Misanthropy in Octavia E. Butler’s Fiction

In both of Octavia E. Butler’s novels we read so far, Clay’s Ark and Fledgling, the author¬†repeatedly demonstrates how horrible humans can be. Oftentimes, Butler seems to think of humanity in rather negative terms, shedding light on our many weaknesses and emphasizing the importance of acknowledging our faults. She writes about the dark and realistic aspects of humanity, but with an optimism of exposing these things, knowing that we can be (and do) better. Thus, I wouldn’t necessarily call Butler a misanthrope, but I do believe her novels express a lot of contempt of the human species and of our¬†fundamental dispositions and traits.

As we discussed in class, Butler is trying to make us imagine worlds that are more just and less aggressive than the one we live in today. But “how on Earth is that possible?” First and foremost, the author clearly draws a picture of our species’ brutality and the segregation we still enforce in our contemporary society, whereby she makes it clear that our world is everything else but perfect. Humans tend to include and exclude others according to their individual preferences, they fight and hurt, and they do whatever it is that will bring them to their goal (frequently neglecting how this might affect others). Yet, we all rely on each other and cannot deny that we are an utterly interdependent society.

Although Butler’s created worlds may seem unnatural (in sexual, communal, familial, societal, financial, and many other ways) to the reader at first, these fictitious places allow us to recognize and better understand the dilemma of our own world. Perhaps Butler is trying to tell us that what we think of as normal is only viewed as normal because our way of life is engrained into our brains from the moment we are enabled to think for ourselves. If we look at our society from a different (outside) viewpoint (to the degree that this is possible), we can see how distorted and corrupted the world is we live in. In many ways, Butler’s imagined communities function on a higher level than our society, her worlds’ inhabitants acknowledge their interdependence and therefore show more respect and appreciation to each other. Their knowledge of their reliance on others enables them to create one big in-group, rather than countless small out-groups. Accordingly, we see less rejection and discrimination in Butler’s worlds and can begin to ask ourselves if the world we live in is really as “natural” and “normal” as we think it is?




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