The story I’m choosing to blog about this week is Octavia Butler’s “The Evening and the Morning and the Night.” There’s so much here to talk about! (Also I just love this story on a non-academic level, so this response is probably going to be a bit less intellectual than I usually try to be.) One of the most intriguing concepts that Butler highlights in this short story, for me, is the notion of how we define, cope with, and treat illness. Since one of the alternative treatments for DGD is “a pheromone. A scent. And it’s sex-linked,” Butler’s narrative retains the sense of illness and disease as a genetic physical event (61). Lynn’s living situation described as, “all of us. A group of DGDs. We all live together. We’re all controlled […] It’s probably the quietest house full of kids that anyone’s ever seen,” begins to reveal the alternative definition and treatment of illness Butler is playing with. Beatrice points out that the placidity of Lynn’s home is because “You put them at ease […] you leave your scent around the house. You speak to them individually. Without knowing why, they no doubt find that very comforting” (63). Beatrice’s comment makes room for both biological and psychosomatic perceptions of disease. Lynn’s comfort is partly physiological (her scent). But she also creates an environment that reiterates and affirms individual identity (perhaps one of the paradoxical elements of Western ‘humanity’). Lynn talks to them “individually.” Her engagement with them recognizes that they are members of a community (part of Western notions of ‘humanity,’ look at Butler’s Parable of the Sower, for example). While recognizing that membership, Lynn also emphasizes their individuality (something supposedly so important to Western self-conceptions). So in these ways Butler is playing with how illness can be handled while retaining traditional notions of illness.
If part of Butler’s portrayal of illness and treatment is social, she plays even more with this concept through her alternative therapeutic methods. Since the result of DGD is self-mutilation, it is important that those coping with it are creating (it also explains why Lynn as an ambitious student has managed to cope so well). Bea explains that to avoid using ‘drugs’ (although the pheromone as a drug is debatable) residents “create. They don’t destroy” (49). Butler toys with the idea of redirected energy, an oft-used psychological therapeutic method for those possessing anti-social and aggressive disorders. Butler’s narrative continues on to highlight while suppressing the advantages and ‘dark side’ of psychology. Allan’s mother, after meeting Lynn says “You’ll keep him safe […] No one will close him away from himself. No one will tie him or cage him” (59-60). Naomi’s comments are loaded. If community is important to humanity, then those with ‘disorders’ surviving and developing communities are important. However Naomi’s comment seems to advocate such a solution without institutionalization. What exactly are the cages and restraints Naomi refers to? Is she describing the other institutions that ‘treat’ DGDs? Or is she referring to the ways that Bea controls her in her institutionalized setting (because it seems that Naomi is ok with Lynn because she will be Allan’s wife)? How much of DGD is a physical disorder? How much is psychological? How is humanity tied to power in this story and what are the consequences of such associations? Why is the pheromone sex-linked (are pheromones usually only emitted by one gender)? There’s so much more to be said about this short story. Butler introduces complex relations of biology, psychology, humanity, and society in this short piece…and manages to leave them largely unresolved for the reader to ponder.