LaVieEnrose89's Blog

In Ursula K. Le Guin’s novel The Telling, Sutty is an “alien” from Terra who arrives on a new planet, Aka, to be an observer. In doing so, she is encountered with different belief systems than the ones she has grown accustomed to on her home planet. Sutty initially views these beliefs in a positive way. The people on Aka seem trustworthy and peaceful. However, she is quickly warned, “These people are not picturesque relics of a time gone by. They are not harmless. They are vicious. They are the dregs of a deadly poison” (85). Sutty did not choose to believe these warnings at first. She thinks she has come to know these people and understand their ways of living and become one with “The Telling.”

The line that truly drew me into the novel was the description of the Akan system as “a religion-philosophy of the type of Buddhism or Taoism” (94). As a deeply nonreligious person and new studier of Buddhism (as a philosophy only), I was at once intrigued with what the Akan system could entail. As in Buddhism, “There are no native Akan words for God, gods, the divine . . . On Aka, god is a word without referent. no capital letters. No creator, only creation” (95). I believe both Buddhism and “The Telling” cannot be accounted for as religions in this sense. I believe religion requires an object of worship and one or more higher beings. I also think religion gives reason for being on earth and being interconnected to one another and a set of morals one must follow without too much debate. Buddhism and “The Telling” both allow there to be debate within its own system of beliefs.

The novel defines “The Telling” precisely as “no binary Dark/Light, Evil/Good, or Body/Soul. No afterlife, no rebirth, no immortal disembodied or reincarnated soul. No heavens, no hells. The Akan system is a spiritual discipline with spiritual goals, but they’re exactly the same goals it seeks for bodily and ethical well-being” (95). As a person who draws her morals from nonreligious beliefs, I think this could be successful belief system for me but certainly not for everyone. I believe that people can be internally ethical and good without the existence of a god or gods telling them they must be so “or else.” Buddhism encourages against doing good for the sake of saying you did good. People acting kindly because they believe a higher power is watching and judging their actions is upsetting to me. However, I am not naive enough to believe that all others agree with me in that people can draw goodness from within. With religious institutions in place, there is still a fair amount of theft and killing and wrong-doing. I think there are a fair amount of people who act the way they do on Earth because they believe it will lead them to a happy ever-after-life. While I believe they are acting for the wrong reasons, I can not deny that it is true. Therefore, I believe “The Telling” would most likely not be a successful belief system for everyone but it could exist as a subreligion or philosophy like Buddhism does.

"To learn a belief without belief is to sing a song without a tune."

Winterson’s portrayal of society and nature in Stone Gods vastly contrast one another.  One cannot have society without nature (notably not the other way around) but society invades, dominates, and destroys nature as if under the impression that it can constantly renew itself.

The fact that society itself is the reason nature’s resources are dwindling are pervasive: “Ok so it’s the planet’s fault.  We didn’t do anything, did we?  Just fucked it to death and kicked it when it wouldn’t get up” (7).  I found this quote to be parallel to our own environmental situation and a not-so-subtle attack on our ignorance.  The people on the heavily polluted planet, Orbus, are aware of the effects their actions have on their own home.  Soon, it will be uninhabitable.  Instead of changing their ways of life or trying to refurbish Orbus, they plan on transporting their lives to Planet Blue– what we know as Earth.  Planet Blue is conveniently readily available to them to occupy, but what if it weren’t?  Winterson says, “I heard Stephen Hawking on the radio talking about how humans must colonise space to have any chance of survival, and I thought what a depressing prognosis of our condition that is. Maybe it’s a boy-thing, this infatuation with rocket ships and rocky worlds. I would prefer to stay here and honour the earth.”  I certainly agree with this statement.  Just because we have the means to other resources that are more expensive to obtain does not justify letting the earth go to waste.  Winterson blames society for being selfish and destructive, knowing the consequences of their actions and not trying to find any solutions but rather leaving their destruction behind them and invading new land.

Winterson emphasizes strongly on society’s views of traditionalism.  Clearly, the Orbus society looks down upon ways of the past.  Billie, the protagonist, has a farm that is the center of much controversy because many people do not have farms anymore.  Solely because of this farm, Billie is subject to speculation and accusations of terrorism.  Traditionalism is not regarded highly, but what has mass technology and industrialization done for their planet?  Destroyed it.  In this, Winterson wishes to parallel this self-destructive society to our own.  Emerging powers on Earth also do not value traditionalism.  Nature is replaced with skyscrapers and factories and money making is the main goal in a majority of people’s lives.  Due to this way of life, we are slowly destroying our own home.  Unlike people of Orbus, we have no convenient other planet on which to restart life.  Winterson’s views on society and nature also send a strong environmental message in Stone Gods.

