“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler starts out as a very… usual work of science fiction. When I first started reading this story, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen this all before. An alien race enslaves humanity (or rarely, vice versa) and indoctrinates them into accepting their subservient role in society, but one day, some brave, righteous humans find out the truth and begin to strike against their masters in the name of rebellion. The body horror aspects of Tlic reproduction help reinforce the unease they create.
However, that idea is purposeful misdirection. “Bloodchild” isn’t about slavery, brainwashing, or aliens versus humans. It’s a complicated tale of Terrans and Tlic both trying their best to maintain their people and freedom in an uneasy and uncomfortable arrangement for both parties. It’s that complexity that makes “Bloodchild” so interesting.
As an outside reader, it’s easy to bring our own morals and norms into a story without realizing it. The reader is tempted to assume that Terrans are forced into a horrible relationship where they have to give horrifying birth to aliens against their will just to advance the Tlic’s society. It’s important to remember, however, that the Tlic race was dying out before the start of the story. T’Gatoi informs Gan that the host animals the Tlic used to use for implantation had been killing most of their young for generations. Humanity represents the Tlic’s only hope for survival.
Additionally, the humans in the story were not captured as breeding slaves. According to the story, they first came to the Tlic’s world as refugees, escaping oppression and violence in their own society on Earth or elsewhere. While the Tlic did treat the humans badly initially, putting them in pens like animals, the story also indicates that the humans did much the same, treating the Tlic like overgrown worms to be detested. T’Gatoi was one of the first Tlic to advocate for the (limited) rights of Terrans, and although that issue is still not perfect, the arrangement the Terrans have is clearly superior to the one they had beforehand.
Finally, it’s important to remember that the mindset and morals of the Tlic are not exactly the same as ours. T’Gatoi sees nothing inherently wrong with implantation because it’s normal in Tlic culture. Likewise, pregnancy is perfectly normal in our culture, despite it being incredibly painful, and before the 20th century, often lethal. Consuming infertile eggs to lengthen one’s lifespan is also normal for the Tlic, even if it might seem artificial or dubious to humans. Mutual recognition is a key idea here — recognizing each other as subjects, not objects. Recognizing that morals and cultural traditions, while often similar, are not universal, is important to understanding the mindsets of other people.
Indeed, that is what the Tlic are — people. The story refers to them as such. Even though they might look like gross, giant centipede-things with the gift of speech and technology, they are still individuals with their own desires, fears, and personalities. On the third page of the story, Gan’s mother implies in a flashback that T’Gatoi herself was somewhat ostracized among her own people for some time. These are living, breathing people with their own society, and we should not reject it just because it isn’t “human”. Love can take many forms, and whether it’s familiar or not, unless it’s actively hurting someone against their will, we should accept it.
Jessica Benjamin explains that people have to recognize everyone as individuals in order to avoid dominance and aggression. People need to build relationships to steer clear of building a hierarchy of dominance. Without building relationships, people will never reach mutual recognition. Benjamin disagrees with Freud’s theory because the theory ignores the need to connect with others. It also only allows for women to be submissive players in their own lives. However, both need to realize the power dynamic in order to reach mutual recognition.
This need to recognize that you are in a power dynamic is a bit problematic to me because although people in the submissive side do need to realize they are being oppressed for the relationship to change, more responsibility should be given to the dominant side of the relationship. The dominant side enforces the power dynamic and it ultimately up to them to fix the skewed relationship.
In “Bloodchild” although Gan is ultimately given the choose to decide whether him or his sister should be impregnated, this is not a sign of mutual recognition. The choice is not really his because someone in his family is still going to have to go though this painful process. The terrains do have examples of not completely submitting to the power dynamic. However, the Tilcs are still the ones with the power and will not be willing to give more power to the terrains because then their species would be threatened by not being able to reproduce. The dynamic is very oppressive to the terrains. Gan, since birth, has been brainwashed that it is his duty to be impregnated. When he contemplating not to be impregnated, he was taking some power back but he never reaches mutual recognition. The terrains are seen as a mean to reproduce and not as an individual on the same level as the Tilcs. Mutual recognition would only be achieved if both sides saw each other as equals in all parts of life.
