Butler Bites

“It amazes me that some people have seen “Bloodchild” as a story of slavery. It isn’t” asserted Octavia Butler in the Afterword of her short story “Bloodchild.” This knowledge of her assertion is what I brought into my readings of fledgling. Consequently too, from the time I read her Afterword, I was enchanted by the information. Butler had begun to have control over my mind. By making that assertion, she influenced my subsequent readings of her work. As I recalled my first English class here at SUNY Geneseo, the English Professor had mentioned many times throughout the semester that objective reading is difficult. How can it be possible for us to objectively read a particular work/ text without bringing outside influences, our own experiences, or subjective beliefs? It’s fascinating, because while Butler wants people to believe that her work is not about slavery or race, she inadvertently forces us to be subjective about her work, making us believe that it is about race. She does this by using elements that reflect something about race or slavery, forcing us to see it that way. I wonder whether or not I should be thankful for that Afterword and other explanations she as stated to help readers’ understanding of her work. Readers, as she claims, countless times do see her work as such (about race/slavery), and it is not irrational to understand why they do.

In fledgling, Butler, as if to explicitly force us to refuse to think about race/slavery when there is evidence of it presented, writes “Dirty little nigger bitch,” said by Victor Colon, one of the killers sent to eradicate Shori, (173). I mean, seriously, ‘are you playing with my mind, Butler? How can this not be about race or slavery?’ I mean, really, there are these more powerful beings than humans called Ina, and they control the humans with no effort; even to take their identity and life from them and calling them “your symbionts” and “my symbionts.” And yes, just like in her Afterword, she would probably tell me that her work simply isn’t about race/slavery. Seems like she has compelled me, and other readers to question our thoughts in an unending loop. There were other instances wherein characters use similar derogatory terms referring to Shori, one of the few, or two, African American Ina(s) in the story. The way we view the world, others, and our construction of knowledge is possibly why I believe people could continually claim that her work is about race/slavery despite her counter-argument. I believe so because when I was back home in Jamaica, growing up, we never looked at each other as if we were more privileged than the other, and I can only speak for myself. I do believe that those who I interacted with then, never looked at me as superior or inferior. I never felt that way. Whether you were Asian, African, or American, white, black, or in-between, or wherever you were from, whatever ethnicity you were, you were one of us. The Jamaican motto is “Out of Many, One people.” Kids used to be in school back then, and we were just friends of the same kind. In America, things are different.

Now, The fact that I brought this knowledge of Butler’s work “not being about race/slavery,” and seeing it as such when I do not want to, makes me, in some ways, like the symbionts. “I don’t want” to see it as a story about race/slavery, but with what I know, it is as if “I can’t help it.” Butler is like an Ina, and she is Shori. We, the readers, who have read similar works like Bloodchild, are the symbionts. Said similar works are the bites, and the venom is the information, which compels us to read her work in a particular way that we may not want to. On top of it, we question why we read it in such ways, as if to ask “why am I with an Ina when I really don’t want to be,” like how Wright felt being with a seemingly ten or eleven year old girl. We “can’t help it” but to bring subjectivity, particularly the subjectivity as a result of Butler’s words and works, into subsequent readings, because like the symbionts’ inability to leave their Ina, we have an inability to read her work without the venom she has placed within us.

One thought on “Butler Bites

  1. I definitely agree with your point one could interpret Fledging as a slave narrative. Within Fledging you see of how Shori is slowly rebuilding her life, and finding her memories. This could be seen as Shori looking at the past in order to rebuild her sense of self. One could interpret this as Butler using the concept of Sankofa. Sankofa is described as “looking to the past to understand the present and prepare for the future.” (Francis, 227) Shori within the novel is constantly looking for her past in order to rebuild her future. The fact that Shori has amnesia could also be interpreted as another trope, or trap of being African American. On one hand you have two cultures with two different histories. One side is of the oppressed and the other is of the oppressor. Du Bios’s The Souls of Black Folk views African Americans as having a Double consciousness. Within one consciousness lie a forgot culture and the other a culture that was placed on African Americans. Butler is here again is playing with the conventionalities of Black race relations within America. Butler likes playing with the reader’s mindset, and how our interpretations lead our own definition of her novel. However, we know that Butler’s novels have many layers, and components which makes even harder for us to pin point a definitive narrative.

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