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jrizzo's picture

How slaves are made

I am very interested in the point Lydia raises about the value of the protagonist's individual life vs. the good she might have done had she possessed the courage to put herself at risk.  Some further reflection on this question has led me to think that perhaps by making Dana a writer, Butler has attempted to make it implicit that her protagonist must survive in order to tell the tale, to write about her extraordinary and important experience.  This might begin to justify what looks like selfish behavior of Dana's, but the author does make it difficult to pin down by discussing only the difficulty both Dana and Kevin will face attempting to write again.  Either way, I still didn't feel completely satisfied with this answer, and I think this is where the issue of two-dimensional characters actually becomes important.  If Dana had seemed like more of a real person to me, I never would have doubted her instinctual drive to survive.  Since Dana was mostly a collage of observations, her deciscion to fight for her life by keeping Rufus alive seemed very calculated. 

But maybe this is part of the point Octavia Butler is trying to make.  Maybe by intentionally reducing her central character to a stick-figure with wide open eyes, she is encouraging the readers to concentrate on some of the larger questions at play in the novel.  How many times does Dana muse to herself, "How easily slaves are made...?"  Dana doesn't answer her own question about how this hideous transformation occurs in words, but her actions provide sufficient information for me to come to a conclusion.  That basic human selfishness that prompts each of us to guard our own lives against assailants, regardless of what happens to anyone else, that is what makes people slaves, or keeps them slaves.  We can't say they are trapped.  They have choices.  They can either refuse, rebel, and be destroyed, or submit and survive.  If we take into account the power of human survival instinct, we can see that people are less free to make this choice than we might think.  Maybe Butler is trying to minimize the importance of the individual, show us how in a society where basic survival is an all consuming concern, no progress can be made unless we stop caring about our own survival. 

But I can't blame Dana for being concerned for her own survival, and I certainly can't blame Alice who has no reason to hope for anything beyond the current state of her life.  I wonder if this novel is saying anything about how we understand survival?  What do we perceive as neccesary to our own survival?  Dana's concept was radically altered in a few seconds by force of circumstance, but by the end of the story, she has yet to make use of her expanced knowledge and conciousness.  Alice had no reason to fight when she believed the future held only more of the same.  Is Butler, by allowing us a view of the past, emphasizing the importance of trusting our visions for the future?


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