Author: Taylor VanTine

Liquid Assets in Parable of the Sower

With the widespread environmental support and activism that took place this past weekend, I have spent some time considering the environmental conditions in Butler’s Parable of the Sower. The drought and general unavailability of water are not exclusively from her imagination, but rather align with real scientific projections of climate change (Drought and Climate Change). In this novel, the absence of liquid water has broad implications impacting economic and social stability. When people are spending huge sums on the limited water supply, they have less money available for other necessities and goods. This hurts other commercial businesses that would profit if consumers had disposable income, and it hurts the consumers themselves who are considered rich if they can sustain their own life. The absence of water here is closely tied to the absence of prosperity. Read more

“Where Are We Going?”

At the end of Parable of the Sower, there is “A Conversation with Octavia E. Butler” in which she states that she would like readers to contemplate the question, “Where are we going?” So rarely do we as readers have the opportunity to know exactly what the writer intended us to ponder, so I would like to honor her intentions. I was particularly drawn to this question, as earlier in the semester Beth posed the question, “What does it mean to be going somewhere?” Beth’s is a profound question, as it may be examined in a personal, literary, social, or other context. I consider myself to be going somewhere because I am attending college as a stepping stone to meet my career goals. Since I was young, this was the life trajectory expected of me, in which I accumulate normative success, resume points, throughout my years.

My assumption, though I cannot be certain, is that many of my peers share a similar mindset. Your life is going somewhere if you accumulate some of the major “plot points”— college, career, romance, wedding, house, kids, grandkids, or a subset of these. It’s the life narrative that’s been told and perpetuated. But is your life going somewhere if you never seek or achieve those experiences? What if your life, instead of a series of changing circumstances, is the story of a changing and evolving self? Are you going somewhere? There is a conflict in personal as well as literary narratives as to whether progress should be measured by evolving plot or character. Read more

Cats Occupying Space

As always, cats doing funny things is big news online (it’s a wonderful world). A recent viral tweet demonstrated that if you use tape to outline a rectangle on the floor, your cat will come sit in the circle. Cat experts and pet owners have been weighing in on the phenomenon, and while amateur behavioral psychology of cats may not be the most reliable science, I felt this article from Daily Mail provided interesting insight about occupying space. Read more

Distribution of Educational Space

In a recent blog post, Beth shared an article from the 1908 Ladies Home Journal titled “I Want to Build a House” by George Edward Barton. It was the “frank” advice of an architect to anyone intending to build a home. Well, not everyone exactly. It was specifically oriented toward people who had a servant serving their meals, describing in detail that in some cases it is simply not economical to create a separate passage for the servant from the kitchen to the front door. The square footage of the home could be better distributed. Another example of how space might be saved was by not including a guest room, of which Barton wrote, “It is a crime to waste a fifth of your floor area and not give your children all the light and air you can afford them.” This article serves as a reminder that how we distribute space matters, with this quote bringing attention specifically to how we distribute space to children. After all, even in 1908 it was considered “a crime” to limit a child’s space. Read more

Skunk Spray: Racial Injustice and Complacency in The Turner House

Racial tension, though not the central story line of The Turner House, is ever-present in Angela Flournoy’s rendition of the Turners’ lives. The 12th Street Riot, which serves as the backdrop for a single flashback scene, demonstrates the cultures of both racism and resistance within the city of Detroit. Interested in the historical significance of the riot, I did some research and found that when the riot occurred in the summer of 1967, it was one of the most destructive in this country’s history with 43 deaths, 342 serious injuries, and 7,000 arrests. These severe casualties were the result of building tension between the predominantly white Detroit Police Department and black members of the community who were being fed rumors of police brutality. On July 23, the first day that shots were fired, the police department had conducted a raid of an illegal club hosting a celebration for recently returned veterans. Those in attendance, a mainly black group, resisted police orders to exit the club leading to the arrest of 85 patrons. As the arrestees waited in the streets to be taken away by police, hundreds more gathered in the streets and protested the aggression they were witnessing. It escalated into a historical riot that left Detroit bloodstained (12th Street Riot).

I was further drawn to Flournoy’s poignant glimpse of this horrific event through the experience of the eldest Turner child, Cha-Cha. “Afterward, a burning house became an olfactory norm akin to skunk spray; as long as the source of the odor wasn’t too close, you eventually ignored it” (page 89). Though the use of odor in this context was literal, it could be interpreted figuratively as anything repulsive and upsetting to the senses. Based on that interpretation, this quotation states that with time the repulsive becomes familiar, dulling our senses. Humans will become complacent in any situation if only given the time to do so. In one scene of The Turner House, Cha-Cha confronts issues of childhood and Francey tells him to be grateful it was not worse. He could have been much closer to the odor. “Slavery. Did there ever exist a more annoying way to try to make a modern-day black man feel like his troubles were insignificant, that he should be satisfied with the sorry hand society dealt him?” (page 82) Though Cha-Cha was the Turner child to observe the curious skunk spray phenomena, here he rejects its validity in terms of social justice. Yes, of course it was worse to be bound to the fields by someone who treated you as subhuman, but he would not adjust to the repulsive odor of injustice as it continued to invade his modern life.

“A feather-bed resistance” as Zora Neale Hurston describes in the epigraph of The Turner House is not uproar. It does not appear in the flames and loss of life of the 12th Street Riot. Instead, the feather-bed absorbs discrimination and then functions in spite of injustice. This resembles the philosophy of civil rights leader Booker T. Washington, which was a “strategy of accommodation and emphasis on industrial education.” The opposite approach was taken by W.E.B. Du Bois, who believed that the black community should demand equal treatment, rather than strive to work their way up. He believed that equality was a right inherent to all races that did not need to be earned (W.E.B. Du Bois).

By including Hurston’s work in the epigraph, Flournoy set us up to be thinking about race in our reading of The Turner House. Therefore moving forward we must be aware of the characters’ proximity to the “skunk spray” as well as their complacency or lack thereof.

Edit: This was my first blog post, and I did not realize until later in the semester how exactly I meant to connect this to more overarching themes. Distance from skunk spray is a way to understand space. If a person belongs in a certain place then is met with skunk spray, then while escaping the stench may be in their best interest, it is displacing that person. Maybe you can’t continue life in your neighborhood because of the crime, as on Yarrow Street. In that case, putting distance between yourself and harm is a compromise between autochthonous identity and livable conditions. By simply walking away and seeking better for yourself where you are permitted to, you would be offering a gentle resistance as described above. The reason that people like W.E.B. Du Bois are important is because they defend the right to occupy space that is rightfully deserved. Assertive tactic refuses to let society push some people to the margins or to willingly travel there to escape the stench of injustice. The 12th Street Riot and similar uprisings were by people who refused to be content with a space that was unfit for them.