All posts by Justine Capozzi

What I Have Learned From Octavia Butler

Octavia Butler has introduced me into the world of literary science fiction. Prior to taking this course, I have never read a science fiction novel before. I entered into this course with many preconceived notions about the genre and thought that it only concerned story lines about aliens and spaceships. I was very concerned that I would not like Octavia Butler’s work, because science fiction was a genre that was completely foreign to me. However, I am very happy to say that I was wrong. What I thought was going to be my least favorite class of the semester turned out to be my favorite. In my opinion, the works of Octavia Butler are captivating and contain many important themes that go beyond spaceships and aliens. In each one of her novels, Butler creates a fantasy world that explores the type of conflicts that are apparent in our own reality.

The types of questions that I entered into this course with dealt mostly with what the genre of science fiction was and what type of storyline it generally involved. However, my involvement in this course made me realize that there is not a specific storyline that science fiction is regularly concerned with. Reading Octavia Butler’s work has allowed me to observe how free this genre really is, because it ranges from a variety of different settings. When I first read Fledgling, I had no idea that a vampire novel could be classified as science fiction. I was so used to the pop cultural persona of the vampire novel (such as Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight) that I did not realize that science fiction could be written within this discourse. In Octavia Butler’s interview with Juan Gonzalez and Amy Goodman in Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler talked about how she first became attracted to the genre of science fiction and how she liked how open it was. She spoke against the stigma that science fiction has, stating that “People tend to think of science fiction as, oh Star Wars or Star Trek, and the truth is there are no closed doors, and there are no required formulas. You can go anywhere with it” (Francis 224). I admit that I used to be a part of the group of people who thought that every piece of science fiction was similar to Star Trek and Star Wars. However, Octavia Butler’s novels are very different from one another and extends across different subject areas, such as Ina vampires, Clayarks, and telepaths.

Another question that I asked myself at the beginning of the semester was about the purpose of Butler’s work. I asked myself “what is Octavia Butler trying to accomplish in her science fiction novels? Is there a reason that Geneseo has made this author’s work into an author study?” After reading several of Octavia Butler’s novels, I have discovered that Butler sought to expose her audience to issues regarding racism, prejudice, and slavery. Prejudice is an issue that appears regularly in her novels and is particularly dominant in her vampire novel Fledgling. Shori was a victim of prejudice because of her genetically engineered body and dark skin color. In order to ensure that her form of Ina would never reproduce, the Silks murdered her family and attempted to murder her as well. Although this novel takes place in a world where vampires exist, prejudice and discrimination are very real issues that are prevalent in our own reality. After I read “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling”, I viewed Fledgling more concretely about combatting prejudice and learning to live with difference. Within her article, Susana M. Morris discusses how “Butler’s Ina transgress conventional vampire tropes not only by being mortal but also by experiencing (and succumbing to) hierarchal divisions, such as those of racism, mirroring the violent systems of oppression that are the foundation of much of the human world” (Morris 161). Some of the similarities that the Ina share with human beings are their involvement in social class divisions, their oppression as a result of prejudice, and their ability to die. Furthermore, slavery was also a subject that Octavia Butler regularly dealt with in her literary works. In Wild Seed, Doro subjected Anyanwu into slavery as he forced her to take part in his breeding program without her consent. Anyanwu never willingly agreed to become involved in Doro’s program, but she was still forced to participate in it.