After reading this particular short story, I felt inclined to read it again for a deeper understanding as to what was really going on in the story. What encapsulated me in the story was not necessarily the events that occurred in the text, but more so the character relationships that the father (Abner Snopes) had with others, particularly Abner’s relationship with Sarty.
It is evident in the text that Sarty is a small innocent boy, far different from his father. I take it that Sarty took most of his characteristics from his mother, who tries to protect her children from the wrath of their father on numerous occasions. On the first couple pages of the text we see that Sarty is being forced to testify against his father, however the court ends up dismissing the young boy because they realize how uncomfortable Sarty is throughout the situation. We never truly find out if Sarty would have ratted his father out for burning the barn down. I think it is an interesting question to ponder upon. Would he have exposed his father’s wrongdoing, or would he have remained silent if the court forced him to speak?
While reading the last couple paragraphs of the text, the song “Burn” from the musical Hamilton was playing in my mind. The barn never really got burned down thanks to Sarty telling DeSpain of his fathers plans. Sarty’s father got killed in the process of DeSpain saving his farm however, which is where the song “Burn” comes into play (https://genius.com/Original-broadway-cast-of-hamilton-burn-lyrics ). The lyrics in the song go “You have torn it all apart; I’m watching it burn”, which I think play perfectly into Sarty and Abner’s relationship at the end of the story.
Abner’s evil intentions were the primary reason that led Sarty’s honest nature to expose his fathers plans of burning the barn down. In the last paragraphs of the text Sarty is saddened by his fathers death, he is watching his fathers life “burn” away. Sarty runs away and doesn’t look back. Does a better future await Sarty?
Following my initial reading of the story “Bloodchild”, I was shocked, and couldn’t quite wrap my head around the true “point”, or a true theme, within the story. I noted the peculiarity of the concept of a male pregnancy, and the power dynamic between the Tlic and the Terrans.
Interdependence was one of the biggest underlying themes that I took away from this story. The general interactions between the Tlic and the Terrans, as well as the dependence of the Tlic depending on the Terrans for hosting their spawns and the Terrans depending on the Tlic for governance and nutrients and extended longevity from Tlic eggs, all contribute to the interdependent society that they live in. Although some may argue that the Tlic are abusing their power and are harmfully using the Terrans to host their young, there is no doubt that there are things given and taken from both parties.
Regarding the power dynamics within the story, the idea that the Tlic are indeed receiving more from the Terrans than they are giving is a concept worth exploring. Personally, I feel that you could make an argument for either side, as there are both pros and cons to their societal relationship. The image of a young boy, Bram Lomas, in a state of unconciousness and in immense pain, hurts the reputation of the Tlic and displays them in a harmful, negative light. Gan is then pressured to slaughter an animal, something he has never done before, in order to save a life that was not his responsibility to save. On the opposing side, the Terrans consume the eggs provided for them by the Tlic in order to receive luxeries such as longevity and a youthful appearance.
In summary, “Bloodchild” captures an interdependent society, whether it was truly equal or not. The varying power dynamics shown throughout the story contribute to characterization and display the interesting differences in this society versus the society we live in today.
Hi! First, I loved this story. Even though nothing especially significant happens in it, besides an elephant vanishing of course, I enjoyed a lot about the story: the writing style seemed a bit cozy, if you catch my drift; the characters exuded realness effortlessly, the way the characters interacted felt perfectly nature like not wanting to call someone, not because of outright disinterest, but just because there’s no real reason to; the enrapturing mystery and philosophy of the vanishing elephant; and the meaningless of life.
What I want to touch on are the realness of the story, the elephant, and most of all, the sense of unnaturalness that comes with the vanishing elephant. I enjoy the casual realism that the story has. Even with the elephant, everything seems perfectly logical. In Murakami’s tale, politicians spin every issue to their benefit, events are held for the both the arrival and disappearance of the elephant that seem equally benign, and people are introduced and never find themselves wanting a second meeting. Even the disappearance of the elephant is treated with a realistic touch of apathy: after the search, life strolls on unaffected. In the end, the mystery stays unsolved; there is no neat ending tying everything together but rather a vague sense of anticlimax that I love. Honestly, the ending makes the story for me: the main characters finds no catharsis in his Sherlock Holmesian quest to figure out the mystery but rather a full scrapbook and a dissonant sense of being. At the end of story, one can conclude: this world is just as real than our own.