What is it about the Oankali of Octavia Butler’s Dawn that rubs us the wrong way?  As far as an extraterrestrial race goes, they seem to have quite decent intentions for human beings.  They save, not kill, the remaining human beings from a self-destroyed Earth.  They spend dozens of years studying the remnants of Earth and its subjects to better understand how to incorporate them into Oankali life.  When the protagonist, Lilith, asks about the scar on her stomach she notices after being Awakened, it is revealed to her that a malignant tumor had been removed while she was asleep.  General opinion is that that is a pretty nice thing to do.  Still, something about it just does not seem right.  3**I think what is so unsettling about the Oankali is that while they are so strange and foreign, they still remind us of ourselves as Americans.  That is to say, the Oankali have a huge superiority complex.  While reading “Dawn,” I could not help but think about what we discussed in class about the Americans helping and offering shelter in Haiti–specifically the missionaries who took it upon themselves to “adopt” (kidnap) Haitian orphans (who weren’t really orphans).  The same question comes to mind in both scenarios: what gives them the right?  Who decided they are morally superior?

The Oankali witnessed Earth destroy itself and a majority of its inhabitants.  Jdahya tells Lilith as a superior being speaking to an inferior one, “If they had been able to perceive and solve their problem, they might have been able to avoid destruction” (38).  They do not think Lilith has the right to come face to face with them.  When Jdahya finally explains her purpose for being there and what has changed, Lilith reflects: “This was one more thing they had done to her body without her consent and supposedly for her own good.  ‘We used to treat animals that way,’ she muttered bitterly” (33).  I believe this ties in to our discussion in class about the ways humans find themselves to be morally superior to animals and has a strong animal rights message.  Do we really have the right to test animals for our own benefit?  Who decided we are morally superior to them?  Just because they cannot communicate does not mean they do not have emotions.  This is one thing many of us can relate to– not being able to communicate.  When in a foreign land place with foreign speakers, lack of being able to communicate is very crippling.  This is yet another way that the Oankali see themselves as superior to Lilith; they expect her to learn their language instead of making a compromise and learning hers as well. While they do everything calmly and gently, it still stands that she is a captive (65).  Over and over again, Lilith feels she may be punished or confined in solitude again.  She is told she “know[s] almost nothing” (70).  How could one be grateful to a people that find their methods the only way?  They do not ask for Lilith’s consent or opinion for anything they do but still believe everything is justified.

The relation between Oankali and Americans is not to be taken as an insult.  Americans have done generous deeds for many countries and they are definitely not in the wrong for wanting to help people in Haiti or other troubled countries.  The mindset of the two are similar, however, and both feel they are somehow superior to everyone else either due to intelligence or financial standing.   Because they elevate themselves, they create a hierarchy that can lead to mass misunderstanding.  Holding themselves in so much power could certianly lead to humans living in complete fear and loathing of the Oankali which they seem to do.  The damage they are capable of could be irreversible—such as creating a nonfunctional race that destroys itself as Earth did before.

While reading “The Female Man” I definitely could see Russ’ subliminal messages to her own society of the 1970’s, and these same messages in our own century.  Each of the four separate futuristic societies has a different take on the roles of women and men in relation to our own views.

In the interview with Janet in Part I, we are led to understand that in her world, the male race has been entirely erased with a plague that happened many years before her time.  In Janet’s world, life functions normally without men.  I think this is a fascinating perspective on a futuristic setting.  When I envision the future, I never take into account the possibility that there will only be “half a species.”  This place in and of itself says something about our own society and people like me who perhaps too codependent on the opposite sex.  Janet’s world asks us if we would be able to handle such a place.  She states, “I suppose people always miss what they are used to.  Yes they were missed.  Even a whole set of words, like ‘he,’ ‘man’ and so on- these are banned” (10).  I believe the lack of men in Janet’s society forced the women to become dominant in a way they weren’t before.  They had to advance technologically and socially while taking every aspect into their own hands.  I believe this definitely sends a message to our own society.  It tells us that we as women need not be dependent on men in fields such as technology and given the possibility that we were the only sex on Earth, we would have to learn to live as a dominant species.  Given that this is possible, women should be stronger than they are in today’s society even with men still present.

I also found the party scenario amusing and very typical of many women in today’s society.  Janet would have met a man at a party and be complimented by a man, “she would have felt that compliment was somehow unlike any other compliment she had every received because it had come from that man; she would have wanted to please that man, and at the same time she would have felt that compliment enter the marrow of her bones . . . She would have said: I Am In Love With That Man.  That Is The Meaning Of My Life.  And then, of course, you know what would have happened (30).  This speaks loudly and clearly of women throughout history and is not any different today.  Men are completely capable of manipulating a woman solely by encouraging words.  As the more emotional of the species, simple words affect and control women much more deeply.  I believe Russ intends this to be a mockery of our society.  Many women tend to let their emotional side get the better of them.  While logical, strong, and independent in many scenarios, when it comes to the opposite sex, there are too many women who become submissive.  All varities of women do this no matter their intelligence level or cultural standing.

