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Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Telling” March 10, 2010

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Sexual orientation in Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Telling is a very divided subject between new and old. Overall, Le Guin seems to have a positive position in regard to homosexuality as the main character was involved in a lesbian relationship. She focuses not so much on the subject of sexual orientation, but on monogamy. The novel is split between those who are down to earth (the Akan) and those who are by the books (the government a.k.a. the Corporation). The Akan do not have any strict beliefs on whether or not people should be heterosexual or not, whereas the Corporation has strict views that are completely against homosexuality. Despite these opposing views, none of the actual characters in the novel appear to have the same strong views as the Corporation against homosexuality.

The opinion that everyone should be involved in heterosexual relationships is only carried by the Corporation itself for the reason that no children can be born. When Sutty is talking to the Yara, a Monitor of the Corporation, she says, “I know you think that’s wrong.” After a hesitation, he said, “Because no children can be born of such union, the Committee on Moral Hygiene declared–” (p. 237). This reasoning, which is also held by the Unists Fathers on Sutty’s homeland of Earth. Although the groups in power believe there should not be homosexuality, none of the actual characters in the book express this opinion. Even the Monitor, who is the most prominent face of the Corporation that the reader sees, does not challenge Sutty’s personal preference.

Sutty’s story of her relationship with Pao is the most intimate story told in The Telling. I think this story further puts the focus on genuine monogamous relationships over strictly heterosexual relationships. Le Guin is using Sutty’s story along with the acceptance of her preferences by the Monitor as a social criticism that monogamy and true love trumps strict sexual orientation.

 

Jeanette Winterson’s “The Stone Gods” February 27, 2010

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“The Stone Gods”(2007) tells the story of Billie, a woman immersed in a world of robotic influence. Billie works closely with Spike, one of the most advanced robots who is part of the species Robo sapiens. The population is recovering from a devastating war, and the Robo sapiens were designed to make emotionless decisions to avoid a reoccurrence. As Billie questions whether emotionless choices are always the best, Spike’s potential to become genetically close to human beings blurs the lines between humans and robots. As Spike becomes more and more like a human, Winterson reveals that Spike indeed feels emotions toward Billie even though she does not have a limbic system.

The inability of robots to express emotions separates them from the humans in the beginning of the novel. Although Spike can learn different emotions and their effects, she does not have a limbic system. When discussing the issue of robot’s emotionless decisions, Billie explains, “We cannot cut out emotion– in the economy of the human body, it is the limbic, not the neural, highway that takes precedence” (p. 142). With Spike, this economy is the opposite. Spike supposedly has no emotions, however, Robo sapiens can evolve and prove to eventually be able to express their emotions. Her first sign of emotion comes through Billie and Spike’s romantic relationship. Although Spike struggles to naturally express her emotions, by the end of the first section her sacrifices display her love and care for Billie. Billie struggles to comprehend her romantic feelings for Spike. She compares their differences and says, “She has no blood. She can’t give birth. Her hair and nails don’t grow. She doesn’t eat or drink. She is solar-powered. She has learned how to cry” (p. 69). Although it is hard to determine whether Spike expresses what she is supposed to feel or what she really is feeling, by the end of “Wreck City,” she clearly expresses what humans know as limbic. Robo sapiens are obviously very advanced and if they must learn emotions to express them then that should not prevent them from being on the same level as human. Just because humans only know emotions through the limbic system does not mean they have to be expressed that way.

 

Octavia Butler’s “Dawn” February 20, 2010

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In Octavia Butler’s novel Lilith’s Brood, the section Dawn opens with Lilith Awakening and finding herself 250 years into the future after a mysterious war destroyed the Earth.  All of the surviving human beings were taken by a species of extraterrestrials, the Oankali, to later inhabit the Earth in a more natural way.  Of course, any intelligent being that does not resemble a human will be disturbing at first sight. What makes the Oankali so different and disturbing is not necessarily their pale grey skin, but their sensory organs. Like the Golans in Leslie F. Stone’s “The Conquest of Gola,” the Oankali make use of multiple parts of their body when sensing their surroundings.

