than Brokeback Mountain. In one of the most poignant scenes illustrating the sexual tension which can exist in some male friendships, Mike, played by River Phoenix, and Scott, his fellow male prostitute, played by Keanu Reeves, are at a campfire when Mike queries his friend about what life would have been like if he had a normal family, what a father is, and what the nature of love is. Towards the end of this fireside scene, Mike obviously becomes tortured as he attempts to express his sexual feelings toward his friend. Scott, however, perceives Mike’s anxiety and simply commands Mike to come toward him. Unlike Brokeback Mountain, this scene does not end in a violent and quick sodomization, but a tender embrace; Mike simply rests his head on Scott’s chest.
Brokeback Mountain, in contrast, presents to American men examples of tough guys who not only wrestle steer, but each other. Does the film merely present an alternative view of male friendship? The film could possibly sway the minds of those who suffer cultural amnesia or who have never learned the ancient distinction in the three forms of love by giving them an image of raw male sexual power, and no one needs a scholarly citation to know that it is the nature of the male to be aroused visually to help him with his sexual performance. It will be interesting to see whether this film is able to persuade society that sodomization among men is as natural as heterosexual friendship.
On the second great cultural loss, respect for paternity, again the distinction I make could be lost in linguistics by those who accept contemporary sexual standards. I do not mean “patriarchy”–that much derided and abused term which functions as the absolute response to any challenge of matriarchy or a perceived attack on women. No doubt, certain categories of feminist critics will view the strength of the various men’s movements as deleterious, the usual formulation of the ad hominem attack being “backlash against women’s rights.” However, other feminists view them, not as men’s efforts to regress to a period of patriarchal oppression, but as a restoration and an elaboration of a proper order of life in that men’s duties and privileges regarding treatment of women, respect for them when they are the mothers of their children, and respect for the unborn children whom they helped to procreate are enhanced.
While I do not mean “patriarchy,” I do mean “paternity,” the natural result of a proper view of sexuality which men have lost. The literary evidence is astounding in its depiction of fathers who are meant to be despised by readers. British fiction may have its wonderfully content fathers or father figures satisfied to raise either their own families or those of others. One thinks of fathers like Nicholas Nickleby and that, “As time crept on, […] there came gradually about him a group of lovely children” (Dickens 932). One also thinks of father figures like Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, eager to assist his nephew Fred now that he has reconciled himself to the world’s delight over Christmas, or of Pickwick who becomes godfather to the children of the men who accompanied him on his travels (Dickens 817).
How do major works in American literature depict fathers? John W. Lynch could easily apply the words “It was his life to be for Him / A father” (150) to St. Joseph, and the referent for the capitalized pronoun in the line of verse is Christ, but American literature is filled with examples of irresponsible, uncaring fathers who never seem to raise their eyes heavenward. Proceeding chronologically, we have the following. Lena’s statement in Willa Cather’s My Antonia (1918) that men, once married, become “cranky old fathers” (291) is relatively innocuous and may have elicited a chuckle from the reading audience at the time, but the literary evidence against fathers accumulates quickly. Hugh McVey, the main character in Sherwood Anderson’s Poor White (1920), at age ten searched for work like his drunken father. Later in the novel it is explained that a mother had a child expressly to satisfy a father’s need “to do vulgar things” (299-300). Clyde Griffiths’ father in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy is a failure financially. Clyde’s unmarried sister Esta is abandoned by the father of her child. The father in Jack Conroy’s The Disinherited: a Novel of the 1930s (1933) is a fallen-away priest. John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy presents several dismal portraits of fathers. In The 42nd Parallel, the first volume of the trilogy, several characters either exemplify negative portrayals of fathers or illustrate negative father influences. Mac abandons his pregnant girlfriend Maisie to avoid marriage, which he calls “selling out” (91). Janey is raised in a racist and abusive home where her brother Joe is beaten by her father. Charley Anderson’s father abandoned the family when he was born. For some unknown reason, Eleanor Stoddard wanted to avoid her father and is fearful of men. In Nineteen-Nineteen, the second volume of the trilogy, Richard Ellsworth Savage’s father abandoned the family.
