In class when we were discussing why Professor McCoy should like Patternmaster and then why she should dislike Patternmaster, a student made a comment about how the character Teray was based on Octavia Butler’s first boyfriend. He then mentioned how he had connected this fact to how in the book Teray is always looked at as a boy fresh out of school. Since I heard this comment in class, I have not been able to get it out of my head. When I continued to read the book, I noticed how often the characters mentioned that Teray had only recently graduated, and I also took note of how his personality reflected this fact. It almost seems to dominate his character and his presence in the book over all.
Reading through Conversations with Octavia Butler, I found the section where she confesses that Teray was based on her first boyfriend. The interviewer had mentioned how Butler never truly describes Teray, which I had also noticed as I was reading. She says to the interviewer with laughter, “He was my first boyfriend, and he had this wonderful bodiless body, where he could be marvelously sexy and good looking without my actual defining what that meant. So I guess I carried that forward into the fiction. It had not occurred to me that I hadn’t described him, but you’re right. I was in such a habit of not describing him and when I tried, it didn’t work at all.” When I was reading Patternmaster, it had bothered me that there was no description of Teray other than the fact that he is tall and lean, and once it mentioned that he “ran his fingers through his hair.” Thus, I couldn’t get a clear picture of him in my mind as I was reading. Lack of description isn’t favorable when I’m trying to create a movie in my head of the book’s scenes. Yet, it was interesting to discover that Butler viewed her own boyfriend as being beautiful in a way she couldn’t define, how this transferred over to her creation of Teray. I also have come to view Teray’s ambiguous looks as symbolic of his lack of identity after leaving school. He yearns to become a Housemaster one day, but in the book he is still learning about how powerful he truly is and he runs away from his situation at Coransee’s house, spending a majority of the book in between places. Teray is constantly learning new things throughout the novel, especially new things about his own abilities. Butler even admits in Conversations that, “He’s very young and he’s still learning to be a man.” Even though Teray is not in school any longer, he realizes that the process of learning never ends.
Like anybody just out of school, Teray changes as he tries to find his place in the world and as he hops from situation to situation. For instance, when he first becomes Coransee’s outsider who is in charge of the “mutes,” or humans without special abilities, he doesn’t care for them. However, over time he grows to pay attention to them more and care for them more. Teray is also very stubborn towards Amber as they are travelling. She wants to teach him a better way of killing Clayarks, but when she points out to him that he is slow and is in dire need of improvement, he is very offended and argues with her. He has the know-it-all attitude that one would have who feels as though they learned everything from school. Eventually his pride is no longer hurt and he is able to learn from Amber. If he had continued to be offended and not accept Amber’s teachings, he would have never defeated Coransee in the end of the novel. In the beginning of the novel, when Teray and Coransee fought for the first time, Teray was not strong enough or skilled enough to win. Only through extra learning does Teray have the ability to defeat one of the most powerful people within the pattern.
As one reads Patternmaster, one cannot forget about Teray’s schoolboy ways. Although at times the constant reminder gets tiring, I like the fact that Teray is so young and inexperienced yet ends up so successful. It’s an inspiring idea.