Literary treatment Stem cell research

reflections on a short story by Joyce Carol Oates

Courtesy of Frank Zapatka (Emeritus Professor at American U), here are some reflections on a short story by Joyce Carol Oates.

Joyce Carol Oates, non-practicing Catholic, self-professed atheist, friend of fellow Princeton faculty member Peter Singer, prolific fiction and non-fiction writer and a 2010 National Humanities medalist, published in 2009 a short story collection titled Dear Husband (Harper Collins).  In one of its stories, “The Glazers,” there are several prominent references to embryonic stem cell research and cloning found in the story’s background.  

The fatuous, wealthy father of the single parent, significantly dysfunctional Glazer family is the “’longtime Republican’… ‘moderate conservative’… ‘Douglas’….‘Doug’” as he wishes to be called (261-262) is “a ‘self-made business success’ whose real interest was in ‘cutting-edge’science: molecular biology, genetics, biomedicine.” He has endowed a chair at Yale (the “‘Glazer Distinguished Professorship”’) as well as “fellowships at the New Horizon Institute for Biological Research” (265). His twenty-one year old son, Glenn, who eventually intends “to study biomedical law”—‘an entirely new field just opening up’” (266), has brought Penelope to his New Jersey home to meet his family. The couple met “in a seminar in bioethics….at a highly competitive Ivy League university” ([260]; 265). The seminar is “taught by a world-renowned professor whose columns appeared frequently on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times (266). In the seminar Glenn engages the professor “in passionate discussions of the ethics of, euthanasia, genetic engineering, cloning” (266). No direct indication of how either stood on these issues is made, however.

Later on the terrace of the “large and impressive…French Normandy”     Glazer home, Doug “expound[s ] on the shortsightedness of the present[GW Bush] administration’s policy regarding stem cell and other ‘cutting edge’ biomedical research (269). Where Doug stands on these issues is clear; moreover, he means to make money on such promising research, as does Glenn and his “twenty-six year old brother, Craig (Harvard College, Yale Law). Craig, “just hired by one of [Doug’s] business associates is already doing so practicing law “dealing with this cutting edge new field—‘synthetic biology….Ever hear of that?’” he asks Penelope (272).

Oates’ principal concern in this story is in the dysfunctional Glazer family and in Penelope’s reaction to them. How the author feels personally about these back-ground issues is not evident in the story. What is evident is that several  Glazer family members are interested in making money in this “cutting edge new field” and the 3rd person narrator through vivid characterization and effective repetition criticizes “their get in on the ground floor ambitions” without preaching.

posted by Richard M.

Richard Myers

Richard S. Myers, the Vice-President of UFL, is Professor of Law at Ave Maria School of Law, where he teaches Antitrust, Civil Procedure, Conflict of Laws, Constitutional Law, and Religious Freedom. He is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Kenyon College and earned his law degree at Notre Dame, where he won the law school's highest academic prize. He began his legal career by clerking for Judge John F. Kilkenny of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Professor Myers also worked for Jones, Day, Reavis & Pogue in Washington, D.C. He taught at Case Western Reserve University School of Law and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law before joining the Ave Maria faculty. He is a co-editor of St. Thomas Aquinas and the Natural Law Tradition: Contemporary Perspectives (Catholic University of American Press, 2004) and a co-editor of Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy (Scarecrow Press, 2007). He has also published extensively on constitutional law in law reviews and also testified before Congressional and state legislative hearings on life issues. Married to Mollie Murphy, who is also on the faculty at Ave Maria School of Law, they are the proud parents of six children - Michael, Patrick, Clare, Kathleen, Matthew, and Andrew.