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.

Eugenics, Genetic Counseling, and Jacob

All parents want their children to be happy and healthy. Harriet Washington, in Medical Apartheid,  states that the discovery that many human traits followed a Mendelian pattern of inheritance allows reliable predictions of the outcomes in the child. There are many genetic conditions that a child can inherit from its parents that may be fatal or very detrimental to its quality of life.  Eugenics, as defined by Phillip K. Wilson of Encyclopedia Britannica, is the “selection of desired heritable characteristics in order to improve future generations.” From this definition, it seems that Eugenics may be a scientifically beneficial approach to limit the amount of genetic-based disease in our society. Washington points out that “Eugenicists proposed that society use medical information about disease and trait inheritance to end social ills by encouraging the birth of children with good, healthy and beautiful traits.” In light of this quote, scientists could use knowledge to benefit unborn children so that when born are able to live healthy lives and avoid diseases that their parents may be carrying. With the use of genetic information, parents can be armed with the knowledge to make an informed decision on whether or not to have a child that may fall subject to genetic disease. So why is the practice of eugenics looked upon with disgust? It’s simple. Persons of power, as Washington puts it, “…confused the concept of biological hereditary fitness with those of class and race.”

According to Wilson, eugenics is commonly associated with practices that took place in Nazi Germany during the 1930s and 1940s. In Wilson’s article, the German government adopted eugenic practices of involuntary sterilization in order to build a master race. Wilson also points out that “…Germany extended its practices far beyond sterilization in efforts to eliminate the Jewish and other non-Aryan populations.” Hitler did not use eugenics to help limit genetic disease but instead as propaganda to galvanize his supporters in his racist efforts. Hitler would not be the only person of power that contributed to eugenics being used as a tool of racist oppression instead of medical benefit.

 Washington points out that Americans were being sterilized as well, as many as 4000 in 1934 alone. In America, 27 states had laws that provided for the “compulsory sterilization” of groups such as the “feebleminded, those on welfare or those with genetic defects.” (Washington) Like the Nazis, the American government officials were requiring sterilizations of groups of people without attaining any form of consent. African-Americans made up a large amount of those who were sterilized through legal means. Washington also explains that outside of the law that there was a common practice of involuntary hysterectomies and the practice was so common in Mississippi that is was referred to as a “Mississippi Appendectomy.” Atlanta’s Southern Poverty Law Center filed a class-action lawsuit that resulted in the discovery that “…100,000 to 150,000 women had been sterilized using federal funds and over half of these women were black.” Eugenics being used as a tool of oppression against certain classes and races and not as a tool to benefit society as a whole.

After investigating the past crimes committed in the name of eugenics, a thought occurred to me. I thought of genetic counseling and wondered about its relationship with eugenics. In a blog post, authored by Ricki Lewis Ph.D., it is argued that genetic counseling is not a form of eugenics. Lewis explains that genetic counseling includes genetic disease carrier and BRCA mutation testing for potential parents. Carrier gene testing can detect whether or not parents are carriers of hundreds of genetic diseases and advise them on the chances of their potential child inheriting these diseases. Mutant BRCA gene testing identifies if the BRCA genes for DNA repair are altered. If they are, future children would have greatly elevated risks of several cancers. Lewis argues that these types of genetic testing are not a form of eugenics for a simple reason: “…the important descriptor of eugenics is INTENT; that of medical genetic screening and testing is CHOICE.” In other words, genetic counseling differs from eugenics because it allows for informed consent. I agree with Dr. Lewis. The initial reason that eugenics was perverted into what it is known as today, was that people of power attempted to alter society through forced means. Genetic counseling takes the positive aspects of the eugenics and gives parents information in order to properly make a decision on whether or not to have a child. In addition, genetic screening is not mandatory and potential parents must provide informed consent before taking part.