Now onto the elephant. So far, I’ve only given my opinion on the realness of the story, which although important, doesn’t get to the meat of the story. Indeed, the titular elephant is one of the most important elements of the story. To answer first answer some burning question, I think the elephant and keeper vanished, although I don’t believe that whether or not they truly vanished matters too much in the long run. To answer why, I think it’s just the rationality that’s used to defend their disappearance. The elephant couldn’t have realistically escaped unnoticed: it would’ve left footprints, it was chained with all of the keys untouched, it was surrounded by a prison of iron bars and a ten-foot fence. Even it had, it’s not as though elephants can just escape like that; they’re huge after all. Thus, the only other viewpoint I could see working out is that the elephant isn’t real or didn’t vanish and the narrator is unreliable. I can understand this point a little bit; I mean why should one believe in an event as ludicrous as an elephant disappearing. However, I disagree if one thinks that the elephant simply didn’t vanish or just isn’t real, mostly because of how realistically the events followed were. In the end though, I don’t believe that the elephant is necessarily that important, because ultimately the point is how it affects both the world and the narrator. Eventually, the world stopped caring even though the narrator didn’t. I think there’s room for some discussion about what the elephant could represent, but I’m more concerned about how it relates to the narrator.
I think the narrator is a initially a bit uninteresting. Although he likes watching elephants, which is a little strange, I don’t think it’s any more weird than playing video games, binge-watching, or gardening. He is a Japanese kitchen advertiser of an unknown age, appearance, and, for the most part, personality. We never see him interact with any friends, or anyone, for that matter, outside of the women he meets at the party. Even then, when they talk, we find about the same about him as the elephant. His most distinguishing trait after being our narrator and keeping up with the elephant is that he says kit-chin on occasion, and even then, it’s for his job. But as we read deeper into the story, I think it’s clear that the narrator is fully cognizant of his unimportance. First, he doesn’t even bother to mention his character traits, as if he himself doesn’t deem himself worth the explanation. Then, near the conclusion of the story, we find out the narrator hasn’t dealt with the disappearance of the elephant very well; he mentions that things around him have “lost their proper balance” and that he “would become incapable of distinguishing between the probable results of doing [something] and not doing it” (327). To me, it seems like the disappearance and the lack of any care from the world has made the narrator realize his insignificance. I believe the best example of this realization is when the narrator makes a clear divide between the “pragmatic world” and “that world” (327). Here, the narrator clear understands the rational world that he lives in has no time for elephants nor individuals but rather money and unity. The world he, as well as we, live in is one unfettered by the daily life.
I believe that this insignificance that the narrator feels is best encapsulated by his job. He works at the PR arm of an electrical appliance company, which isn’t the most stimulating job: he himself calls his work “not the kind … that takes a great deal of intelligence” (319). There, he’s forced to attend parties between magazine and electrical appliance companies while repeating the corporate language of kit-chin. His job, in essence, seems completely superfluous. No-one would bat an eye if his job disappeared either: he would find work elsewhere doing another banal office job, electrical appliances would still sell (do you really distinguish between the brands on your dishwasher), and life would move on. I believe this meaninglessness in his work is one of the central themes of the novel, since just as the elephant can vanish without consequence, so can his job. This pointless work connects to what David Graeber calls a BS job. The narrators job is what he would call a goon; his only purpose is to make the company’s appliances look good to sell more of them. Ultimately, this type of BS work can only lead to what the narrator experiences: a complete lack of fulfillment. Ironically, by sinking into a more “pragmatic world”, the narrator has only dig himself deeper into the grave of pointless, BS jobs.
The phenomenon that occurs in this story is also encapsulated excellently by the ever-popular TV show, “The Office”. In the office, the workers also partake in BS jobs and try their hardest to find some glimmer of meaning in their pointless work. Some have fun in order to distract themselves like Michael and Jim; others try to assert their authority like Dwight, Michael, and Andy; and all of them do as their job requires, day after day, all being a part of a paper company that doesn’t even make paper. Their jobs too, are superfluous; no-one needs adverting for paper.
