On Representation

I was reading Katie’s post, and it reminded me of something I’ve been meaning to say:

I like the way Butler deals with representation.

When I was reading Clay’s Ark back in September, I was surprised and excited at the introduction of Stephen Kaneshiro. Why? Because Kaneshiro is an Asian (Japanese, I believe) sounding name. Butler has an (and I’m judging solely based on the name here) Asian character (or character of Asian descent) in her novel!

I was excited because I don’t usually encounter Asian characters in the novels I read. I usually don’t find Asian representation unless I’m consciously choosing a book with Asian representation. Butler didn’t stop at Stephen Kaneshiro. Fledgling has Hugh Tang: Stefan’s (Shori’s youngest brother) symbiont that found Shori in the cave (75). Lilith’s Brood has Joseph Li-Chin Shing, a “Citizen of Canada, born in Hong Kong” (121). “Imago” of Lilith’s Brood also has Marina Rivers (the girl saved by Lilith’s family) who is Filipino: “‘I’m from Manila’” (580).

But Butler also doesn’t stop at just Asian representation.

  • Shori and Lilith are of African ancestry.
  • Rane and Keira of Clay’s Ark are biracial (462).
  • Lupe, Ingraham’s partner in Clay’s Ark, uses (I believe) Spanish forms of address: she calls Rane, chica and Jacob, niño (521-523).
  • Jen pointed out in her post that, in Fledgeling, the Gordon’s settlement is named Punta Nublada, which is Spanish for “Cloudy Point” (133).
  • João’s, the injured man Dichaan had found in the forest, native language is “português”: Portuguese (Lilith’s Brood 597).
  • Johdas narrates that “Most survivors (of Earth) were from Africa, Australia, and South America” (Lilith’s Brood 616).

I keep thinking back to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk. She, as a child, wrote about white, blue eyed characters who played in the snow despite living in Nigeria where there was no snow. She states: “What (the above example) demonstrates, I think, is how impressionable and vulnerable we are in the face of a story, particularly as children. Because all I had read were books in which characters were foreign, I had become convinced that books by their very nature had to have foreigners in them and had to be about things with which I could not personally identify” (Transcript).

Butler doesn’t let us forget that people of other (Earth based) cultures exist within her novels. This is something I find incredibly important.

One Reply to “On Representation”

  1. Hi Sandra! I’m just finally getting to read this post now, and it’s so insightful! I love how you break down the different representations Butler includes in the novels we read. I certainly agree that it is important that Butler does not let us forget about diversity and its value by providing us with diverse characters in her works. I also love that you mention Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Ted Talk–I came across this Ted Talk about a year ago and it really opened my eyes to the importance of representation in literature.
    I want to let you know that I really appreciate the fact that you read my blog post and chose to build off of it!
    –Katie

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