The Oankali do not have separate physical appearances like humans, where some are female and some are male.  None of them have eyes or ears, but the most  humanlike have a type of fur over these areas.  Lilith finds out however, that parts of their skin are not fur, but snake-like organs that Lilith compares to Medusa.  One of the Oankali explains to her, “They’re not separate animals. They’re sensory organs.  They’re no more dangerous than your nose or eyes. It’s natural for them to move in response to my wishes or emotions to outside stimuli” (p. 14). Instead of having separate sensory organs that each relate to a specific sense, like humans do, both the Golans and the Oankali are able to sense with many parts of their body. I think that Butler, like Stone, is trying to convey the importance of being in tune with one’s senses.

The sensory organs create an uncomfortable feeling for me because they make the Oankali into a type of sea creature/human hybrid. Eyes, ears, and noses are body parts that make each human unique from one another as well as allowing us to recognize the familiar. Without these body parts, but with the snake-like organs, the Oankali are both unfamiliar and discomforting.

 

Joanna Russ, “The Female Man” February 13, 2010

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The style in which Joanna Russ’s 1970 novel The Female Man was written creates a confusing narrative that jumps back and forth between the lives of four women living in four different worlds. In each of the worlds, a different degree of feminism is displayed. Russ makes it unclear at times who the narrator is, which was one of the most frustrating parts of the book for me. However, once Jael revealed that all of the characters were different versions of the same woman, Russ’s overall idea of the universal connection of women presents itself. The inability to decipher which woman is narrating at times in the novel strengthens the connection of the four women. Although they are all from different societies, they share many of the same thoughts, which ties into the thought that women able to connect easily to both other women and to their surroundings.

The disconnection of the chapters reinforces the struggles that all of the characters are going through.  Both Jeannine and Janet’s world represent women as needing to leave behind gender roles and find there identity. This problem presents itself to each women even though their situations are vastly different. About Jeannine, Russ writes, “There is some barrier between Jeannine and real life which can be removed only by a man or by marriage; somehow Jeannine is not in touch with what everybody knows to be real life” (p. 120). Although this is specifically about Jeannine, the definition of real life is mysterious in terms of the novel. All of the characters travel back and forth between worlds, which confuses the women of reality.  Many of the first hand narratives could have been written by more than just one of the women.  This emphasizes the similar situations that the women are faced with. Janet, who lives in an all female society, provides the most feminist account since she is not familiar with gender roles and is therefore not afraid to stand up to the men. All of the women are struggling in their societal ties to men whether Jeannine faces the pressure to be married or Janet tries to comprehend the hidden history of Whileaway. The four women try to figure out their sex’s place in society and the disconnections show that no matter how influential men are in each society, women are equally struggling. Russ’s narrative style says to me that it is not as important to understand each detail of the story as much as it is to comprehend the overall message.

 

Karen Joy Fowler’s “What I Didn’t See” February 6, 2010

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In Karen Joy Fowler’s story “What I Didn’t See” (2002), the disappearance of a woman, Beverly, during an excursion to Africa leaves the reader guessing her fate.  The group on the trip is researching the life of gorillas in their native habitat. This excursion takes place before the lifestyle of gorillas was known to be so similar to humans.  While the group is on their excursion, they are accompanied by a group of natives who only recently ceased the practice of cannibalism.  Fowler leaves the reader with a web of possibilities as to what might have happened to Beverly.