One of the main goals of genetic counseling is to offer information about genetic diseases that would be passed down to children. Knowing this, I considered the children of the Clay’s Ark community in Octavia E. Butler’s Clay’s Ark. Butler describes Jacob as a “catlike” child who was quadruped and “built for speed”. The members of the community have a compulsion to breed children and thus have no interest in preventing the birth of their genetically altered children. However, Rane reacts to the child similar to that of a eugenicist, “What the hell are you doing sitting in the middle of the desert giving birth to monsters and kidnapping people?” Rane clearly believes that the birth of these children should be avoided. The community members have no possible way to control their births because they are controlled by the microorganisms that infect them regarding this matter. Even so, Lupe argues in defense of giving birth to children with the infection,  “Eli says we are preserving humanity. I agree with him. We are.” Butler is extremely talented at posing questions to readers that have no clear answer. Through this dialogue between Rane and Lupe, Butler provoked me to ask several questions of myself. Is Rane right to believe that these children are dangerous to the world and their births should be controlled? Even if the members of Clay’s Ark community could refrain from having children, would they give up their basic human right to reproduce? Would they be willing to give birth to a child that they know will carry the disease? She was able to trap me into thinking like a eugenicist and also a parent. Honestly, I do not know what to think of these questions and I believe that is part of Butler’s genius.

Imperfect Assumptions

Assumptions are a part of everyday life. They transform and mold our decisions, interactions, and views of people and the world. In Butler’s Clay’s Ark, these judgements are made in what seems to be every aspect of the book. To start superficially, Blake, Rane, and Kerry were chosen as spreadable subjects for the sometimes-lethal disease. Why? Well the society of infected people made assumptions about Blake being a doctor with wealth and “knowledge” and decided that he would be a better carrier than someone from what Butler calls the “sewers.” An assumption that he would be a perfect subject to spread the disease because he could handle it better. How can one assume that because he went to school longer to be a doctor and was white that he would be a better carrier? Butler pushes not only the reader’s assumptions but the characters’ assumptions from the book as well. A stereotype that even caught me on the first read even though it’s proven that the virus shows no prejudice in it’s victims.

At the beginning of Clay’s Ark Rane and Kerry were almost immediately identified in their race, half black, and in conjunction readers assumed Blake wasn’t a racist man. I mean he couldn’t be right? How could a father of two black children possibly be racist? As easy as that assumption was, we must not exclude to notice that the disease carriers were racist in their choosing of the girls, waiting to test out different people to see who fared better after infection. Using their race as an excuse to further their knowledge of the disease was prevalent from the first chapter. This also appears in Washington’s Medical Apartheid, where black people, usually slaves, at the time of slavery were being used and abused to extract medical knowledge. Washington also notes that doctors even displayed their bodies being surgically operated on in front of an audience of people. Once black lives being unwillingly chosen to benefit the “greater” knowledge of others. 

In Butler’s Clay’s Ark, it seems Blake is just starting to get a taste of what black people might be facing in society’s judgmental eye when he is chosen by the infected people in connection with his daughters. He may have thought he knew what they were facing beforehand but when he is captured, Blake is most certainly learning what it feels like to be judged on his superficial appearance and he is clearly resentful of the infected people for it. The girls are asked about their race multiples times in the book as if they couldn’t possibly be Blake’s daughters. Butler states, “What kind of cradles have you been robbing, Doc?” The demeaning tone of this quote is undeniably racist and so is the infected man Eli. The subtle detail of Eli calling him Doc attempts to place him on a social pedestal above his daughters as if they couldn’t possibly have a father that’s a doctor. 

            I think the irony in this racism and particular choosing of people to infect is that those infected with the organism came together to combat the assumptions that others might make about them. Especially how others might view their children where Butler states, “What in hell was going to happen to a kid who ran around on all fours? A freak who could not hide his strangeness.” This is a hypocritical way of thinking since they attempt to convince others to give the infected people a chance and get defensive when questioned about their physical appearance, yet Eli clearly struggles accepting his own son Jacob. The infected people also contradict themselves by picking Blake to be infected because they believed he would be the best carrier possible based on socially constructed opinions of more education equaling a better life and overall better person. A strange judgement for people who want to delve past the physical appearance and be accepted for the people they are. Not only does Butler do her job to push the reader’s character building passed the superficial, but the reader must also do their job in identifying the assumptions they made and realize they may be just as imperfect as the characters in the book.

