Archive | April, 2013

A Woman’s Voice in Butler’s “Speech Sounds”

18 Apr

Octavia Butler is one of the outstanding black feminist writers who write science fiction toward a utopian society. However, Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds” can be read as a depiction of a dystopian or anti-utopian society that represented by misery, violence, and disorder. Butler seems to be criticizing her own society through her depiction of the society in her story that Rye is a woman that has the ability to speak among other people who are not able to communicate with each other because of the illness that Butler describes as pandemic.

A pandemic, as represented in this story, is a disease or a condition that influences the population. Butler describes this disease as, “A new virus, a new pollutant, radiation, divine retribution….The illness was stroke-swift in the way it cut people down and strokelike in some of its effects” (96). This disease affects people’s communication and Butler represents Rye, the protagonist, as a woman who has the ability to speak. It seems that Butler wants to represent Rye’s ability to speak among the others who cannot as a way to emphasize on a dominant woman presence in the society. Without having Rye’s ability to speak, women’s voice may not be heard. Butler also wants to show the reader that language is important to a culture and without communication and human speech the breakdown of the social structure will affect people’s lives as seen in the story.

Butler’s “Speech Sounds” can be read as a feminist work in which only women are able to speak. As a matter of fact, usually people are heard in the society as long as they speak and language is the tool of those who hold the power. It could be argued that Butler is giving Rye a role to hold the power by her ability to speak.  However, she was not able to speak in a society where isolation is prominent theme between people. Butler describes Rye by saying that “Illness had stripped her, killing her children one by one, killing her husband, her sister, her parents” (95). The isolation has accompanied the illness that had unpredictable feelings of frustration, jealousy, and caution of mistrust others.  Therefore, Rye did not speak for several years because if her voice is heard she will be in a threat of being killed.

I believe that Butler as an African American women is criticizing her own society that time in which black women were not able to present their voice in a white male dominant society. It seems that Butler is portraying that African American women were not given the option to hold the power. Therefore, we can see in the story that when Rye identifies that the two children are able to speak she decides to abandon them to protect and teach them. She may not have the power to speak in public, but she has the power to protect the children from the jealousy and violation in that society.



18 Apr

At first I was sure that I’ll write my response on Reeve’s article, but I couldn’t resist myself writing on Bloodchild after reading it, so I apologize for that. Like many of Butler’s stories the first theme that stands out is the reversal of gender roles. This is clearly evident through T’Gatoi’s character- Tlic- and how she is depicted as a strong and powerful female character. While, the human Gan on the other hand, is inferior to T’Gatoi. But there are tons of novels that address the same theme of reversing gender roles.

Having said that, Butler’s story, I believe, is unique in two aspects in terms of gender roles. The first is that Butler wasn’t content about the idea of reversing gender roles without complicating them, and portraying them differently. I am referring to the fact that males are the ones who should deal with pregnancy. Butler didn’t just stop at this, she wanted to picture males while giving birth, and give thorough details on how such a procedure is performed. It is debatable whether this portrayal is considered to be unconventional or not. Nonetheless, this innovative technique on the reversal of sex roles has an immense effect. Butler wanted to create a drama by making males go through pregnancy, labor, and finally delivery. She wanted males to experience the agony that females go through while giving birth. Also to feel the sacrifice that women make when they decide to bear a child. In other words, Butler wanted to remind men of the dilemma and difficulties that women experience when they decided to bear a child inside of them. The scene where the male Terran gives birth can raise the awareness of gender equality by remembering that women in our world do sacrifice themselves for the better of the society.

The other important aspect that I would like to mention is the fact that the Tlic, even though they are superior to humans in the novel, they are still dependent on them and cannot live without the Terran. They cannot reproduce without the help of humans. Butler wanted to demonstrate that this is exactly true in the world that we line in. But with one major difference. Which is that the Tlic appreciate the sacrifice that humans are doing to them, while in real life this isn’t the case. In our male-dominated societies it seems that they assume bearing a child is one of requirements that women should perform. Men are dependent on women, not just in reproduction, but they don’t appreciate this nor admitting it. Butler is implicitly attacking men for their role in not appreciating their dependence on women. To sum up, I appreciate Butler’s strategy, through using male pregnancy in raising the issue of gender equality. She cleverly used pregnancy in questioning how men believe that they are independent. But also I believe that it is wrong to think that men are only dependent on women for reproduction, it only can serve as reminder that men wouldn’t survive alone.

Link to Brandon’s Post

18 Apr


Steve’s Post for Class

18 Apr

Steve’s Post for Class

Follow the link to see Steve’s somewhat confusing, but always entertaining, stream-of-consciousness blog about Anne McCaffrey’s “The Ship Who Sang”

“Bloodchild,” the Pregnant Man Story

18 Apr

“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler made me very uncomfortable on the first read, and I immediately started it over again to try to find exactly what it was that made me feel a little sick. Yes, the scene where Lomas is split open to remove the grubs was very unsettling, but not any more so than the final scene when Gan agrees to implantation. It was not exactly coercion but acceptance of an inevitable fate that seemed to me just as disturbing. Reading through Butler’s afterward, I couldn’t help thinking more about how she considers this her “pregnant man story.” By making pregnancy and childbirth a foreign or literally “alien” experience, Butler has defamiliarized the readers with feelings and actions that should seem natural to us. A human fetus requires a host body for nourishment for a gestation period before it must be removed or expelled naturally. The surgical procedure done to Lomas is actually similar to a Caesarean birth. The acquiescence of Gan at the end of the short story to become a host despite having witnessed a painful and horrifying birth is possibly similar to many women’s acceptance of the risks of childbirth. Even the idea of having seen an N’Tlic operation performed as a psychologically scarring experience is similar to that of witnessing childbirth up close.

