Abortion in the American Imagination

Abortion in the American Imagination

Before Life and Choice, 1880-1940

eBook - 2014
Rate this:
"Abortion is one of the most contentious issues in contemporary American politics, yet since Roe v. Wade the terms of the debate have remained fairly static. The early decades of the twentieth century, however, saw the emergence of a new rhetoric surrounding abortion and a proliferation of novels, short stories, plays, and films that dealt with the issue. Canonized writers like William Faulkner, Langston Hughes, and Edith Wharton, as well as many now forgotten popular writers, incorporated the possibility of abortion in their plots. Newspapers printed stories of abortion scandals, Hollywood obsessed over whether abortion should be represented in film, and abortion occupied the minds of clergy, doctors, and journalists. What had been spoken of only in euphemisms became the focus of a heated and often sensationalized debate, but the terms of that debate were still unstable. This book uses a wide archive of writings to explain the development of abortion rhetoric in the United States at the turn of the twentieth century, a period that crucially shaped the way we discuss the issue today. The book argues that as discussions about abortion entered the public sphere they became entangled with liberal American ideals of individuality, autonomy, and self-responsibility. By tracing how anti-abortion rhetoric was used to demarcate the contours of the American citizen, the author constructs a genealogy of abortion rhetoric in America"-- Provided by publisher.
"The public debate on abortion stretches back much further than Roe v. Wade, to long before the terms "pro-choice" and "pro-life" were ever invented. Yet the ways Americans discussed abortion in the early decades of the twentieth century had little in common with our now-entrenched debates about personal responsibility and individual autonomy. Abortion in the American Imagination returns to the moment when American writers first dared to broach the controversial subject of abortion. What was once a topic avoided by polite society, only discussed in vague euphemisms behind closed doors, suddenly became open to vigorous public debate as it was represented everywhere from sensationalistic melodramas to treatises on social reform. Literary scholar and cultural historian Karen Weingarten shows how these discussions were remarkably fluid and far-ranging, touching upon issues of eugenics, economics, race, and gender roles. Weingarten traces the discourses on abortion across a wide array of media, putting fiction by canonical writers like William Faulkner, Edith Wharton, and Langston Hughes into conversation with the era's films, newspaper articles, and activist rhetoric. By doing so, she exposes not only the ways that public perceptions of abortion changed over the course of the twentieth century, but also the ways in which these abortion debates shaped our very sense of what it means to be an American."-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New Brunswick, New Jersey ; London : Rutgers University Press, [2014]
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780813565392
Characteristics: 1 online resource (xi, 188 pages) : illustrations.
Additional Contributors: American Literatures Initiative


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment

There are no comments for this title yet.

Age Suitability

Add Age Suitability

There are no age suitabilities for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further


Subject Headings


Find it at APL

To Top