The women of “What I Didn’t See” are completely belittled and degraded.  The narrator is a woman who is slightly past her prime and about to enter the menopausal stage of her life.  She is entrapped within a society that does not value women and, in fact, does not keep too many women in the premises for the sole reasoning that they hardly serve a purpose to the community.  A dominant character, Archer, attempts to halt the mass hunting of gorillas by using women to lower the status of their sport:  “If one of the girls should bring down a large male . . . it will seem as exciting as shooting a cow.  No man will cross a continent merely to do something a pair of girls had already done” (343).  I find this quote to be highly ironic on several levels.  Obviously it downplays the strength of the woman.  The statement suggests that if a woman can do something, a man will lose all interest and the act itself will lose all appeal.  Furthermore, Archer is attempting to halt the killing of gorillas by killing more gorillas which in my opinion is counterproductive.  All these factors are a gist of what their culture has to offer.

The narrator knows fully well her given place with the men.  Women, who are regarded as a minority group in society in general, are made even more of a minority in this society.  While she is in the jungle she claims, “At the time, you understand that you don’t matter.  You’re small and stuck on the ground . . . If you get bitten by a snake, it’s your own damn fault, not the snake’s” (340).  Although she is referring to nature in this quote, I feel the quote also parallels her role as a woman.  They are aware that they are there to serve purposes to the men.  They are regarded as “small.”  I believe the snake can also represent a venomous sort of male being.  I also believe this quote foreshadows Beverly’s fate.  The large amounts of men surrounding her are like venomous snakes.  They are solely concerned with their own selves and do not really protect the women they have brought on the mission.  I believe they are not to be trusted.  In many ways, they are all more powerful than she and the narrator.

Beverly, the other key female character in the story, is brought along mostly for the amusement of Merion, a doctor in tropical medicine.  He is divorced and is looking for further companionship.  She is young, pretty, and capable of performing normal housewife tasks.  However, she proves to be disagreeable: “She was quarreling with Merion at the time though I forget about what.  They were a tempest, those two, always shouting, sulking, and then turning on the heat again ( 342).  Given what Merion expects of the women in his society, he most likely regards Beverly as a nuisance.  She further plays with his mind by flirting with another man (344).  After these two incidents Merion becomes a suspect in Beverly’s eventual disappearance out of jealousy.

“What I Didn’t See” does not give us any concrete answers on what happens to one of the exiguous members of the female society.  I believe Beverly’s disappearance plays an imperative role in the story’s title.  The narrator states, “Because I’m a woman I wasn’t there for the parts you want most to hear (352).  She was not there to witness something happening to her.  Her husband, Eddie, seems to know details but is either too afraid or feels she could not handle the truth about her friend.  The narrator refers to herself as “the first white woman to see the wild gorillas and the one who saw nothing else-not the chains, not the beatings, not the massacre” (354).  In her society, she improves her status by being the first of her gender to see the wild gorillas.  I would consider this a step forward.  However there was much she was unable to witness or play an active part in and I think this is her biggest regret.

In “The Evening and the Morning and the Night,” the protagonist, Lynn, learns that she has Duryea-Gode Disease.  She inherited DGD from both her DGD infected parents.  Apparently, this disease makes the person spontaneously extremely violent and self destructive.  She attempts to kill herself by slicing her wrists but is eventually stopped by her father.  Shortly thereafter, her dad brutally kills her mother and then takes his own life only to leave Lynn alone with her disease.

Throughout the story, Lynn is a seemingly sane and more or less personable narrator.  She shows a few odd signs, her suicide attempt, for instance (265), but appears to be quite normal nevertheless.  One aspect we discussed in class that makes a person is one’s ability to communicate.  Lynn communicates perfectly well.  She shows above average intelligence, “The weird part was, I worked hard, got top grades.  If you work hard enough at something that doesn’t matter, you can forget for a while about the things that do”  (266).  Lynn is able to differentiate between things that matter and those that do not.