I believe that this connection though is useful in determining what the solution is to the narrator’s dilemma of meaningless is. In “The Office”, the characters ultimately conquer the meaningless nature of their job: they quit, they find better jobs, and most of all, they find connections. In the end, their pursuits aren’t significantly more impactful than before, I really doubt bartenders and sports marketers are that much more needed than paper salesmen and even then, they’re only one person, however the characters have come to terms with the meaninglessness of work and have found the solution in finding meaning in others. In the end of it’s public life, the elephant and keeper vanish happily: both have found connection with each other. Even though the world moves on, they at least have the benefit of the other’s company. Ultimately, it’s likely this unity between people that the narrator is missing the most. The narrator lives in a rational corporate world that cares only for dollar signs, and he’s unsatisfied. I argue that the central theme of the story is that this meaningless “pragmatism” can only be solved by attaining what the elephant and the keeper have. They both are satisfied with their existence that brings joy to each other. They have achieved unity with each other. In the end, the tragedy of the story isn’t the disappearance of the elephant and keeper from our pragmatic world, but the ceaseless nonsense that we’ve come to accept in our own that destroys any potential of unity between us and others. I’d love to write more, but it’s nearly 11 and I like getting 8 hours of sleep. Thanks for reading!
After reading both Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings” and One Hundred Years of Solitude, I have begun to question just how far from reality Garcia Marquez really is. Does he meld the mythical and the pragmatic worlds, create his own world, or does he merely describe the real world in its entirety? Does he introduce the mystical “angel” and the spider-woman into the world with which we are familiar, or does he merely describe our world in extraordinary detail?
We fail to see the evidence of the flying carpets of the gypsy caravan or experience the insomnia plague of Macondo. This lack of vision may only be because we do not allow ourselves to suspend our disbelief, so that we can witness the true scope of the world we think we know. We need to view these foreign objects and events not as other-worldly occurrences, but as unexplained circumstances.
Garcia Marquez may describe events and objects that are not real, but that does not mean that he did not envision them in our world. He only adds a touch of magic that causes us to lose sight of their true meaning. He cloaks realities in his own imagination, possibly because he himself lacks an explanation. This leads me to dig deeper into his seemingly mythical stories. Is the old man truly an angel? Or is it Garcia Marquez’s own detail of a broken spirit, taking time to gather its strength?
As I delved into Colette’s “The Secret Woman,” I was immediately reminded of one of Stanley Kubrick’s popular films, Eyes Wide Shut. Eyes Wide Shut is a film concerned with a married couple and how the fantasies of other strangers, as well as anonymity, play in their sex lives. The main characters are Bill, a doctor, and Alice, a stay at home mother. The film brings to life the challenge of marriage and how couples have to veer between two different sides of the spectrum: one side being relations without intimacy and the other side being complete intimacy with a significant other, which is often associated with boredom.
This film connects to “The Secret Woman” in various manners. The most straightforward way they connect is that both the male characters in the pieces are doctors who use their profession to their advantage. In the film, Bill often lies to Alice about leaving to work with a patient, when in reality he is up to other buisness. Similarly, in the short story, the male character begins with a lie that he was called out by a patient in order to avoid going to the ball. The two pieces also share this mysteriosity. Both stories incorporate the use of costumes to hide one’s identity. Finally, the female figure in both stories shares this urge for freedom. In the film, Alice and Bill go to a party together. She lies to him about needing to go to the bathroom when in reality she uses the opportunity to drink and indulge in flirtation with other men. She has an intense urge for this freedom from him and has to lie in order to get it. Additionally, in the short story the female figure finds liberation by disguising herself at a party. She indulges in the ability to be free of any ties to her husband and allows herself to move person to person indulging in sensory pleasure. Both women are chained to the total intimacy side of the spectrum back home, but crave relations without intimacy because of the invigorating nature of the anonymous.
Meanwhile “The Secret Woman” is a short story, “Eyes Wide Shut” is a developed film that extends on a few ideas not mentioned in the short story. Regardless, I was pleased to realize how intensely similar the two pieces were to one another.