In many of our lecture discussions, consent was a topic that was touched upon heavily. Throughout my involvement in this course, I have discovered that Octavia Butler’s work regularly grapples with the issue of consent and how someone could lose their consent to life if they did not obey an individual’s refusal to consent to their demands. After we discussed the complexities of consent that are prevalent in Butler’s work, this left me questioning about what consent really involves. If someone’s life depends on another person, does that mean that they lose their consent to live if the individual does not wish to participate in their demands? Before I read Octavia Butler’s work, I never really thought about how complicated consent could be. Shori depended on her symbionts for sexual pleasure and nourishment while Doro depended on the bodies of his victims to house his spirit. In terms of consent, one aspect of Fledgling that really struck me was Shori’s ability to acquire her symbionts without their “natural” consent. Once Shori bit someone, she automatically received their consent to become her symbiont due to her venom. Because Shori’s venom persuaded humans to become her symbionts, this made me wonder if Shori’s symbionts were really giving their consent to be with her or if they were just being brainwashed to. On the other hand, Doro had to steal a person’s body without their consent in order to live. If Doro did not steal bodies, he would have died sooner once the body that he was in deteriorated. If both Shori and Doro did not take part in these relationships, does this mean that they have lost their ability to consent to life? These questions made me realize that in some cases, someone might have to take away another person’s ability to consent willingly in order to fulfill their own consent. Does this make disobeying someone’s refusal to consent right? Unfortunately, I still don’t know the answers to these questions and it might take me years to establish a definitive answer.

After contemplating the takeaways of science fiction, I have discovered that Octavia Butler’s work deals heavily with learning to co-exist with different lifestyles, especially lifestyles that are considered to be transgressive. In Conversations with Octavia Butler, Butler described her view of what she believed science fiction accomplished to Rosalie G. Harrison, stating that “I see science fiction as a way of disseminating the fact that we don’t have only one kind of people, namely white males, in the world. They are not the only ones who are here; not the only ones who count” (Francis 6). None of Butler’s literature involve only white individuals. Instead, Butler focused on individuals that differentiated from this norm, such as Doro in Wild Seed. Doro celebrated the concept of difference as he sought to breed individuals with special abilities in order to create a brand new superior race. If someone did not have any special abilities, Doro wanted nothing to do with them. Furthermore, Anyanwu also exemplifies Butler’s celebration of difference. Even though she was originally born as an African American female, Anyanwu had the ability to change her shape and appearance whenever she pleased. By including the concept of difference within several of her novels, Butler spread the message that being different is okay, and that it is crucial for society to learn to accept these differences in order to live with one another peacefully.

Before I discovered who Octavia Butler was and what her novels encompassed, I considered science fiction to be a genre that was only about spaceships, aliens, and extraterrestrial beings. After reading several of her literary works, I now view science fiction as a free genre that can range anywhere from concerning the spread of disease, becoming a victim of slavery, and becoming a target of prejudice. Science fiction has the ability to influence the audience to reflect on issues that involve how society responds to different lifestyles. Despite her unique settings that are vastly different from a traditional fictional novel, Octavia Butler’s science fiction addresses many of the issues that are prevalent in our own reality. Butler strives to fight in favor of lifestyles that are out of the norm, and I really respect that of her as a writer.


Francis, Conseula. Conversations with Octavia Butler. Jackson: U of Mississippi, 2010. Print.

Morris, Susana M. “Black Girls Are from the Future: Afrofuturist Feminism in Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling.” Women’s Studies Quarterly 40.3/4 (2012): 146-66. Academic Search Complete. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.

The Freedom of Science Fiction

As I read Octavia Butler’s interview “Sci-Fi Visions: An Interview with Octavia Butler” with Rosalie G. Harrison in Conversations with Octavia Butler, she asked Butler what her early writing years were like. Butler described how frustrating they were and how English teachers were individuals that she had to escape from. She described how when she was in school, science fiction was indeed the one genre that never went over well with her English teachers. When Butler wrote science fiction for her English teachers, she was accused of plagiarism because of how strange it sounded to them. As a future English teacher, this situation really stood out to me because unless I was absolutely sure that a student copied an assignment I would never accuse them of doing so simply because what was written was strange/science fiction.