Animal Experimentation

The scientific community has the responsibility of reporting research that benefits society at large. In the ideal world, scientific experiments would hold ethics to be a top priority. The reality is that animals are often used in testing for a variety of desired outcomes. Animal cruelty has been brought to national attention, but not all animals are recognized in these efforts. How we define animals influences what we deem as acceptable for their participation in experiments. 

The parasite, Diplostomum pseudospathaceum, affects larger organisms such as trout and birds. Although it is microscopic, the parasite has a complex life cycle that is marked by its presence in various stages of multiple species. It finds itself in a bird’s excretions, a part of a snail’s diet, and within the skin of a fish. Each species that the parasite infects is notably different from the other, however, the parasitic relationships are common for each animal.

If it’s directly impacting bigger animals, I’d suggest that it should be treated likewise, especially when considering its use in experiments. The experimentation by Nina Hafer, a German parasitologist, seems to believe otherwise. Scientists at Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology infected an organism with mature and immature parasites. Hafer’s reasoning is that “ It contributes to showing how many traits and species can be affected by host manipulation, which should make it an important factor in how parasites alter the ecological interactions of their hosts.” The parasites are dangerous to the host organism, yet still used by scientists for their experiment. Even the word “manipulation” suggests that there is a control of one species by another. Humans are often controlling other animals as test subjects. Proponents of animal testing may argue that such acts are necessary for the advancement of science. They argue the need to examine results on other animals before determining its safety for humans.  

In most experiments that utilize animals, the test subject can not consent to the practice. Even if the process is as simple as observing the animal, the lack of consent is unethical. In addition to understanding the parasite, scientists have also conducted studies on the fish that become infected. Preston reports that “researchers simulated a bird attack by making a shadow swoop over the tank, the fish froze – but infected fish resumed swimming sooner than uninfected ones.” The purpose of the experiment was to demonstrate how parasites can minimize a fish’s chance of survival. The fish, however, becomes an unconsenting subject in the act of experimentation. 

The ever-changing scientific world brings us new methods for approaching science every day. Without the numerous experiments by scientists, we wouldn’t be able to survive as a species. The drawback to modern science is the unethical experiments that are inflicted upon other animals. Any animal that is used for science is presupposed to be inferior to humans because they are subject to treatment that wouldn’t be acceptable for fellow humans.

The Deep Effects of Racism and Prejudice on the Body and Mind Analyzed through Toni Morrison’s Characters in “Home”: Part 2- Cee By Ashley Boccio

To continue the idea of character development and growth from my last post, we will be analyzing Morrison’s character Cee, a young, and naive woman at the start of the novel “Home”. When Cee’s brother Frank leaves for the war, for the first time in Cee’s life she is left facing the world without her older brother by her side protecting her. As a consequence, Cee finds herself in a life altering situation working as an assistant to a private practice, experiment-oriented doctor. As the reader follows Cee through her time with the job, it is clear off the bat that there is something incredibly wrong with the situation that she is about to insert herself into. However, Cee as a character is entirely oblivious to the red flags as she comes across them, innocent in not knowing the clear malice they foreshadow. This incident circles back to Cee and Franks shared denial and oblivious nature towards malevolent situations, as discussed in my previous post regarding the burial of a murdered man, blanketed with the imagery of horses.

