Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts


Brooke Dougherty 

A History of Infanticide

The Search for a Powerful New Identity in Heather Gudenkauf’s Novels

Chinese and European government decisions, over-population, and poverty caused parents to neglect, abandon, and sometimes even kill their children. Infanticide, killing a baby, or unwanted children, was prevalent in Europe and Asia. Records of infanticide date back to Chinese antiquity. The first case of infanticide appeared in the Chinese Book of Odes from 1000 BC to 600 BC. The book reflected the roles of males and females and what they would provide to their families. Many in Chinese society at this time looked down on females as unproductive, while they valued males. They practiced female infanticide, the intentional killing of baby girls. This also occurred in many countries where women suffered low status. Although infanticide was widespread in China, it also occurred in ancient Greece, Rome, India, and Japan. Infanticide was common in Europe and produced controversy. Infanticide became a compelling issue in Communist China around 1983, when the Communist Party created the one/two-child policy. The Chinese Communist Party’s goal included alleviating the population by making infanticide part of China’s birth-control program.

In Heather Gudenkauf’s These Things Hidden, infanticide plays an important role as the main character Allison is sent to jail for murdering her newborn children. Gudenkauf is a contemporary novelist whose works examine young female protagonists’ coming of age and the impact of powerlessness on the individual's identity. Brynn, one of the main characters of These Things Hidden, finds herself powerless as she struggles with her identity and becomes involved in her sister Allison’s violent past. Following Allison’s arrest, Brynn moves in with her grandmother so she can escape from her family’s dark history in Linden Falls. However, her attempt to leave her past behind proves unsuccessful for Brynn because everyone continues to dwell on Allison’s horrific actions. Throughout her work, Gudenkauf examines the past, present, and future, illustrating to readers how individuals’ weak sense of self leads them to feel belittled by the rest of society.

Major Works Consulted:

Anderson, Bonnie S., and Judith P. Zinsser. A History of Their Own: Women in Europe from Prehistory to the Present. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.
Gudenkauf, Heather. These Things Happen. . Chatswood: MIRA, 2012. ---. The Weight of Silence. . Don Mills, Ontario: MIRA, 2009.
Mungello, David E. Drowning Girls in China: Female Infanticide in China since 1650. . Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.
Photo Credit: "Heather Gudenkauf - Google Search." Heather Gudenkauf - Google Search. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.