What about slavery?

Toward the beginning of the class, Dr. McCoy mentioned how some people think Butler is writing about slavery in her novels, but Butler asserted that she’s not. Slavery never really came up in more than passing mention during our discussions about Butler’s novels, and without giving away too much about our final project, it definitely was not something in Butler’s works we felt needed to be addressed. This is interesting (possibly to no one but me) because my first impression of Octavia Butler’s writing, specifically Xenogenesis—now known as Lilith’s Brood, was that it was quite blatantly about slavery.

My sophomore year, I took a class on the portrayal of slavery in history, literature and film, and my partner and I were tasked with giving a PowerPoint presentation on slavery in books. We both suggested books we wanted to present on, and she suggested the Xenogenesis trilogy. I had never read it at that point, but we split up the slides so we were responsible for different books. Xenogenesis was explained to me as a dystopian novel where an alien species takes over and humans are their slaves. I now know the situation is a lot more nuanced than that, and even though people do explore the themes of slavery in Xenogenesis, it’s really not that blatant.

If I had taken that class after taking this one, I would never be okay with presenting Xenogenesis as a novel about slavery. Looking back, I’m glad our professor had never read the series because I don’t think he would’ve given us as good a grade. Even though there are issues with captivity and power in Xenogenesis, labeling it slavery was never something we found explicit enough to really discuss in class, which I, for one, am glad about. Even though I came into the class thinking Butler wrote about slavery, I’m leaving knowing she really isn’t. In fact, I’m questioning why people are so quick to label anything where humans are not the top of the hierarchy slavery.

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