Throughout her involvement in a class called “Writing for Publication”, Butler learned that she had to write one way for her English teachers and another way for publishers (which I wish was not the case). Within this interview, she states that “I learned to write one way for English teachers and another way for myself . . . I discovered that there is one kind of writing that does not go over well with publishers and that was the kind English teachers seem to like” (3). I found this to be sad, because students should not have to hide their passion of writing within a specific genre from their English teachers simply because it is “strange.” I feel like this forces people to lie about who they are as a writer.

On page 4 of this interview, another aspect that stood out to me was Butler’s freedom that she aquired through writing science fiction. After completing the entirety of Butler’s Seed to Harvest, I felt that Butler definitely played by her own rules while creating the diverse and complicated plots of Wild Seed, Mind of My Mind, Clay’s Ark, and Patternmaster. I absolutely agree that science fiction is a free genre, and I feel like not enough people praise it for this specific reason. Butler has written about Vampires (Fledgling), a deadly disease, quests of creating the ultimate breed, the desire of aquiring ultimate power and control, and the list goes on. Octavia Butler was definitely a free writer who defined her own ways of writing for herself and for her audience.

“Positive Obsession” and Disease

Clay’s Ark left me with so many questions. It got me thinking about when we discussed who was truly at fault for the spread of this deadly disease. There are so many ways that people can look at this, whether they choose to fluctuate between having good intetions vs. not having good intentions. Personally, I can’t really blame Blake…although the spread of the disease was definitely on him. It is funny how one interaction led to such a deadly epidemic despite all the effort that Eli put towards controlling it. But, If I had to blame anyone it would definitely be Eli. I understand that the disease caused compulsions that led to  the control of the thoughts and actions of the host such as when Eli kidnapped Blake and his daughters, but if I had to pin this apocalypic ending on anyone it would be Eli. The ending of this novel really saddened me, because not only did Blake die but so did Rane. Keira, the one who everyone thought wouldn’t make was the only survivor of her immediate family. Because Butler is the author, this doesn’t surprise me whatsoever. After all, she loves to keep us guessing by playing  with the concept of strength and ability.

Strangely enough, This novel reminded me of Butler’s essay “Positive Obsession.” On page 133, she described her positive obsession of writing. She explained how she felt it was dangerous because she couldn’t stop. In her essay, Butler stated that positive obsession involved not being able to stop which is very similar to the spread of the disease in Clay’s Ark. Although this essay was geared toward writing science fiction, the disease acted in an extremely similar manner. It never stop changing and dissolving humanity and was very dangerous in this way. I feel like Clay’s Ark  took the concept of Butler’s possitive obsession with science fiction head on by representing it through this extraterrestrial disease. Butler’s fiction changes and dissolves humanity in Fledgling when human symbionts abandon their culture, in Clay’s Ark when humans contract a disease that changes their DNA and causes them to become more animalistic, and in Wild Seed where many slaves are treated as less than human.

False Assumptions in My of My Mind and “I’m a Black Gentrifier, But My Success Is Invisible”


After I finished Octavia Butler’s Mind of My Mind, it occurred to me that my opinion of Mary drastically changed from the beginning of the book to the end. At the beginning, I actually found her to be quite likable because she was a typical teenager (besides her telepathic abilities) that was trying to find her way in life. By the end, I couldn’t stand her because she became so power hungry that she wanted to control anything and everything that was involved in her pattern. Ever since she was born, she was considered to be a huge success of Doro’s inbreeding program. In terms of telepathics, she was elite. However, being a black telepath exposed her to being condemned for the color of her skin instead of her actions. The effect of this was exemplified when Karl showed distaste towards Mary. At first, she automatically assumed it was because of her race and asked him how he felt about black people. Because this was not the case, Karl corrected her by stating that him not wanting her in his house had nothing to do with her being black. It had to do with the fact that he simply did not like her.