Connie abandons the pregnant Rose of Sharon in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Although I am primarily concerned with fiction, the stature of the following drama is such that its abortion subplot must be mentioned here. When faced with his wife’s untimely pregnancy, Little Walter in Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 drama A Raisin in the Sun walks out of the apartment when he is challenged by his mother to be a man like his father, Big Walter. An explicit envy and hatred of a father motivates characters in James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963); another father in the novel had committed suicide, and even a stepfather’s power is despised. The father of the abortionist Wilbur Larch in Irving’s The Cider House Rules brings his son to a whore so that he could experience life. When he contracts venereal disease from the whore, Larch vows to abstain from sex permanently. Larch’s negative view about sex helps to determine not only his later career as an abortionist but also his relationship with the orphan Homer Wells, whom he treats as a son. Larch increases his ether addiction when he thinks he is becoming fatherly. The affection tortures Homer as well: Homer cries when he receives “his first fatherly kisses” from Larch (135). A character with the repetitive name of Rose Rose reveals wounds from her father’s beating; Rose Rose purposefully tries to fall off a bicycle to try to miscarry (she’s pregnant a second time by her father). Another father in Irving’s novel commits incest with his daughter.
Minor fiction continues the sorry depiction of fathers, especially when the father is involved in encouraging or procuring an abortion. Jack, whose girlfriend undergoes an abortion in one of Eugene O’Neill’s “lost plays” dating from 1914, retorts that his father was not a “St. Anthony” (154), a reference to the chastity of the saint accosted by visions of women in the desert. Allison MacKenzie, a main character in Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place (1956), is a fatherless child, but she learns that her real father was married and that she was illegitimate. Selena Cross, her friend, is raped by her father (it is Selena’s abortion that controls the ethical commentary of the second half of Peyton Place). At first, the father in Jeannette Eyerly’s Bonnie Jo, Go Home (1972) refuses to cooperate in his daughter’s abortion. By novel’s end, though, the father secures a notarized letter so that his teenaged daughter can abort. Jack Broderick, the main character in John Gregory Dunne’s The Red White and Blue (1987), describes his father as “an elderly vegetable, a boiled potato” (36). Jack’s father will later impregnate his wife, who will abort the child. The father in Kimberly M. Ballard’s Light at Summer’s End (1991) wanted his daughter aborted. The severe emotional and psychological consequences of a young woman’s abortion evidenced throughout Johnny Payne’s Kentuckiana (1997) can be attributed to a father’s secret action involving “Talia’s abortion, which her father had paid for at Talia’s request without her mother’s knowledge” (43). A young woman on trial for murdering her child in Baby’s Breath (2000) by Lynne Hugo and Anna Tuttle Villegas testifies that the baby’s father wanted her to abort. Cyd in Rachel Cohn’s Gingerbread (2002) requests money from her biological father for an abortion.
If he depended on literature to guide his moral values, then, given such illustrations, why would any young man want to be a father?
Fortunately, the reality is different. Perhaps the literary history of men concerned with abortion and fatherhood purposely highlights the negative so that we can learn how not to act as men in the world. Thus, twentieth-century American literature on abortion functions as negation, a form of definition in which an author explains what something is not instead of what it is. After all, unlike Irving’s abortionist, men still have sex, enjoy it, and thus chemically bond with the women with whom they have sex. If the sexual act results in a child, many men still rejoice that they are fathers. Although it is derided as patriarchal, if not patronizing to women, many men still do worry about providing for their families and paying the bills. They work hard, often six days a week, perhaps at two jobs, for the express purpose of being the patriarchal provider. For these men who work hard for their families, the work becomes a joy–an attribute lost in the contemporary world.
If twentieth-century abortion literature illustrates a negational perspective on manhood and fatherhood, then where does one find an operational (and thus positive) definition of being a man or a father? A purely secular perspective as illustrated in these novels does not enumerate characteristics for purely secular men to follow. In contrast, the theological grounding for men involved in abortion is much stronger because it has a history in the Western world spanning five millennia and crossing two major religious traditions, Judaism and Christianity. As I see it, men have little to gain from continued adherence to a view of sexuality and fatherhood exemplified by the docile, defeated men in twentieth-century abortion literature. American men must turn to their own common sense view of fidelity to themselves, to their women, and to their unborn children to write positive works illustrating their masculinity and their fatherhood.
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 While I do not intend to handle short stories in this paper (the exception being Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” which is a canonical abortion work), an interesting example in short fiction of the range of emotions that a father can feel is illustrated in Kathleen Spivack’s “The Sacrifice” (anthologized in 1994). Peter, a married man, at first reflects the joy that Nancy, his lover, feels when she learns that she is pregnant. Within a few pages, however, he responds that she should “work it out any way you want” and that “I just don’t want to know about it” (164-6). Similarly, although he expresses affection for a child he may have fathered in his Down These Mean Streets (1967), Piri Thomas’ work is biographical and falls out of the realm of this study.
