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Pro-Life and Pro-Choice

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By choosing to write about an America that exists after a second civil war has been fought between pro-life and pro-choice movements, Shusterman at first seems to be tackling this question head on. In contemporary America, the pro-life movement argues that life begins at conception and that abortion should be illegal. The pro-choice movement feels that by outlawing abortion the state controls what women can do with their bodies. They believe women should have the right to choose what they do with their bodies. However, Shusterman does not take a definitive stance on the controversy and two of the final lines of the novel are declared by Connor: “We have a right to our lives....We have a right to choose what happens to our bodies....We deserve to live in a world where both those things are possible.” Readers looking for a definitive answer on the pro-choice/pro-life debate are left wondering what to do with this ambiguous ending.

For many of the characters in the novel, it is important to consider whether biological living is a sufficient definition of what life means. If so, then unwinding is not murder because the body will continue to live on in its divided state. However, most unwinds oppose the idea of being unwound because their consciousness will not survive. Is consciousness the definitive element that makes up life? If so, then removing consciousness from a biologically alive being by unwinding it could be classified as murder. However at what point does this consciousness begin?

Christians in the novel are less concerned with consciousness than they are with the soul. Is the soul created at conception? Is it brought into being at birth? One unwind posits that people do not have souls until they are loved. Still another theory is that because God is capable of seeing the future, children that are going to be unwound are not given souls.

These questions are complex, and some characters argue that everyone should grapple with them, though they should be prepared to tolerate dissenting opinions. Hayden, the most philosophical thinker among the unwinds at the Graveyard, ultimately admits that he is unable to answer these questions of consciousness and the soul, to which Connor responds that if everyone admitted this there might not have been a war. Connor realizes that no one is able to definitely answer these questions, which suggests that Shusterman is encouraging tolerance and communication between the pro-life and pro-choice movements. Although pro-life and pro-choice seem to be irrevocably at odds with each other, Shusterman calls for reconciliation.

This view is reinforced at the end of the novel. When Conner loses his arm in the clapper bombing at Happy Jack Harvest Camp, it is replaced with an unwound arm without his consent. He quickly realizes that this arm once belonged to his enemy, Roland, and initially tells Risa that he will never touch her with Roland’s hand. However, together they decide that, regardless of the arm's original owner, it is now a part of Connor. In other words, two opposing forces are reconciled in one identity.

Forgiveness and Compassion

Many of the characters in Unwind seek second chances, redemption, and forgiveness. Throughout the novel, people make mistakes. As one of the original backers of unwinding, Admiral Dunfee received a great deal of pressure to have his delinquent son unwound. The admiral gave in only to realize that he had made an irreversible mistake. To atone for this mistake, the Admiral runs the Graveyard to free other unwinds. Although some mistakes cannot be changed, Shusterman suggests that the people who make mistakes can change. In other words, redemption is possible.

An impulsive teenager, Connor frequently makes mistakes. By choosing to have him unwound, Connor’s parents have refused to forgive him for his failure to think before he acts. Yet by the end of the...

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