The Bitter Reality of Teenage Pregnancy: An Analysis of Meredith Hall's Shunned
Being pregnant at the age of 16 was an experience Meredith will never forget. Being shunned, stigmatized, and disgraced by her family, church, school, and community was the greatest struggle that she had to face at a very young age. As narrated by Meredith Hall in Shunned, the ordeal of being an outcast due to a ‘big mistake’ the society thinks she committed was an experience that gave her the strength to confront life’s difficulties with an open mind and compassion. However, this experience left questions in her mind that until now she is trying to resolve. First is the reason behind the cruel shunning she endured when she got pregnant as a teenager. And second is the reason why her community accepts so many other dark and problematic practices but not her ‘transgression’. This essay tries to answer these two major questions by focusing on the relationship between Meredith and her mother.
It is quite obvious in Hall’s narrative that her ‘transgression’ was used as a scapegoat by Meredith’s mother, Bonnie. Bonnie herself has weaknesses, within her own self and her relationships. She is trying to cover up these weaknesses by portraying an image of her family as happy and decent. As recounted by Meredith:
I felt important there, and loved. I heard every Sunday as we walked into church, “Oh, Bobbie, you have raised such wonderful children.” My mother told us we were special, a family united by the trauma of my
father’s going, and made stronger for it. ...
Meredith looks upon her mother as one of the great pioneers of their church and her mother in turn looks at her as a child of purity and godliness. Meredith has loved going to the Church because of the good treatment she gets from the elders and her friends. Her mother is successful in hiding the fact, both from her and from the community, that her failed marriage has created a wide gap between her and Meredith; a gap that eventually leads to Meredith’s ‘transgression’ and consequent ‘shunning’. It is Meredith who in the end bears the consequences of her mother’s denial. So, what are the reasons why Meredith is shunned in the first place? Is it because she is used as a scapegoat by her own mother or is it because of the moral repercussions of her actions? And, more important, what are the short- and long-term effects of this shunning on Meredith? Meredith is shunned because she violated the long-established values of ‘innocence’ and ‘chastity’, and because her mother uses her as a scapegoat. Meredith’s story takes place in the 1960s, a period where a liberal outlook toward sexuality is not yet fully accepted. Their Church is obviously ruled by elders who views morality as an unforgiving and inflexible principle; a principle that should not be violated and, if someone does so, a heavy punishment is justly deserved. Meredith’s ‘moral transgression’ has been bolstered by her relationship with her mother which has been severely, but successfully concealed, damaged by her father’s decision to abandon their family; Bonnie, whether genuine or not, as a response to this major incident, tries to strengthen her bond with her children. As stated earlier, Bonnie proves to the Church and the community that she has a very strong