Shori as Stateless

I was struck by the importance of personal relationships in the Ina legal system as well as by the way that Shori is depicted as someone without a cultural memory in Fledgling. The Ina community seems to be held together mostly through personal bonds and a shared sense of history and destiny. This focus actually started to make me uncomfortable as I was reading because it is so pervasive that the whole legal system seems to me to be based on the personal. I think this alarmed me because I realize that I subscribe to an ideology of an impartial legal system—though perhaps Butler is trying to get her readers to see those people who are persecuted by that system.

One example of personal relationships in the Ina legal structure is that the seven families who must be called to initially comprise the Council of Judgment must share a common ancestor within seven generations with both of the parties involved in the case (197-8). This basic rule seems to suggest that to judge someone you must share some connection to them. (Locke actually makes a similar point when he comments that “It is certain their laws, by virtue of any sanction they receive from the promulgated will of the legislative, reach not a stranger”) Punishment in the Ina system is also focused on breaking apart and thus destroying families—and it is this punishment and loss of familial honor that seems to be the only threat which controls the Ina relations.

Beyond this focus on personal relationships, the Ina system also made me a bit uncomfortable because its goal is described as so different from the ideals of the American system. Joel explains: “The work of the Council of Judgement is to learn the truth and then decide what to do about it within our law. It isn’t about following the laws so strictly that the guilty go unpunished or the innocent are made to suffer. It isn’t about protecting everyone’s rights. It’s about finding the truth, period, and then deciding what to do about it” (220). Joel then goes on to describe that the Ina system does not have the ‘games’ played by lawyers and other intermediaries that the human system does, and seems to think that this makes the Ina system superior. However, I remain unconvinced. Games are certainly still played—Katherine’s killing of Theodora is just one example—and while the Ina can indeed sense the truth, that doesn’t seem to be the biggest factor in the council’s decision.

In fact, Shori almost loses her case because though the truth of the events becomes apparent, she is not trusted. Thus, in the Ina legal system Shori’s lack of cultural memory (which Erik brought up in class and Butler mentions and identifies with African Americans in “The Lit Interview: Octavia Butler”) has made her an entity that cannot be trusted and therefore is not fully protected under Ina law. Shori’s treatment reminds me of Saidiya Hartman’s account of going to Ghana as a member of the Diaspora in her book Lose Your Mother. Upon reaching Ghana she finds that she is not welcomed as a lost citizen—the way that she perhaps expected to be—but rather is called “Obruni,” which means stranger. Hartman says: “Obruni forced me to acknowledge that I didn’t belong anyplace. The domain of the stranger is always an elusive elsewhere. I was born in another country, where I also felt like an alien and which in part determined why I had come to Ghana. I had grown weary of being stateless.” (98, Hartman)

This connection made me start thinking about Shori as stateless, and seeing how she is unable to fully engage with the government or law because of her otherness and lack of a cultural memory—something which she will not really be able to overcome. Again, this connection makes me reexamine by own preconceptions about the fairness of our legal system, which, like the Ina’s perhaps has more to do with truth in ideal than practice, and disadvantages many groups.

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