In-Groups and Out-Groups

This semester at Geneseo, I am taking COMN 103, Intro to Interpersonal Communication. As a Communication major, this course is a requirement, but in taking it, I have begun to believe everyone should take it if they are presented with the opportunity to. This course has taught me information on how to be a better communicator with my interpersonal relationships, and it has also taught me why individuals and groups communicate in the ways that we do.

One concept that we learned about was the pairing of in-groups and out-groups. Personally, I had heard about these groups before, but it was during this class when it clicked how relevant they were in so many different ways. According to the textbook for this class, Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication, in-groups are the groups to which we identify as a part of, and out-groups are those that we view as “different” than ourselves, or those that we do not feel as though we are a part of. The concept of the two distinct groups, I believe, appeared as a constant theme of Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark, especially in the manner that certain members of the Maslin family behaved throughout the duration of the novel.

From the very beginning of the novel, the Maslin family viewed themselves as “us”, whereas members of the Clay’s Ark community were viewed as “them” in their eyes. For a while, this made sense. The Maslins were kidnapped by individuals who had such stark differences from them, and they later found out that it was as a result of the microorganism that changed both the appearance and the behavior of those who were infected. The differences they encountered with the members of the Clay’s Ark community led the Maslins to consider the community the out-group (the group viewed as “different” that they were not a part of) and the family of uninfected individuals —Blake, Rane, and Keira— to be the in-group.

Despite being infected with the Clay’s Ark disease almost immediately upon arriving at the community, Blake and Rane keep themselves as part of the in-group that the Maslin family established at the beginning. After finding out that he was now infected with this disease, Blake asks Meda, the woman who infected him, “Why haven’t you gotten treatment?” (Butler, 486). Blake himself was infected, but he only chooses to ask Meda directly why she (and the rest of the community)hasn’t gotten treatment, in a way putting blame on her, as if it was something she had any form of control over. Blake doesn’t put any blame on himself for anything, because he still considers himself to be in the in-group of uninfected individuals.

Meda doesn’t think of Blake as an actual member of the community at this point either, as she says to him, “You don’t feel or smell like one of us—like an infected person—yet” (Butler, 488). This quote is a depiction of how the in-groups and out-groups go both ways. Meda and the rest of the community consider themselves the in-group, and those who are uninfected to be the out-group. However, unlike the Maslin family who wanted to remain uninfected, members of the community want new members to join the in-group.

The Maslin family had very strong opinions towards the out-group of the Clay’s Ark community. The three of them had the inclination to stick together through everything they were going to be enduring. However, their opinions split after a certain point. Rane, after getting infected with the disease and after meeting Jacob (one of the Clay’s Ark children) for the first time, asks Lupe, “What the hell are you doing sitting in the middle of the desert giving birth to monsters and kidnapping people?” (Butler, 525). Rane even goes as far as saying that if she were to get pregnant with “another Jacob”, she would “be willing to abort it with an old wire coat hanger” (Butler, 532). Her reaction to the Clay’s Ark community’s children was taken as extremely negative by the group she considered to be the out-group. She was supposed to be willing to have these children of her own, but she completely hated the idea of that. Her sister, Keira, however, had almost a directly opposite reaction to seeing the children for the first time. Keira met Zera, another child born with the disease before she was ever infected, yet her reaction was so different from her sister’s: “The child was as strange a being as Keira had ever seen, but she was a child” (Butler, 546). This is directly opposite from Rane’s reaction of calling the children “monsters”, and this is where a gap within the in-group is formed.

Over the course of this novel, this gap continues to grow and grow, with more rifts causing Keira to drift more towards the Clay’s Ark community and Rane and her father to consider their remaining differences to be enough to consider themselves the “uninfected” in-group still. This causes a lot of problems in their somewhat short time in the community, as they then try to escape (after being infected…meaning they now had the capabilities to infect others). The entire Maslin family does escape because they still feel as though they are not a real part of the community. But this leads to the overall decline of the community that Eli and the rest of the Clay’s Ark members put so much work into creating. The fact that Blake and his daughters were able to cause destruction to the community proves that they were a part of the community—regardless of what they thought to the end.

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