She is an intellectual and perhaps even more deeply than most other people do.  Given that her parents dried rather tragically, she finds it necessary to build herself up academically and ahieve high grades and constantly work hard.  I believe Octavia Butler is trying to convey her views on disabilities in this regard.  Butler believes that a disability does not define what a person is capable of.  One with a disability can be of equal or greater intelligence to the average human.  Living with a  disability, one might wish to prove commonly held beliefs wrong and rise above the standards. While Lynn has a serious medical problem, every other aspect about her seems to be quite normal.  If she does not physically show her symptoms, one may never be aware of her illness.  Lynn also reminded me of the video of the autistic person we saw.  While we as English speakers could not understand the language the person spoke, her intelligent thoughts were made clear to us by use of a computer generator.  Being able to see and understand her thoughts certainly cause you to second guess your own ideals on disabilities. This autistic person and Butler must share similar views on disabilities.  While the rest of the world discriminates against them for not conforming or being able to conform with their society, they still have the ability to think and comprehend.  I believe both the autistic person and Lynn (and Alan who is also able to function as well as Lynn) think of themselves as persons.  Both are also well aware of people’s discrimination toward them.

Butler continues expressing her thoughts on disability and difference with the remaining parts of “The Evening and the Morning and the Night.”  Lynn claims, “At the beginning of my third year, four other DGDs and I decided to rent a house together.  We’d all had enough of being lepers twenty-four hours a day.  There was an English major.  He wanted to be a writer and tell our story from the inside-which had only been done thirty or forty times before”  (267).  I see several ideas Butler could be expressing here.  Since these people are so different, they are forced by society to interact solely with one another because they are not accepted otherwise.  Or perhaps, they seek comfort and consolation with people who are similar to themselves.  Also, these people are perfectly capable of renting, going to school, and completing majors that anyone else does.  With the last sentence, I am not sure if Lynn means this cynically, sarcastically or just informing us that the disease is not widely discussed.  In my opinion, Butler intends this to mean their story can be told dozens or hundreds of times “from the inside” but no one will fully comprehend what their conditions are like as their differences are seemingly too vast.

Marge Piercy’s “Woman on the Edge of Time” is not introduced or read like your typical science fiction novel.  Connie Ramos is a Mexican American middle aged woman living in a society where she and her niece and others like them are truly oppressed in an almost unbelievably heteropatriarchical society.  This placement of an impoverished people is reminiscent of their place in many societies even today.  Her niece is physically beaten continuously by the “pimp,” Geraldo, whom she expects to be her unborn child’s father.  Dolly is a young prostitute and believes that if she carries this man’s baby he will have more respect for her.  In thinking this, what are Dolly’s views on the role of a woman in society?  Does she, even as a prostitute, not deserve respect if she is not the mother of Geraldo’s child?  We may view Dolly’s beliefs as foolish, but women in our society have acted similar to Dolly.  Many women believe that after they bear a man’s child, he will somehow automatically regard her more highly and have respect for her.  Certainly, many times this is not the case.  Furthermore, Dolly accepts and perhaps even feels she deserves the abuse from Geraldo.  After being severely beaten, she still has hardly any negative words to say towards him to her aunt solely because “he is [her] man.”  Dolly is completely financially dependent on Geraldo.  This too exemplifies a heteropatriarchy in their society.  Gender plays a huge role.  Dolly nor her aunt have any say in whether or not she gets an abortion.  Dolly fights it physically for a short time but it is a losing battle.  The doctor sides with Geraldo and the nurses hardly even question her wants or needs.  I found this aspect quite ironic that Dolly was fighting against an abortion.  This novel was written three years after the passing of Roe V. Wade.  This case settled a woman’s right to choose the fate of her fetus.  Dolly’s situation is a skewed version of Roe V. Wade as she has no choice in the abortion of the baby that she longed to keep.  I can’t help but wonder what Piercy’s message with this is.  As an impoverished woman, Dolly has no choice on the matter.  Had she been a part of a higher society, the middle class even, she would be able to have control of her own body and not be completely submissive to Geraldo, although she attempts to put up a fight.

In the futuristic Mattapoisett Connie visits, oppression is nonexistent.  The planet is  peaceful and genderless.  Everyone participates equally in a symbiotic society.  Even the birth of children is not restricted.  There is one class in Mattapoisett.  Furthermore, unlike in Connie’s world, childbirth is not limited to the female sex which is one reason that heteropatriarchy becomes a thing of the past.  Connie does not understand this place at first.  Even while she is in a devastated state back home, she can not see how this place is better.  Eventually though, she comprehends the message of peace and equality that she feels the need to bring back home before the destruction of her own peoples.  Mattapoisett emphasizes the importance of not using non-reusable products and mindless entertainment that has corrupted Connie’s society.  We see that the oppression of the environment and the oppression of classes in our society, which is on a similar level to Connie’s society though possibly not as bad, go hand in hand.


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  • margotkimball: Correction: I meant the asteroid made Planet Blue uninhabitable.. not bomb. Oops!
  • margotkimball: I definitely agree that Winterson is making a strong environmental statement with "The Stone Gods." She doesn't seem to hide it at all, and takes it t
  • knightwillow: How you interpret the story depends on how you see gender to be socially constructed. Today the line between male and female is being blurred. If yo

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