Although it is impossible to be sure of what happened to Beverly, certain clues lead me to believe that her life ended by means of the porters. Toward the end of the story they act very strangely.  Some of the men notice this behavior, “How they wouldn’t talk to us, but whispered to each other. How they left so quickly” (p. 353).  This could just be the porters acting scared that the gorillas might continue to take people however, if the men in the group stayed to search the forest, I find it curious that the porters would not even stay at the base camp.  Also, there is not much evidence that points toward Beverly being with the gorillas.  Fowler writes, “The men stayed eight more days on Mount Mikeno and never found so much as a bracelet” (p. 352).  If Beverly had indeed gone off with or been taken by the gorillas, the men most likely would have found some trace of her. Additionally, she was in a tent at the last known time of her whereabouts and there were no prints seen around the campsite. Gorillas taking her from her tent is not very likely, especially since Beverly was not menstruating, which was believed to draw the gorillas to women.  Eddie’s belief that the porters did not take Beverly is the only time Fowler presents the reader with support for the gorillas taking her. The strange behavior of the porters along with their disturbing recent past supports Beverly’s life ending on their terms. There is no factual evidence in the story that tells what happened. Instead, there are many suggestions to various possibilities. Although I would like to believe that Beverly when with the gorillas on her own terms, I can’t help leaning toward the evidence of her being taken by the porters.

 

Lack of Self Control as a Disability January 30, 2010

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Octavia Butler’s story “The Evening and the Morning and the Night” (1987) examines issues of disability with a group of people who have a rare genetic disorder. The story is told through the eyes of Lynn who inherited the disorder from both of her parents, which has a stronger affect. The disability that the group of people has is that they do not have control over themselves when it comes to self-mutilation.

The disease called Duryea-Gode disease, or DGD, causes the people that have it to be alienated from society. The emblems that the DGDs must wear for medical reasons label them as freaks. Butler writes, “Sooner or later, one of those others, finding my fingers and writs bare, would fake an interest in my chain. That would be that” (p. 267).  Lynn shows here the inability of normal people to understand the disease. They seem to think that all of the DGDs should be covered with scars. Butler uses a very sensitive issue as the basis for the “disabled” people’s condition. Self-mutilation is a matter that is very taboo, especially in the United States.  Butler takes this uncomfortable issue and puts it out in the open as the way in which most of the DGD people die. Butler displays the inability to control this self-harming desire as a disability. “They didn’t all commit suicide or murder, but they all mutilated themselves to some degree if they could. And they all drifted—went off into a world of their own and stopped responding to their surroundings” (p. 272).  None of the DGDs can prevent themselves from self-inflicting harm. It is not a normal disability. The DGDs are allowed to take part in normal society, and only when they have begun to destruct themselves are they placed in a protective ward. For a normal person self-mutilation takes a lot of thought and determination, but to the DGDs it is a natural struggle.  Butler uses self-harm as a way to emphasize the lack of control DGDs have over themselves.

 

Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time January 27, 2010

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Connie, the main character of Marge Piercy’s novel “Woman on the Edge of Time” (1976) is extremely different from the women that have starred in previous stories.  She is a drug addict, one-time child abuser, and alone since her blind, pick pocketing husband has died. Connie goes through a constant struggle when thinking about her daughter who was taken away.  All of these aspects force the reader to question whether or not she is reliable and sane.

Connie, during her second stay in a mental hospital, becomes enveloped in a war between future worlds.  The way in which Connie travels to her new companion Luciente’s homeland, Mattapoisett, is one of the more unclear parts of the story.  Luciente tells her, “Understand, you are not really here. If I was knocked on the head and fell unconscious, say into full nevel, you’d be back in your time instantly…” (p.71).  This explanation tells the reader that it is all in her head, she can go back to the present time whenever she chooses.  The communal world of Mattapoisett is not a utopia for Connie. Some parts of Mattapoisett, like the equality of all its people is hopeful for Connie, while other parts, like the peasant type of living situation reminds her of the worse parts of Mexico. When she is caught up in the war between Mattapoisett and the other future world, she devotes herself to fighting for a better future for her daughter and future lineage.

I do not think Connie is sane throughout most of the story.  “The drugs caused [the inmates’ slow walking], the heavy doping; but also the lack of anyplace to go and time, the leaden time, to use up” (p. 87).  The war of the futures appears to me as a way for Connie to deal with her struggles of the present. Her family is constantly against her by putting her into the madhouse, she is taking countless drugs, and she is forced to take part in a new drug experiment, which was how her husband Claud died.  I think the futures serve as both a distraction and a result of the drugs, both the drugs she used in New York and the ones issued by the mental hospital.