Ownership of Culture and Oneself

So far throughout this course we have talked about and read a lot of stories that contain some idea of ownership. This I would argue is one of the most important seed shapes so far. A seed shape, as explained by Ron Eglash, is the starting shape or point that grows into a much larger pattern or story, this has been exemplified with ownership in the stories we have read, most namely in “Bloodchild” and “Everyday Use”. In both of these texts there is a sense of ownership and entitlement that gets builded on to cause the central conflict or purpose of the story, this can be translated into the greater theme of our class where ownership, of either yourself or your culture, is debated and fought with in the stories we read and the discussions we have. Many main points and themes we have outlined in this class can be traced back to some sort of ownership and the conflicts brought upon as a result. 

In the story “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler ownership is the base for the story because of the ownership the Tlic have over the Terrans, although this is said to be an interdependent relationship, there is still a factor of ownership because it is the Tlic’s planet and they ultimately are in charge over the Terrans. This ownership provides a sprouting point for the story because it creates tension when Gan witnesses a birth and realizes the position they are stuck in because of this ownership. We can see some evidence of the loss of self ownership when Gan says “Thus, we were necessities, status symbols, and an independent people” (Butler 5) Gan acknowledges that Terrans have no control over what happens to them and who can say they “own” them. So although the relationship between Tlic and Terrans does have some give and take it is ultimately up to the Tlic to decide what happens to and what the Terrans can do with their lives. We can see the seed of ownership become visible when Gan says “She would have to give one of us to someone, and she preferred T’Gatoi to some stranger” (Butler 8) this creates the jumping point for the rest of the story, the fact that Gan will be given to T’Gatoi to impregnate because the ownership of Terrans is expected in this world. The rest of the story expands on this by creating conflict within Gan and whether they want to go along with this expectation or leave it. We see this doubt grow when Gan says “”I don’t want to be a host animal,” I said. “Not even yours” (Butler 24) This idea of yearning for freedom from the ownership you have been destined to is the main point of this story. Without the initial seed shape of ownership this story would not have had the basis to create a conflict around freedom and making choices for oneself. Many conversations we had about this story in class centered around the idea of this ownership the Tlic have and the effects that had for the Terrans, and more specifically Gan. 

In the story “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker the seed of ownership takes on many different forms. The first form it takes is one of names, another in the quilts, more generally both of these fall under culture as the debate of ownership, in the story Mama’s daughter originally named Dee comes back home after being away and says she goes by Wangero now because “I couldn’t bear it any longer, being named after the people who oppress me” (Walker 1799) This continues throughout the story where Wangero seems to have come back home completely changed from before. Where she all of a sudden has an interest in her culture and has a certain mindset on how that culture should be owned. This is specifically showcased at the end where Wangero demands she should be the one who gets her Grandma’s quilts because she would honor them the right way unlike her sister. This expands on the concept of ownership, specifically of one’s culture, and the conflicting views on what the “right” way of preserving one’s heritage is. On one hand Wangero insists that the quilts must be hung up and never used, but Mama says that they are meant to be used and Wangero’s sister will do just that. This jumps off of the original idea of ownership because it presents a conflict where the ownership of one’s own culture is debated within a family, more specifically within older and newer generations and viewpoints. Mama, who represents an older generational point of view, believes that the name Dee is fine because it was owned by her mother, and Mama believes that the quilts made by her mother should be owned by a person who is going to use them for their intended purpose, for everyday use. On the other hand Wangero who represents a newer generational way of thinking believes that her old name Dee is a sign of her oppressors and does not belong to her, and that the hand me down quilts should go to someone who is going to preserve them and not wear them down in everyday use to the point where they can no longer be owned by anyone. The newer age of thinking puts emphasis on lasting ownership while the older age is less focused on ownership over experience of culture. 

These stories and their seed shapes of ownership contribute to our class as a whole because the majority of our discussions revolve around these conflicts of ownership and its implications. In “Bloodchild” the ownership of oneself relates to a lot of discussions we have had about slavery and control over your own life and your rights as a human. And in “Everyday Use” the ownership of one’s culture is the basis for many conversations we have had about how culture shifts throughout time and new generations develop new ideas or views on how that culture should be represented. Overall, ownership has been the basis of most discussions we have had in our class so far, which leads me to believe that it is the most important class seed shape as of yet. Where the rest of the semester is concerned, I think that the recurrence of ownership is going to continue and pop up in more readings along the way. I expect that we are going to see more conflict with this idea and turmoil over both the yearning to be free of ownership and the clarification of what type of ownership is the “right” type of ownership. I wonder if this seed shape will take form in more of the short story types like I have outlined, or more biographical instances going forward.