Shori’s Cave and the Sixth Sense

In light of our class discussion about bringing people together and how a power disparity can complicate the process I found myself drawn to Butler’s motif involving memory and lack of memory. Specifically how memory (or lack of memory) of someone’s own culture can add or diminish their power within a larger society (by this I mean a set of different cultures existing in the same space).

In Fledgling, Butler treats memory as a sort of sixth sense, explaining and reiterating that the Ina people have a heightened memory. Understanding that Shori lacks this sixth sense that everyone in Fledgling has, people and Ina alike, helps us understand that she is still trapped in Plato’s cave, the allusion with which Butler opens her novel. Even though Shori regains her sight like the person in Plato’s allegory who escapes his imprisonment, she never truly regains her memory and as a result remains in an infantile state, never achieving the journey into intellect that Plato describes.

However Shori’s failed journey into intellect does not merely pertain to Plato’s forms, instead Butler wants us to understand that Shiori’s lack of intellect is more accurately stated as her lack of cultural intellect. In a 2003 interview with Daniel Burton Butler explains, “If Shori did not have amnesia she would probably have more in common with the people who raised her than with, say, just an ordinary African-American. But because she has the amnesia, she doesn’t have that much in common with anybody.” Shori in fact exists in a middle space between human and Ina, a culturally ignorant space that suggests she has yet to see the light, to use the Platonic metaphor.

Later Butler depicts how terrible Shori’s cultural ignorance truly is, as we find out that the Ina people do not punish their people with imprisonment, instead they either execute them or, more integral to the point, excommunicate them from the culture. Understanding the Ina culture’s view on isolation helps us to fully understand the tragedy of Shori’s isolation in the middle space of cultural. She exists in a space reserved for the most contemptible people of her culture, those like the Silk family, who at this point in the reading are assumed to be her family’s murderers. The fact that Shiori is aware of her own memory loss and constantly sees the disparity between her own memory and the memory of her people who live and remember hundreds of years is a sort of imprisonment, both in the sense of the Ina form of punishment and again like the people chained to the wall of Plato’s cave.

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