Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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It’s possible to misread anything

Here’s a post at BookRiot: Is it possible to misread Octavia E Butler?

Of course it is. The author of the post demonstrates how:

The titular tale in Butler’s one and only short story collection, “Bloodchild” describes a future where humanity has developed a complicated relationship with a race of insect-like creatures known as the Tlic. The Tlic chooses one child from every family to be impregnated and “host” Tlic eggs inside their body. In exchange for this service, the Tlic “allow” the humans to live inside a special compound and ingest sterile Tlic eggs, which work as a kind of opiate, keeping the humans calm and happy. Oh, and the humans are banned from possessing any weapons, for fear of an uprising….The first time I read this story, I assumed Butler has written “Bloodchild” as an allegory for slavery in North America. It seemed so obvious: the Tlic are the white enslavers and their controlling humans’ bodies for their own benefit, all while insisting the humans are fortunate to be subjugated….But Butler had heard this interpretation many, many times before, and wrote in her afterward to “Bloodchild” that she was “amazed” people kept viewing her story through this lens. And although the story does includes a group of humans that are, in a literal sense, enslaved, this reading is a vast oversimplification of what Butler was doing with the characters and their motivations.

Well, I agree that “Bloodchild” is a powerful story. But this interpretation never once occurred to me. Not to brag, but here is what Butler said about this story:

As Butler noted, “Bloodchild” is a love story, a coming-of-age tale, and what-if scenario about a man becoming pregnant with a weird, alien, bug-creature. In the afterward, Butler states she wanted to explore a scenario where a man could become pregnant not by accident or out of curiosity, but by love. … In this way, Butler explores gender roles within the family unit and societal structures. Gan takes on the traditional role of female not only in birthing offspring, but making a powerful decision in a scenario where he has very little power to begin with.

And even when I was a kid, I thought that was *very very* clear. Reduce the story to a parable about slavery and you remove practically all its power.

This is a good post; click through and read the whole thing.

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