A while ago, Emma wrote an incredibly insightful blog post entitled, “What Does it Mean to be “Human?” Quite honestly, it’s a question I have been reflecting on for a while now. Unfortunately, I don’t think I have an answer to this. If anything, I have more questions and thoughts to add.
Aside from consent, humanity and what it means to be human seem to be major themes woven into every piece of writing we’ve read. As Emma so wonderfully explains, Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler tackles the issue of humanity throughout the novel. Emma addresses the more scientific aspect of the novel. Once the human comes in contact with the foreign organism, they start to lose their human qualities, making them more barbaric. Like Emma says, when Blake attempts to figure out what is wrong with Meda, he finds that the disease had “tampered with Meda’s genetic blueprint” and “had left her no longer human.” (Page 498)
Looking at this one way, the disease literally alters the human it comes in contact with. However, I think Butler wants us to tackle the question of what it means to be human on a level deeper than this. Clay’s Ark is extremely complex. Doctor Blake Maslin and his two daughters, sweet Rane and Keira are abducted on the side of the road one day and taken to an isolated farm where they’re expected to live among these people with a dangerous and deadly disease that they claim there is no escape. Blake is unconvinced, and thinks he will either find a cure for the disease or escape with his girls so they don’t become victims of the farm family. Throughout the novel, we see characters experience bouts of hopelessness, doubt, and anger. At the very end of the novel, we witness sweet, innocent Rane “cradling an automatic rifle” and shooting the heads off of people in order for her and her family to get to safety. (page 614) Just a page after we learn from Blake that he unintentionally betrayed everyone by the doing the worst: spreading the disease to the rest of humanity. Right before he dies, he struggles to say, “I did it. Oh, Jesus. I did it.” (Page 618) All in all, it’s an extremely twisted novel. I think Butler wants us to ask, “what does it mean to be human?” But in a deeper sense. Do we have a responsibility or unspoken agreement to take care of each other, or look out for each other, as fellow humans? If we do, are there any exceptions? What happens when we abandon humanity? Just look at Clay’s Ark. We get a sense that the people on the farm have a sense of family. But once Blake and his daughters try to escape, it seems as though violence just breaks loose. Blake seems to have the intention of escaping the farm right from the get-go. He wants nothing to do with them. Was it Blake’s job, as a father and a doctor to get comfortable in his new place and help Meda and Eli and the rest of the family? At the end of the novel, many died at the hands of Rane and others. Even Blake dies. Despite being infected by the disease, the people on the farm were still “human.” They were a part of the same human race as the Maslin family. I don’t know if I explained this well enough, nor do I think there is one straight answer. But there are some interesting questions to reflect on. What does being a human come down to? Do you think the characters in this book maybe lacked a bit of humanity? Do you think if these people took more measures to care for each other and look out for one another, things would have been different?