Octavia Butler’s The Evening and the Morning and the Night (1987) presents a very eerie future indeed. At first I thought that the mysterious Duryea-Gode disease was just a simple futuristic version of depression. After a while I realized that it was, with a catch. We can generally acknowledge that wrist cutting is not uncommon among depressed people, but what if this violent impulse eventually overcame the depressed patient and turned them into a crazily incoherent cannibal hungry for their own flesh? Honestly, this story made me want to join the millions of sedated satisfied customers and pop a Prozac.
But, I guess that’s just a testimony to how powerful her message really was. This was a clearly didactic story, and Butler was very up front about it. The fact that all the DGD patients have incredible mental powers of focus and creativity harkens to our general perception of artists today. It’s no secret that an unusually high number of artists struggle with depression- R.I.P. Vincent Van Gogh’s ear and Kurt Cobain’s.. life. Personally, as a more creatively inclined person who has made some art and seen a shrink, I think that such types of people have a finer emotional tuner, so to speak, and so are more receptive to any mood- manic or depressive. I recognized a lot in the descriptions of the DGD patients’ aptitudes and mind sets (apart from the whole tearing- your-flesh-off thing.) Obviously, Octavia Butler herself falls under the general category of “artists” as writer, so she has personal investment in this. Perhaps she herself has felt the more emotional aspects of her artistic personality oppressed like the DGD patients? This is certainly one (gruesomely fascinating) way to deal with it.
It makes sense that if Butler identifies most with the DGDs personally, then she would create a world where there is increasing awareness brought to their plight. In her story, they even have a fearless, aged leader who is suffering from the same “disease” but starts a school-like institution where all the outcasts can channel their weirdness into something that benefits the greater good! I’m talking about The Evening and the Morning and the Night, what did you think I was referring to?
Is Connie crazy? Is Mattapoisett real? I feel a bit crazy myself every time I try to come to a conclusion about these central questions to Marge Piercy’s Woman On the Edge of Time (1976). We have Connie, a normal woman living in New York City, except for the fact that she has been committed multiple times to a state mental institution. When I say normal, I mean that I interpret her stays at Rockover as similar to the type of mid-twentieth century mental health professions abuse that we touched on in discussion of stories from Larbalestier’s; namely that women are forced into these mental institutions if they show any sort of resistance to the strict social confines of a patriarchal society. Connie is a unusually independent-minded woman for her time, which costs her dearly at Rockover.
When I picture Rockover as I’m reading, I think of the Claymore mental institution from Girl, Interrupted (1999). Another element of this film that reminds me of Woman On the Edge of Time, is the main characters apparent semblance of sanity juxtaposed against the truly crazy women in their wards.
But that’s the thing about the protagonists’ craziness- they seem normal compared to people around them, but are they really? Girl, Interrupted’s main character, Susanna, at times suffers hallucinations that deviate severely from reality. As I read Woman On the Edge of Time, I couldn’t help but think the same thing of Connie, at times. I noticed all the smaller details which would make Connie’s visits to Mattapoisett possible delusions. First off, she only connects to Luciente and goes to Mattapoisett when she’s alone- in a public restroom, in her isolation cell, etc. So, no one else is there to see this happen. The details of life in Mattapoisett also concern me- she notes from the beginning that this place is not the space-age, highly technological world she expected the future to look like. Instead, she comments repeatedly how Mattapoisett reminds her of her family’s home in Texas, and how poor and peasant like everyone seems. If Mattapoisett is a hallucination, it makes sense that she would only be able to imagine it as a place based off of some scenario already existing in her brain. The last doubtful issue of Mattapoisett is the technology itself; she describes that there exist many advanced technological systems and gadgets there, yet her interaction with them while she’s visiting Mattapoisett is very limited, again pointing to the fact that her brain can only conjure up hallucinations based on what it already knows.
So yeah, at this point I’m going to say that yes, Connie is off her rocker!
Just finished reading my favorite story of the quarter so far, Pat Murphy’s “Rachel In Love” (1967). Sorry to all you cynics out there, but my first reaction upon finishing it was, ‘Finally, a story with a happy ending!’ At least that’s how I took it, anyway. The final lines, “Then she takes Johnson by the hand and starts down the hill. Rachel is going home,” seemed very hopeful for me- or maybe I was just hopeful for Rachel. She’s a very unique protagonist, as Joan Haran notes in her follow up article, “Simians, Cyborgs and Women in ‘Rachel in Love’”-“Rachel is not a hard boiled ironic protagonist.” Keeping up with my film connection theme from last week’s post, the protagonist Rachel actually strongly reminded me of, not Anne Hathaway which the title of this post misleadingly suggests, but the titular protagonist of Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990). In the beginning of the story when Aaron dies, I was especially reminded of an almost exactly similar scene in Edward Scissorhands when Edward, the sci-fi brainchild of a lonely male scientist, is abandoned by his creator, The Inventor’s death.
Speaking of male scientists, androcentrism is definitely dealt with in this story. The repeated reference to the scary men in white lab coats by Rachel and the ASL-capable male chimp at the Primate Research center, is noticeable in connection to the concept of hurt. In this story, it is not the old scenario of man-hurt-woman, but man hurt everyone around him. Primates of both genders in the Research Center are harmed by the mysterious “men,” which makes me wonder if this story is in fact not so feminist as it is PETA-ist. If this were true, then I would consider the story to be more anthropocentric. By the end of the story, I was definitely pulling for Rachel and Johnson along with all the viewers and readers following them in the story, hoping that they would win out against the evil and inhumane scientists from the Primate Research Center.
When I read “Created He Them” I was struck by the similarity of the story to Richard Yates’ novel Revolutionary Road. For those who haven’t read the book, here’s a link to the trailer for the very true film adaptation which came out last year: http://www.apple.com/trailers/paramount_vantage/revolutionaryroad
Unsurprisingly, both stories were published around the same time- 1955 and 1961 respectively (and Revolutionary Road is set in the 50’s.) The parallel structure of the roles of men and women in both stories were especially noteworthy. The protagonist of Revolutionary Road, April Wheeler, struggles against society’s social confines that her husband Frank perpetuates at home, similar to Ann Crothers’ struggle against the political restrictions reflected in her husband Henry’s attitudes. April doesn’t want to be just another mindless suburbanite housewife- she has dreams for a future in Paris and artistic aspirations and traits. Ann wants her life to be more than that of the government’s breeder, because she truly cares for her children and wants happiness for herself and for them. Instead of finding this personal freedom, in the end both women succumb to the pressure of living under their husband’s control. Ann resignedly “go(es) forth and multiplies in a Seconal-induced haze,” and April dies after a botched self-performed abortion. It is interesting to note that both heroines’ demises are brought about by resistance to their duties as child-bearers. The similarity in the feminist conclusions on the husbands are also significant. It is hinted at in both stories that Frank and Henry would both be far less malevolent were it not for their negatively transformative circumstances. Frank starts out as a true romantic sharing April’s Paris dreams, and it is understandable from the reader’s viewpoint how such a cruel, overworked life could turn Henry into the man that we meet in the story. Finally, I also noticed the difference in gender between the authors of these works. Revolutionary Road was written by a man, but has a very feminist perspective to it. The levels of antagonism reached by the male leads of the stories are noticeable in this context, as Henry is much more perceptibly evil than Frank. (This was originally published Jan. 8th 2010 @ 15:50 but I accidentally published it as a page and not a post, and now I’m making it an official post so that my blog looks more legit, so the time signature on this will probably make it look like I submitted it really late. But I didn’t! I promise!)