The Face of the Future: Octavia Butler
While I can honestly say that I have enjoyed each of the readings covered so far this semester, one writer in particular stands out from the rest: Octavia Butler. Since I have only just been exposed to her work, I look forward to learning more about her over the next few weeks. I believe further research will benefit me personally since I am relatively new to the genre, but as an aspiring teacher who feels that Butler’s works should be more widely read and discussed, I will profit from a professional standpoint as well. I intend to further study Butler’s writings, examining how her work has achieved some level of canonical status and has subsequently impacted society and/or the science fiction genre as a whole.
While I believe authors of futuristic literature each exhibit some level of innovation, Butler manages to do so while also addressing the flaws and shortcomings of both present and future societies. In his article entitled, “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping,” Jim Miller writes that Butler “outlines the impact of class polarizations on a local, national, and international level, while also paying careful attention to the ways in which the equally important elements of race and gender oppression intersect with class realities” (349). In Butler’s novel, Parable of the Sower, the narrative’s protagonist Lauren Olamina, struggles to survive in a society rife with racism, violence, poverty, and sexism. Parable of the Sower serves as a social criticism which brings to light issues that are still very relevant to this day, but likely even more so during Butler’s lifetime.
These themes are ever present in each of Butler’s works. Her most popular work, Kindred, not only touches on these racial issues, but gender roles as well. In his paper, “Octavia E. Butler’s Response to Black Arts/ Black Power Literature and Rhetoric in Kindred,” Philip Miletic writes that “Kindred significantly emerges from and responds to the literature of the Black Arts Movement and the rhetoric of the Black Power Movement that sought to erase or move past America’s history of slavery and restricted black women’s involvement and writing” (261). This sentiment rings true when taking into account another work of Butler’s entitled “Speech Sounds,” in which the story’s protagonist, Rye, lives in a world where the vast majority of people are no longer able to either read/write or speak, or are left unable to do either. Rye, although able to speak, is now illiterate, which leaves her feeling hopeless and suicidal. Only once she is able to find two children with whom she can communicate with does she finally realize a genuine purpose for her life. The ability to understand, and to in turn be understood, is empowering to Rye, much like Miletic argues in his essay.
As a future educator hoping to make a difference in her students’ lives, I believe Butler’s writing to be both engaging and impactful. Because of this, I intend to study more of her work firsthand (Parable of the Talents and Kindred) in addition to conducting outside research in order to better comprehend (and later convey to others) the importance of Butler’s works.
Miller, Jim. “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler's Dystopian/Utopian Vision.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 1998, pp. 336–360. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/4240705.
Miletic, Philip. "Octavia E. Butler's Response to Black Arts/Black Power Literature and Rhetoric in Kindred." African American Review, vol. 49, no. 3, 2016, pp. 261-275.