The introductions of literary works typically serve to convey a theme or themes and general sense of tone that will be seen throughout the work. Perhaps most bluntly, we are told immediately by Homer what the Iliad will be about: the rage of Achilles and the fulfilling of Zeus’ will. These themes lie at the center of the work and even with Achilles’ scant appearances in the first half of the story, he is frequently referenced by the other characters and one wonders when he’ll emerge from his tent and what he’ll do when he does. The anticipation of Achilles’ appearance throbs like a heartbeat, always beneath the action of the story and the characters’ feelings. Likewise, in Everett’s Zulus, Butler’s Clay’s Ark, and Morrison’s Home, we are very quickly introduced to the sort of worlds the authors place their characters, and each clearly seek to create this sense of a constant presence that may either be very apparent, as in the Iliad, Zulus, and Clay’s Ark¸ or less apparent as in Home.

Butler’s Clay’s Ark can be read as having two introductions. The very first chapter takes place in the past, while the following chapter takes place in the present, with the book shifting between past and present often. Both the past and the present’s first chapters places within our minds the idea of this world that Butler has created being dangerous. In the first chapter, Past 1, the very first sentence: ”The ship had been destroyed five days before” outright suggests violence, that is, destruction. We’re told a brief history of a man we follow, who was unsure of how the ship had been destroyed, how he’d been alone, how he “walked and climbed automatically”, and how he’s only moved by hunger and thirst. He’d hidden himself for five days, with “no goal but food, water, and human companionship.” And he killed animals “with his bare hands or with stones” which he “ate raw, splashing their blood over his ragged coverall, drinking as much of it as he could.” As in the Iliad, we’re told what will figure heavily in this story—instincts and killing. The next chapter, Present 2, further reinforces and adds to the world built in Past 1; we’re briefly introduced to three of the main characters, who are promptly kidnapped—at threat of violence—by another main character. By page 16 and before the next chapter, we’re already well aware that this story will be about violence, and this violence and the threat of this violence is constantly shown throughout later parts of the book in more or less obvious ways. Less obvious ways can be seen in the forceful transmission of a potentially fatal and invariably life-altering disease, in that there is inherently a violence done against a person when they don’t give informed consent but are experimented on anyway. More obvious ways can be seen in the overt physical violence that comes from shootouts, rapes, and a decapitation. The first half of Clay’s Ark focuses mostly on covert violence (in the form of transmitting the disease and kidnapping) and the threat of violence, while the latter half focuses on the more overt violence mentioned before.

Similarly, Everett’s Zulus begins with a violent scene. The protagonist is raped by page 11, and is then abandoned by the rapist who is never to be seen again. Though the rapist’s disappearing from the story makes it possible, even easy, to forget about this opening scene, it nevertheless follows us throughout the entirety of the story, as the plot hinges upon this opening scene having occurred, because it leads the protagonist to believe that she’s pregnant, which serves as motivation for her and almost every other character’s actions. After this initial violence, there are hardly any overtly violent actions committed in the rest of the story. For the most part, the story is quiet with only a threat of violence bubbling beneath. There is a threat of kidnapping, of experimentation, of death. The opening scene portraying extreme violence, therefore, can be interpreted as showing the reader an example of the kind of violences that can be inflicted upon someone in this world, as well as the extremity of that violence. The book doesn’t open with someone being slapped—it opens with someone being betrayed by a guest and raped on the floor. There is a seriousness in this initial action that lends itself to encouraging the reader to take seriously the threats of violence found within.

Similar to Zulus, Morrison’s Home opens with a violent scene that plants its roots within the rest of the story. Two of the main characters, in a past day when they were children, witness horses fighting and the burial of a person’s corpse. Unlike Clay’s Ark, this sort of violence does not find repetition over and over; rather, like Zulus, Home is quiet (barring one major scene) and the threat of violence is more pervasive. Contrary to either of the other two stories, however, the characters of Home, particularly Cee, are blind to much of the danger that surrounds them. Danger which in one important case seems to be wholly unclear without background information that can’t be found within the book. Cee’s time spent aiding the doctor she’s with seems to have no dramatic interest on its own whatsoever, and relies upon knowledge of the history of experimentation on blacks and on women to be used by the reader to project one’s own warnings of the potential danger to Cee onto Cee’s psychology, which is a psychology of naiveté. Regardless of whether or not this is a clever trick by the author or a failure in the novel, it’s clear by the opening scene and later scenes that the characters inhabit a violent and potentially still yet violent world.

The introductions of the three novels can be read with Washington’s Medical Apartheid in mind. The introduction of Medical Apartheid makes the aims of drawing attention to, and awareness of, the historical and contemporary exploitations of blacks and their relationship with medicine and medical communities. Iatrophobia, the fear of doctors or of going to the doctor, informs the rest of the text by providing a solid anchor point from which one can understand the relation of subsequent material. Through this idea of iatrophobia as anchor point, and through the subsequent material, one can see how the three novels relate to Medical Apartheid’s concerns of consent as a broad human right and of consent as a specific medical right. In Zulus the protagonist is raped and afraid that she’ll be experimented upon and that her child will be taken away; in Home we have Cee’s relationship with the doctor subtly suggesting imminent danger; and in Clay’s Ark we have kidnappings, murders, non-consensual transmission of diseases, and so on. The general themes of Medical Apartheid, so clearly laid out in the introduction of that book, therefore provide a useful framework for the reading of the novels, and helps orient the reader to a consistent understanding of the relationships between the various works.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.