 Brautigan’s narrative strategy can be documented in two recent examples. In both of these novels the abortion would not occur unless three characters are present: the pregnant woman to be aborted, a willing accomplice, and an “agent of transportation.” Weaver Walquist, Kim Lundgren, and Ricky Lundgren (Kim’s brother) in Walter Kirn’s She Needed Me (1992) parallel the Librarian, Vida, and Foster in Brautigan’s novel respectively. Lorrie Moore’s Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? (1995) also mimics this trinity of characters. Sils is the fifteen‑year‑old to be aborted, Berie is her friend who steals money for her to obtain the abortion (both of whom conceal their plans from the father of the child), and Humphrey is the cab driver who transports the mother across state lines so that the abortion can be performed.
 Besides these canonical works, I have considered ethical considerations of minor fiction concerned with abortion in An Ethical Analysis of the Portrayal of Abortion, published by The Edwin Mellen Press in 2005.
 A father faced with an untimely pregnancy whose paternal instinct develops to the point where he loves his unborn child can be found, not in an American novel, but a British one. George Orwell’s Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936) is primarily a novel criticizing the advertising bent of capitalism of his day. Whatever political critique the novel has is intertwined with the romance between Gordon Comstock and Rosemary Waterlow. Rosemary becomes pregnant, but considers having an abortion to solve the difficult economic circumstances in which the young couple find themselves. This possibility leads to a significant change in Gordon’s character. Gordon would prefer to follow his own desires, but “there was the baby to think about” (283). Immediately on hearing that he is a father, Gordon does peculiar things. He investigates what an unborn child looks like by studying depictions of the fetus in obstetrics books. The illustrations of unborn babies shock him: the pictures are ugly. However, Gordon does not use the ugliness of the fetological development as an argument against the humanity of the unborn child. Instead, Orwell writes that “their ugliness made them more credible and therefore more moving” (286).
 I discuss these passages and the lack of effective counterarguments in greater detail in Ethical Analysis of the Portrayal of Abortion in American Fiction.
 While it can be conjectured that the two men perhaps engage in sex, the ending of the scene (Mike’s resting his head on his friend’s chest) does not support this possibility, especially since the rest of the film contains scenes where men are more sexually explicit.
 Aristotle’s commentary on perverse pleasures (which illustrates how the ancient world’s view of sexuality diverges from our own) can challenge not only the rhetorical, but also the political impact of the film even more, especially if that intent is to equate homosexual and heterosexual eroticism. Aristotle writes in his Ethics (VII, v.):
Some things are naturally pleasant, and of these (a) some are pleasant absolutely and (b) others pleasant only to certain kinds of men and animals. But there are other things that are not naturally pleasant but become so, either (a) through injury or (b) through habit or (c) through congenital depravity. Now corresponding to each of these types of unnatural pleasures we can observe abnormal states of character. […] These states are brutish, but others result from disease […] and there are other morbid states that are the result of habit, like pulling out hairs and nail-biting, or eating coal and earth, and male homosexuality; because although these come naturally to some people, others acquire them from habit, e.g. those who have been victimized since childhood. (237-8)
 One of the most insightful comments I have read about how some have misapplied the term “patriarchy” vis-a-vis abortion comes from the work of Ben Voth:
Abortion is a reproductive technology that facilitates the female body as a means of sexual service for men [….] In practice, abortions are often sought at the behest of male counterparts who do not want the looming responsibility of fatherhood or financial obligation that may come with the birth of a child [….] Such pressures are intimately associated with the notions of “patriarchy” that are assailed by many an abortion rights activist. (179)
 While I intend to cover fiction, it is interesting that the idea of fatherhood itself came under intellectual scrutiny at the beginning of the twentieth century. For George E. Dawson, writing in The Right of the Child to Be Well Born (1912), the question for man should not be if the unborn child deserves life, but if the man has the right to be a father (144).
 A recent minor work of fiction may present a positive image of fathers involved in abortion. Maggie in Tsipi Keller’s Jackpot (2004) suffers severe father loss; she gets sentimental on at least two occasions seeing fathers either embrace or accompany their daughters, even though she had been assaulted by a friend’s father. Her reaction to a televangelist’s exhortation on abortion is telling. Did Maggie have an abortion and is the sentimentality towards fathers that permeates the novel evidence of–finally–a father willing to care for his daughter instead of merely cooperating in helping her to obtain one? Unfortunately, the novel does not clarify this possibility.