In Kashana Cauley’s article “I’m a Black Gentrifier, But My Success Is Invisible”, she was repeatedly asked if she was an East Village native because she was African American. Although she wasn’t ashamed of her race, she felt like it made her successes as a lawyer completely invisible to people in her neighborhood. She discusses how black individuals aren’t associated with being a part of the middle class and are typically considered to be an “other”. Kashana considers herself to be a black gentrifier, because she is part of a gentrifier group who is willing to pay high rent and had a successful job. Although she acknowledged that being a gentrifier isn’t always compliment, she explains that “we are the college-educated or entrepreneurial descendants of black people who had fewer opportunities than we had. We make the sort of money that college-educated and entrepreneurial white people make. We move to neighborhoods like the East Village because we are attracted to the same things as everyone else who moves there: the trendy and nationally-known restaurants and bars, the excellent shopping, the dog run and community events in Tompkins Square Park, the newly renovated running path along the East River.” Once Kashana moved to Prospect Heights, she felt more comfortable with her identity as a successful black lawyer. This was because of the fact that many hardworking individuals of color lived there. As a result, it’s inhabitants did not automatically classify her as an “other” because of her race.

So, how both of these texts relate to one another? Before she gained control of her fellow telepaths within her pattern, Mary was out-casted. Everyone hated her, and Jesse tried to bring everyone together in order to overthrow her. Although it may not have been for the right reasons, Mary was successful in terms of having an elite telepathic ability and being able to gather many individuals within her pattern. On the other hand, when she lived in East Village, Kashana Cauley was automatically assumed to be a member of a lower class because of her race despite the fact that she was a lawyer and had a professional and successful career.

Slavery and Its Disregard of Consent


Within Butler’s Wild Seed, Doro takes his people into slavery and portrays himself as a god-like figure to them. Similarly to a slave master, Doro is willing to kill anyone who defies his commands and punish them in whatever means “necessary”.  On the Feminist Wire, I came across Khanmalek’s article “Slavery: the Haunting Legacy of Sterilization Abuse in California State Prisons” which discussed how 150 female California state prisoners were sterilized without their consent between the years of 2006 and 2010. It’s completely baffling to come across this type of incident that occurred not too long ago. And, what was the CDCR’s excuse? Khanmalek reveals within her article that their justification was that it would cut down welfare costs. Of course, none of these woman gave their consent whatsoever to have this procedure done. Furthermore, this article also brings up 19th century surgeon J. Marion Sims who was referred to as the “Father of Gynecology” and his involvement in carrying out experimental surgeries on enslaved African American woman without their consent.

These incidents are extremely similar to how Doro rules over his people without their consent by coercing them into following his every command. He blatantly forces his people to follow his breeding program in order to produce new offspring with special abilities. Both these incidents in California and the 19th century are very similar to Doro having his own motives for taking advantage of people who were within his control. How were they able to take advantage? Because, these victims did not have the ability to NOT give their consent. In Wild Seed, Despite Anyanwu’s immense refusal to mate with Doro’s son Issac, Doro did not care whatsoever and coerced her into performing this action that she considered to be a complete abomination. Doro’s sole desire is to breed a new type of special individuals at whatever cost. Consent or no consent.

Fledgling and Anthropology

Link to polyandry article:

Link Jane E. Brody’s article:

As I read the sections of Fledgling that described Ina culture, it reminded me of what I learned while I was taking an anthropology course at my local community college. While I studied cultural anthropology, I learned about many cultures that were extremely different from mine. These differences include how individuals group themselves in terms of family dynamics (having one partner or mutual) or in terms of their dietary customs. This made me reflect on the fact that members of these cultures may regard certain traditions/habits within my culture as being “bizarre.” Why? Because their culture is not the same as mine. Throughout my involvement in this course, I also learned the reasons why particular cultures had certain lifestyle habits. As a result, this made it a lot easier for me to understand these cultures and their way of life. In , Shori constantly learns about Ina culture and the reasons why certain lifestyle habits are the way that they are.

