Drama Review – Abortion by Eugene O’Neill

Quite possibly, the most traumatic choice a person can face in life is the decision to have an abortion. The repercussions can haunt a person for the remainder of one’s life. Who better to write a fictional account of a topic this horrible than Eugene O’Neill? In 1914, he did just that. As only O’Neill could, he presented a dramatic work that unified both the carefree nature of youth along with the harsh reality of the consequences of it.

This is an interesting review for me. I thought the characters one dimensional and stereotypical. Yet, I still enjoyed the play. It took a high level of skill from the dramatist to manage this feat. The fact I read the piece in only twenty minutes may have helped in this regard, as well.

The drama centered on Jack Townsend, a popular college athlete with a great life ahead of him. I thought O’Neill’s choice of conflict creative. Instead of resorting to the trite “he’s got a great future and gets a girl pregnant,” the tale dealt with events that transpired after the event and following Jack’s response to the unexpected pregnancy. I give O’Neill credit for not resorting to a banal story arc.

The overall narrative reminded me a bit of Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy. In Dreiser’s story, a man with the opportunity to move up in society by marrying a wealthy woman impregnates a poor girl with whom he worked.  Abortion pre-dated it by eleven years. Jack longed to marry the more sophisticated Evelyn, but the after effects of his affair with a secretary interfered. I won’t spoil the rest of the story for those who wish to read it or see it performed.

I really liked the choice of Jack as a protagonist. I thought O’Neill’s decision to make him a college athlete outstanding. Attending college is widely held in high regard. In addition, we live in a society that glorifies sports people. Interestingly, though, it’s difficult to consult the news without seeing a story about one who’s behaving badly. O’Neill wrote Abortion one hundred years ago! It amazed me to read about the same kind of mentality in American life. Not surprising, after the major tragic event of the play, the students sang “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” to Jack.

On a personal level, I consider myself pro-life. I do not believe it’s right to terminate a pregnancy through abortion. That’s what I think. What I know is that I don’t have the right to force my views on others. There are some issues that are best left between a person and his/her conscience and/or his/her god. I find it troubling that in a nation where SCOTUS has ruled that abortion is legal under the Constitution, many states have resorted to bizarre contortions of zoning laws to make it illegal in everything but name. O’Neill’s tragedy about back-alley abortion clinics and the ruined lives that result from them provided a much sadder commentary on our own time than his.

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