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Is There a Contact Zone-revised

weilla yuan's picture

Humans are the superior animals in this universe, we create a strong contact zone to other species in this world. This contact zone is what makes the world as it is now, balanced and harmonious. Sometimes, people will think of the idea of someone trying to break the zone. In Butler’s short story of “Blood child”, humans (Terrans) are dominated by worms(Tlic). The superior species and humans create a contact zone where they need humans to carry their young, and at the same time humans need their eggs to get longer lives. Even though it is a society that has a huge hierarchy, there is still a balance in it: worms give humans their eggs to eat, the humans incubate their offspring. In the story, after seeing what will happen to humans once they carry worm babies, the main character Gan tries to break the balance. He first refuses to carry the worm eggs(BC[1] page 14), and then he asks the worm mother T’Gatoi to show humans what it is like to get the babies out of their belly instead of hiding that from them(BC page 17). These are all the signs that show Gan is trying to break the balance of the contact zone by trying to reduce the gap between worms and humans…

The teacher is still talking on and on with his theory of the world. The topic of today is too heavy, now Weilla just wants to go somewhere and relax.

“Oh my god! This little bird is so cute!” Weilla shouts out surprisingly. She is now at the train station waiting to go to Center City. A little sparrow just landed near her and it seems that it is trying to find something to eat. Weilla loves birds, so she leans over and tries to say hello.

“Hello little bird! Come over here!”

She looks at it and smiles, knowing that the sparrow will not respond to her because it cannot understand human language. However, at the next moment, in Weilla is shocked when the little sparrow jumps over and lands on her shoe!

“Wow! You understand me!” Weilla is so excited by what the sparrow did, “You are trying to make friends with me? Haha!”

At the next moment, Weilla remembers what the teacher said in class.

“Is it trying to break the contact zone?”

Weilla is confused. Does it know what it is doing? Can it actually think about the things that she is thinking about right now?

Weilla stares at this little creature on her shoe. It is staring back at her. When their eyes connect, she suddenly realizes something:

“There is no such a thing as contact zone between different animal species --- because how can we make a contact zone without understand each other? According to Mary Louise Pratt, a contact zone occurs when two people with different levels of power encounter one another, and have to learn the art of connecting with one another by mediating their differences. But I question her presumption about how each of us can distinct ourselves from one another. First of all, we cannot compare who is stronger because we all have different strengths within ourselves. Humans can hunt indeed, but birds can fly, they are the conquerors of the sky. We live in different environments, so it is difficult to say who is “better” than whom.

The most important of all is that all creatures share an instinct that we can understand each other. Maybe not through language, but eye contact, smell or touch. The reason why Pratt thinks that there is a contact zone, which can be broken, is that she begins with a concept of human superiority (and of some humans having more power than others). But rather than thinking of other animals as “breaking the contact zone”, they may just be trying to get to know who we are through their senses. Birds’ brain are not as developed as humans’, they cannot distinguish which one is stronger and which one is not, so they treat us the same.

This is what happens in “Bloodchild”. In our class tableaux, we showed humans being suppressed by the worms, but the worms are not actually conquering the humans. Even though Gan is miserable when he understands what it means to breeding offspring for worms, the worms never actually force them to do this. If the human says no, they will turn to someone else[2]. It is not a contact zone; it is just contact.”

“Hey little thing! You think so too, right?” Clearing her mind, Weilla feels happy and tries again to connect with the sparrow. Maybe because of her over-dramatic movement, the sparrow gets scared off and flies away. Weilla looks at its little body disappearing in the sky and says to herself.

“Next time, just be careful. Try not to scare it off again.”



  1. Octavia Butler,Bloodchild. Bloodchild and Other Stories. Seven Stories Press, 2005. (Refered as BC in the text)
  2. Mary Louise Pratt, Arts of the Contact Zone. Profession (1991): 33-40.



[1] Refer to the bibliography

[2] As above, page 16.