Nadia is consistently wearing her robes even when they are no longer in her home country. Nadia never wears the robes as a religious statement but more as a way to prevent people from messing with her.
The type of robe that Nadia was wearing was probably a chador, which is a full-body shawl that is held together at the neck either by a pin or hand. It is popular in Iran.
In my Modern Middle Eastern Class, I did a culture project on reasons why women would wear head covering and robes. In Western Culture, it is sometimes tough to not see head coverings and robes as oppression of women. However, for many it is a very personal choice and not an oppressive act at all.
Dr. Mrs. N.Z. Vakil explains, “ I feel protected and confident when I step out [in a hijab].” This is very similar to Nadia’s reasons for wearing her robes. In America, we see dressing super modestly as a form of being politically conservative or as old-fashioned. But for Nadia and Dr.Vakil, it is something way more then that. Deciding to wear some sort of covering could be because of religion, style, protection or a statement. We have to understand that not every head-covering or robe is a forced act or as extreme as a burqa. There is no denying that Nadia is strong and independent with or without the robes.
Every time we’ve entered class this week I was thinking about whether or not an existentialist could ever have true joy. Could a person who ultimately believes nothing is real and has no meaning find any kind of purpose in life? Could an existentialist play the game of life while still maintaining their beliefs? To me, that just seems absolutely dreadful. Like it is explained in Camus’s “Myth of Sisyphus,” the true tragedy comes from consciousness and ignorance seems to truly be bliss.
I personally, am very okay with living in that ignorance. I don’t think I would like to look into the eyes of my father and think “this is not real,” or marry someone someday out of practicality. To me that seems like sticking yourself in one hopeless, never-ending box.
But in what parts of existentialism could one find happiness? Sometimes I think about what I would do if I truly did not care what people thought or about the consequences of my actions. If I didn’t believe in the system of education, I know I most certainly would not do my homework, I would not be, what seems like, relentlessly stressed over college. I definitely would not equate my value to the 4 digits of my SAT score. In that sense, I believe I would be happy.
But I feel like existentialism is inherently selfish. Those things I mentioned before, only benefit me. Existentialism seems very much solely focused on self and not on how the choices I’d make would affect others as well. If I suddenly stopped caring about school then I would be negating the hard work my parents put in to move to Oak Park so I could get a good education.
So, if I did not care about others and I didn’t care about probably ending up impoverished and bitter, I would be an existentialist. But I don’t prefer those things, so I’m good.
When we know something is science fiction we are quick to write off any weird characters or unnatural worldly elements. We see them as something that would never happen in real life because it’s a work of fiction. However, when looking at the underlying themes of “Bloodchild” and analyzing the role reproduction plays in it, there are similarities to the world we live in today. The people who are in power are also the ones who can’t have children, thus they make reproduction the sole purpose of the ones who can. Though that may be a little bit of an exaggeration (but not really), there are clear gender roles in Octavia Butler’s story, but the reverse of the ones we see today.
Today, women are constantly fed this image of a glorified homemaker and are told that their place is in the home, caring for children. The paragon of a woman is conflated with the paragon of a mother. Women are expected to be the submissive one in a heterosexual relatioship and bear the children. After all the baby comes out of a female reproductive organ. Thus, women feel the pressures of having a baby all the time.
I saw this as my sister recently got engaged and after 6 years of dating the constant question from family members changed from “when’s the ring coming” to “when’s the baby coming.” Similar pressures are existent in this story as Gan has no agency over his body. He is brainwashed into having T’Gatoi’s baby because that is what he sees as normal in society, specifically his own family.
Gan’s mother was one of the few people in her family who never hosted eggs before. After Gan eat his eggs, T’Gatoi convinces his mom to take the rest of his so she can enjoy the anti-aging benefits. Butler writes, “Unwillingly obedient, my mother took it from me and put it to her mouth. There were only a few drops left in the now-shrunken, elastic shell, but she squeezed them out, swallowed them, and after a few moments some of the lines of tension began to smooth from her face”(65). Here, the mother is pressured by T’gatoi to take the rest of Gan’s egg even though she never really wanted to in the first place. After taking it, Gan recounts that his “mother cried out- probably in surprise”(66). This is just a glimpse of the pain that the Terrans experience while taking the eggs. They were also described as “convulsing” and “bloody” since all births are via painful c-sections. The pain that they endure while giving birth is similar to what a lot of women go through today, especially given the fact that about 30% of births are via c-section.
Gan also sees the standard of hosting eggs many times within his family. Gan’s “father, who had never refused one [egg] in his life, had lived more than twice as long as he should have”(65). Similar to today, there is a standard of having more than one child as women are expected to go through the process of giving birth 2, 3, 4 times. Here, the father had gone through the process multiple times, another reason Gan normalized the process of hosting eggs.
Indeed, “Bloodchild” is not about slavery. It is about how the Tlic and Terrans formed an interdependent relationship in which they try to leave peacefully among each other. As the Tlic offer protection, the Terrans offer one male from each family to serve as a host to Tlic eggs.
The Tlic are viewed as evil because they are non-human creatures. They are parasitic that need host animals for their eggs. The Tlic reproduce by laying their fertile eggs in other living organisms where the larvae feed off of the host’s blood. When the larvae hatch, they release a poison into the host’s body where they start eating their egg cases while continuing to consume the host.
A major part of this short story is the influence of culture and society’s expectations. Modern society understands slavery as a treacherous experience, sympathizing to the recurrence of oppression. Butler discusses the approaches by which humans simultaneously protect their survival while also maintaining their survival. The Terrans arrived at a desperate time, so the Tlic used that opportunity to use them as host organisms. There is a symbiotic codependency between the Tlic and the Terrans. The Tlic teach Terrans about the process of reproduction. From birth, Terrans are taught and adjusted to the societal order. In the story, Gan and T’Gatoi develop a relationship that is both loving and manipulative.
Lastly, Butler creates an unusual binary switch in which the men become pregnant. Our modern day society has a fixed view on gender binary. Usually, males have the majority of the power and females are left with little to nothing. Butler criticizes the traditional power dynamic of the gender binary by establishing a world where the power dynamic between men and women are reversed.
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.
For many years, we used the Blogger platform for the AP Lit blog. Since it is owned by Google, it integrates pretty seamlessly with your Google accounts — which made it easy to use, in some respects — but it is a very limited and bug-ridden platform. So this year, we have decided to construct a new class blog from scratch using the most more powerful and stable WordPress platform.
If you are interested, though, in seeing what past AP Lit students have been thinking and writing about, feel free to wander over to the old blog.