To truly understand Cee, it is important that we delve deeply into chapter four of Morrison’s novel, where we follow Cee through the process of being interviewed and starting at her new job with the doctor. As Cee makes indicative observations, it is painful to watch as she processes these observations incorrectly, failing to recognize them as dangerous. For example, in Cee’s first weeks at the job, she begins to notice different aspects of the house such as the doctor’s extensive library:

“Now she examined the medical books closely, running her finger over some of the titles: Out of Night. Must be a mystery, she thought. Then The Passing of the Great Race, and next to it, Heredity, Race and Society” (Morrison 65).

Each of these books contain ideologies pertaining to white supremacy, and belief in superior genetics; ideologies that inspired Hitler’s “aryan race”. Anyone who is familiar with these texts would be strikingly alarmed by their proud appearance in a library of a home due to the horrifying opinions and studies that the books contain. Additionally, being that Cee is African American, the display of these books should have been perceived as dangerous and hostile. However, Cee is completely unaware of the harsh, racist ideas described in the texts due to her lack of education in the subjects, and instead she views the library as a representation of the doctor’s extensive knowledge. In Harriet Washington’s, Medical Apartheid, she specifically discusses in chapter six the dangers of scientific theory and the influence that it has on public social opinions. This ties in perfectly with Morrison’s Home as we become aware of the books that are present in the doctor’s home. Washington goes into great detail about how these rogue “scientific theories” were being used as justifications for the horrendous mal treatment and prejudice towards individuals based on the man-made construct of race: “But scientific theory was beginning to trump other philosophies. Scientific theories of racial inferiority had strongly informed the entire nation’s medical perception of African Americans as befitted of slavery, if only because few scientists outside the South troubled themselves to investigate” (Washington 145). In Home, the doctor uses Cee’s perceived “race” and social status to justify his experimentation on her all in the name of science. Morrison successfully displays the dangers of perceived “higher intellectual” thought, as many times these studies were heavily opinionated and just looking for any reason to push down non-whites. Washington uses Dr. Josiah Nott as an example, and his scientific paper on his theory about mulattoes and their standing in the social hierarchy: “The Mulatto A Hybrid – Probable Extermination Of The Two Races if Whites And Blacks Are Allowed to Intermarry” (Washington 145).

It is important to recognize that it is not Cee’s fault that she is naive to these warning signs; circumstantially Cee was truly deceived and manipulated into trusting a home that should have been viewed as a hell house. Her deceivers had specifically been looking for poor, young women, like Cee, that would be naive and unaware of the nonconsensual malice that the job entailed. Cee had been strategically interviewed in a manner that displayed her lack of education, making her a perfect candidate for the doctor’s plans: “Did you graduate from high school? No ma’am… Count? Oh, yes. I even worked a cash register one. Honey, that’s not what I asked you. I can count, ma’am. You may not need to…” (Morrison 59-60). Cee is at a complete disadvantage due to her lack of education, something she even recognizes as she states “How small, how useless was her schooling, she thought, and promised herself she would find the time to read about and understand “eugenics.” This was a good safe place she knew…” (Morrison 65). In this statement alone it is evident how deeply her employers have trapped her in their snare, making Cee trust them entirely. The doctor can be viewed as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, and Cee at this moment only sees the docile, gentle sheep (the beautiful home, the good paying job, the benefits), rather than the monstrous truth (the doctor is going to non-consensually experiment on Cee). 

Circling back to Cee’s observations, it is important to note that Cee is cunning enough to recognize the pattern of the type of people who have had this job in the past, yet she fails to puzzle together why this pattern is present and dangerous: “Her admiration for the doctor grew even more when she noticed how many more poor people – women and girls especially – he helped” (Morrison 64). Cee views this pattern as a representation of the doctor’s kind, giving nature rather than as a warning, and thus another layer is added to the doctor’s deceptively “sheepish” appearance.