As I studied anthropology, I learned about the marital practice of polyandry. Polyandry is when a woman has multiple husbands. Kind of similar to Shori and her multiple symbionts, right? In Esther Inglis-Arkell’s article “Polyandry, or the act of taking multiple husbands”, she explains that polyandry was used as a way to control the population (because a woman could only have 1 pregnancy at a time) and was also used as a way to manage property. At first glance, many people may think “wow, that’s different” and not even attempt to find out the cultural motives behind polyandry. Instead, they just consider it to be a foreign concept. So, how does my experience studying anthropology connect with Fledgling? Well, within this vampire novel Butler brilliantly creates a brand new species that has its own culture, traditions, and way of life. The Ina even had their own legal system which was the Council of Judgment. However, even though different cultures have different customs from one another we must keep in mind that we are all human beings. In Jane E. Brody’s article “We Are Our Bacteria”, she breaks this point down a little further and states that although we may regard ourselves as human beings, in reality we are all just “a mass of microorganisms housed in an a human shell.” Given this statement, if every single person is a “mass of microorganisms”, why are we so different from one another? Even though the Ina are not technically human, comparing Ina culture with my own made me realize that what’s “normal” to one person may not be “normal” to another, just like the practice of polyandry may not seem normal to many people although it is prevalent in other countries.

Personally, I could never identify Ina culture as being “normal” not only because it’s fictional, but simply because it’s very different from mine. Within Ina culture, having multiple symbionts is completely normal and it was frowned upon to have only a small number of them. I know many individuals in my life who consider polygamous marriages as “not normal” and don’t agree with them whatsoever. Ina mating habits are drastically different from only having one partner at a time, which is common in my culture. Within the novel, Wright had an extremely hard time accepting Shori’s mating habits and way of life because of the fact that they were not the same as his. Wright desperately wanted Shori to himself and did not want to share her with anyone else despite the fact that this desire did not match up with her Ina culture. Due to the fact that not everyone has the same ideas, beliefs, and habits as one another, we must be open to adapting these different customs to our lives as we are exposed to them. This is similar to Shori having to learn Ina culture all over again due to her impaired memory as she entered back into Ina culture.

Addicting Parasitism

Wednesday’s lecture really got me thinking about Octavia Butler’s Fledging a little more in depth. We discussed the concept of parasitism, which is a symbiotic relationship that is non-mutual between two different species. I researched parasitism a bit further and learned that in parasitism, one party benefits from taking something from the other. Some examples of parasitism that I found were between fleas and animals (a dog for an example) and tapeworms and animals, such as a dog (yes, I know. Not pleasant). This is EXTREMELY similar to Ina biting humans in order to benefit from their blood to receive nourishment. Once one party receives this benefit, the other is harmed. This is technically true in Fledging as the Ina feed off of their symbionts and make them temporarily weak.

The Ina need blood to live and they need it in order to survive. This whole concept made me take a HUGE step back and influenced me to analyze this novel a bit further. Does this mean that Ina bites are unethical even though they are essential to their survival? Is it ethical to take something from something else for nourishment even though it will not be to their benefit? Although I understand that it is Ina culture to have multiple symbionts to feed off of, from an outsider’s stand point I found this phenomenon extremely selfish overall. I, for one would not want to consent to some vampire feeding off of me and taking me away from my life. However, once Shori bit someone they immediately wanted to stay with her forever. Is this consent? After, parasitic relationships are non-mutual….

Theodora’s life was lost because of Shori’s addictive venom and her ability to attract her into her lifestyle. When Theodora died, I could not help but feel sad due to the fact that she had a former life outside of Shori and a daughter who truly cared about her. Parasitism exists in nature, and the relationships between Ina and their human symbionts acts as a form of it which I never really considered. Does this make it natural? In Butler’s world, the Ina exists and in our world different parasites exist. In the NECSI article that I have referenced, it states that the parasite and the host evolve with one another. In Fledging, when an Ina feeds off one of their symbionts, they evolve by becoming healthier and having the ability to live longer.