There are, of course, some problems with this reading of “Bloodchild.” Unlike a human fetus, the grubs will devour the human host if they are not extracted, so the risks are definitely greater for Gan. The relations between the Tlic and the Terrans are very different from the male-female relations in our own world. Or are they that different? The Tlic (men) are dependent on Terrans (women) to play host to their children, they have a history of violent and possessive attitudes towards the Terrans, and they have integrated into families (like a nuclear family). In the afterward Butler denies that this story is about slavery, but the power structure is apparent. There is a definite subjection of the Terrans to the Tlic, and interestingly more specific to males than females because the females are needed to reproduce their own young. What Butler calls “accommodations” made to human social practices disrupt the usual power structure of male-female humans. The playing field is somewhat equalized as both sexes take on risks of childbirth and diminished physical strength compared to their counterpart to prevent an unwanted implantation.

Though this seems to be a feminist move on Butler’s part to grapple with her pregnant man story, Gan ultimately agrees to become a host in order to protect and save his sister from the risks and pain. Unfortunately the male comes to the rescue in the end. Perhaps it’s Gan’s male perspective that shapes his martyr-like behavior because as T’Gatoi says, “It will be easier for Hoa. She has always expected to carry other lives inside her” (26). His understanding only allows for the implantation to be viewed as a violence. I’m afraid I’ve written myself into a circle here or very unintentionally argued against the reading of the story that I started with. I might actually have more questions about this story than I have answers!

Round and Round the Tiptree

16 Apr

As an aside, I have to begin by commenting on the narrative presence in “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” particularly as it surfaces in a frame at the beginning and end.  The reader is addressed directly, though not terribly respectfully, by an omniscient, editorializing source.  While the omniscience is demonstrated within the story, it seems to be, in fact, boundless, stretching back into the actual real past, the time at which it was published by Tiptree.  This uncomfortable breach at beginning and end makes of the central part, where the story unfolds, a kind of place of respite from the aggressive narrator, when the focus is not on us, but on Delphi.  However, the authority expressed by that presence helps to reinforce the metaphor of the frame as an actual temporal device, since the story (and the sharp-faced lad) is displaced from the future to our present, each presumably with a purpose.

What I like about “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” is that it is a story from the past about the future which draws upon a story from the past about the future, making itself something of a time capsule, if not a time machine.  It wasn’t until after I had finished it and was contemplating it that it occurred to me that the plot wherein the son of the oligarchy meets an alluring simulacrum, with problematic outcome, was awfully familiar. Then, I remembered Metropolis (even as a zombie, I have my moments, now and again), and realized that the outcome in Tiptree’s version might be taken as a retelling of that classic.  The differences in outcome are notable for several reasons.  In Metropolis, Lang concludes with a reconciliation between the brains (elite management) and the hands (the proletariat) facilitated by the heart, who turns out to be Freder, the son of the top manager.  In retrospect, this is entirely odd, since Maria (the female lead / Robot) has clearly been indicated as filling that emotional position.  In the end, her work turns out to be only in inspiring her male counterpart to act, a function which she verbally encourages without daring to do so, herself.  In “The Girl Who Was Plugged In,” Paul is in what may be a similar situation at the close, not able to immediately reform the world, but shaped by his experience with Delphi towards a determination to work at doing so.  The difference is that in Lang’s film, Maria is standing right there, moving Freder to do something which he, apparently would not have thought to do without her, raising the question of the extent of her own agency, which seems to travel no further than this one man, when previously in the film, it is shown swaying the masses.  Delphi, at least, is excused from action by her death.  However, that leaves the function of her life and her part in the story just the same as Maria, as a motivator for a single man when, in fact, she too has been demonstrated to move millions of consumers.

Before I go on about that for an indefinite period, I also wanted to toss in the second difference between these parallel scenarios, which backgrounds the struggle for reform in each.  In Metropolis, despite the mechanization and Taylorization of the depicted future, there does not seem to be a class of science-technicians, but rather, one single, scientist who is ultimately responsible, the deranged Rotwang.  The corporate world of GTX, however, is literally crawling with layers and layers of specialists, who are empowered to the extent that they may, apparently, randomly eliminate other corporate entities that annoy them, like the sharp-faced lad, with impunity.  Clearly, it is easy with Rotwang out of the way for a reconciliation to occur within Metropolis, a choice which is not available to Paul, facing a bureaucracy filled with Rotwangs, as well as an undescribed, shadowy political entity which exists separate from the corporation, but still regulates it.

Ok.. too much to say here, but I still wanted to toss in a last reference, too, to the specific allusion Tiptree makes to yet another story from the past about the future.  The narrator refers to us all as “zombies,” and while that has a certain horror connotation, in SF, it means for me Heinlein’s “All You Zombies,” from 1959.  I will just say that it cements both the time-travel metaphor and the social commentary that Tiptree must imply of the way in which we are all implicated as remotes by our media involvement.

Literal Science Fiction and “The Morning and The Evening and The Night”

15 Apr

            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.