Writing my blog post about the connection between Vachel Lindsay’s poem The Congo: A Study of the Negro Race and Victor LaValle’s The Big Machine led me to think about the other inspirations behind the novel.
In class, we discussed how LaValle mentions Octavia Butler in his acknowledgements, and brought up the similarities between Butler’s Bloodchild and The Big Machine. When we first read Bloodchild, the topic of consent was central to our discussion. Males were used as hosts for alien children, which sparked a connection to Ricky non-consensually becoming pregnant with the Angel. Like the hosts in Bloodchild, Ricky became a host against his will when impregnated by the Devils of the Marsh. It is also interesting that both stories used cis-gender men as the hosts, as they physically cannot get pregnant. Regarding sexual consent, it seems that many people focus on women’s consent with little mention of consent on the male’s part. Obviously it is important to educate about consent for women because there are many, many cases of sexual assault against women, but sometimes instances where a man did not consent are made light of as a result of toxic masculinity and gender stereotypes. However, I believe the topic of male consent is also important. Both Butler and LaValle raise the topic of a male consent when the men in their stories become non-consensually pregnant, causing readers to think about this unusual circumstance.
As I was looking in LaValle’s acknowledgements to find out more about his inspirations, the last paragraph really stood out to me because of how mysterious it is. He thanks “the folks who rescued me more than ten years ago now. the real-world basis for the Washburn Library… Your secret is safe with me” (LaValle, 370). He concludes with this mysterious note. Although the plot and story become more clear as you read on, there is still much we, as readers, don’t know about the Washburn Library. The mysterious Dean, the people who work for the library, what purpose it serves other than to follow the Voice, the complete history of the Devils of the Marsh; even though information is offered to us, we are not insiders. There is a mysterious nature surrounding the story, even at its completion. After reading this paragraph from LaValle, I believe we are meant to feel unsatisfied rather than all-knowing. In mystery there is a desire to keep reading and find out more, but as the readers, we don’t know more than Ricky does. In my opinion not knowing everything is more realistic, and exciting, than knowing too much.