Lastly, at the conclusion of chapter four, Cee engages in a truly stomach turning conversation with Sarah, a long term worker of the house. In this ominous scene, Cee is depicted sharing a melon with Sarah, and as they “split the melon,” Sarah repeatedly references that this melon must be female, and why the females are most desirable. As she continues to personify the melon as female, Sarah gives a low-chuckle laugh insinuating that she knows what is going to happen to Cee: “Sarah slid a long, sharp knife from a drawer, and with intense anticipation of the pleasure to come, and cut the girl in two” (Morrison 66). And with this concluding line, the reader is able to assume the reason Frank has received word that Cee is ill, and at the edge of life and death.

After receiving this information, Frank does everything in his power to get to Cee, taking long train rides, staying in strangers homes and so on. When Frank finally reaches Cee, she is in the doctors home, barely conscious and excessively bleeding from her female organs. The Doctor had been consistently drugging Cee and cutting her open bit by bit to perform ungodly experiments. Frank lifts up Cee and rushes her back to their childhood home, where she is delivered to the strong, elderly black woman of the community, who are versed in their own version of the healing process. These women through tough love, and hard work heal Cee both physically and emotionally from the experience that she has just endeavoured. As they rebuild her physical strength, they toughen up her psyche as well: one of the women Ethel even exclaims to Cee, “Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no evil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world”( Morrison 126). Through this healing of the body and mind Cee is finally shown as maturing and independent in character, no longer susceptible to her previous naiveties. As stated by Ethel, “First the bleeding…Next the infection….Then repair” (Morrison 121). Cee begins to truly recognize and accept what had happened to her, and in doing so, she uses this deep pain for personal growth and repair.

As the novel comes to a conclusion, we follow Frank and Cee as they go to bury the man they witnessed as children be improperly buried and hidden from the world. Together the siblings gain closure on the events of their life thus far, accepting the pain, and ultimately conquering it to continue on with their lives.  As they put these bones from their childhood to rest, Cee and Frank stand together under a tree when Cee states: “Come on, brother. Let’s go home” (Morrison 146). This closing line is significant in the fact that Cee is now leading Frank, rather than vice versa. This statement solidifies Cee’s new found strength and independence as a character as she comes full circle at the second burial of this man. 


When people often think of others with AIDs, we think of them differently than someone without. We do not normally see them as we did before, in our eyes they somehow change. The same happens with those that have the Clay’s Ark disease, in the book by Octavia Butler by the same name.

Those with the Clay’s Ark disease are looked at differently, they have different abilities, or they look different. But, in reality, all of these people are the exact same, personality wise, as they were before. Personalities do not change because of a disease, their abilities might though. As when we discover that the children with the disease, namely Jacob who is Meda and Eli’s son, have advanced abilities. “Every child born to them after they get the disease is mutated in some way. … The way he moves- catlike, smooth, graceful, very fast. And he’s as bright or brighter than any other kid his age.” (Butler 512).

The same goes for people who have AIDs, they are still the same on the inside. The misconception that a disease changes a person completely is not true. Just because a person is acting slightly different, doesn’t mean they are different. Their personalities and their true selves remain unchanged. People just tend to act different because they know they have a disease, they are being affected emotionally, mentally, and often times physically as well. So they act out of character at times.

Often times people with AIDs are marginalized and targeted. “American attitudes toward people with AIDs have also mutated from protective to punitive” says Washington in her book Medical Apartheid. People have become less concerned with helping people with AIDs and more concerned with punishing them in some way.

By becoming more concerned with punishment, people see those with AIDs as different people because they think they are to blame for their own disease. Within Clay’s Ark, people are punished for having the disease, in a way. They are held in cells after unknowingly being infected, they are not allowed to see each other, even if they are family, as Blake is not allowed to see his daughters in the book.

Towards the end of Clay’s Ark Blake begins to act out, becoming more violent and yelling at his daughters, which he never does. This, we can assume, is the disease taking over, as we were warned at the beginning would happen. But the difference is that this disease is not a real one, and AIDs is very real. AIDs does not make a person act differently, nor does any disease, sometimes people just do not know how to deal with what they are going through. They act differently of their own accord.