The most important characters in the short story “The Abortion” by Alice Walker are Imani and Clarence. The other characters mentioned in the text (like Mayor Carswell and Holly Monroe) are either absent characters or have little relevance to the plot and are more important for conveying aspects of the social sett…


Table of contents


Imani is the main character in the story, as the narration only follows her, and most of the story is conveyed using her perspective. Her outer characterization tells us that she is an African-American woman, married to Clarence with whom she has a daughter. Imani had an abortion when she was still in college. Now she is a middle-class educated woman who undergoes a second abortion out of personal choice. Imani also miscarried a baby after her mother’s death and suffers from chronic anemia.

Inner characterization

Imani’s inner characterization focuses on her attitude to abortion, men and her husband, religion, and the situation of African-Americans in the US.

Imani appreciates her husband’s love of God. However, there are also hints that she is not deeply religious: “…she understood perfectly well that once dead, the dead does not exist” ; “Imani had never seen Holly Malone, though there were always photographs of her dominating the pulpit of this church.” 

Furthermore, she undergoes two abortions. The first of these was while she was at college, at a time when the abortion procedure was illegal and unsafe. She was nevertheless relived not to have the child, as she felt a baby would change and ruin her life: “ ‘Thank you,’ she murmured sincerely: she was thanking him for her life.” 

Furthermore, she felt gratefull when she got her first diaphragm (a contraceptive condom for women), suggesting that she likes to be in control of her sexuality and to take responsibility for her own body: “…she had received her very first diaphragm, with utter gratitude and amazement that someone apparently understood and actually cared about young women as alone and ignorant as she.” 

However, when Imani gets pregnant again, seven years later, while also being married and having a daughter, she is more ambivalent towards abortion. On the one hand, having an abortion means that she has some freedom and control over the choices she makes:

“ ‘Another child would kill me. I can’t imagine life with two children.’ ” 

“Still not in control of her sensuality, and only through violence and with money (for the flight, for the operation itself) in control of her body.”;

“ ‘Well,’ she said to this child, ‘it was you or me, Kiddo, and I chose me.’ ”

On the other han…



Clarence is a secondary character in the short story. His outer characterization informs us that he is Imani’s husband and that he is an advisor to the African-American mayor of the town he lives in. He is African-American and the house he and Imani own suggests they belong to the middle class.

Inner characterization

Clarence’s inner characterization is conveyed in relation to Imani and his job.

When he finds out Imani is pregnant again he does not tell her explicitly to abort the child, but his overall attitude implies that he agrees with the idea: “As he praise the child they already had, a daughter of sunny disposition and winning smile, she sensed subterfuge…” 

This suggests that he does not want the responsibility of another child or of the decision regarding the abortion, and that he prefers his job to his role as a father.

His attitude is calmer than tha…

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