The other day, I happened to be glancing over the schedule and I noticed that we’d be talking about Survivor this Friday. And just at that moment, I immediately remembered that I had wanted to right a very brief but contemplative blog post about that one time that we read a few pages of Survivor together as a class. I remember Beth saying that Survivor is the most allegorical novel of Butler’s Patternist Series which makes it so much easier (and fun) to infer parallelisms. Yet, the parallel that came to me troubles me more than anything else, even if I find it very intriguing. On page 36, in the Survivor packet that we were given before Spring Break, there is a short scene in which Jules, Alanna, and Neila come across a distorted corpse in a sealed compartment on the very ship that they had flown in on, “It was the body of a young man, dressed in the bright-colored style of the city of Forsyth. His body was short and squat and his head large. His forehead bulged strangely on one side and seemed almost sunken on the other. His mouth was slack and half open, drooling…To Neila and Alanna, he said, ‘There are all kinds of slaves.'”
This scene, like many scenes, notably in Clay’s Ark, is surprisingly gruesome. But there is something more in this scene; something that forces us readers to realize the corpse’s significance, even if we have no name to identify him by; even if this corpse is only mentioned within two paragraphs of the entire novel. What comes to me every time I read this are images of Emmett Till–the 14-year old black boy who was kidnapped from a relative’s home in Money, Mississippi by two white men and was tortured, brutally beaten, shot, tied to a cotton gin fan with barbed wire, and ultimately cast out into the Tallahatchie River; all of this for whistling at a white woman. When his body was found, his face was completely unrecognizable. The killers were charged for murder but were eventually acquitted after only an hour of being in court. The pictures of young Emmett are too gruesome for me to describe here, but one with a stronger stomach and heart than mine can see where I draw my parallelisms from when reading Survivor.
Much like the corpse in the spaceship, Emmett Till was forced from a life of freedom to an untimely and heartbreaking death.