Octavia E. Butler- 1996

Octavia E. Butler

Science fiction author who raises issues humanity needs to address

Ahead of Her Time

By Logan Callithen

When an author starts writing works of literature, each piece of work will most likely have similar themes or fall under similar genres of literature. For example, Octavia E. Butler is known for writing novels with science fiction and fantasy elements. What makes her work different from the typical fantasy novel is her inclusion of social issues like black injustice and feminism. During her early years, Butler’s novels did not receive much recognition as the content she wrote about did not pique anybody’s interest at the time. As time went on, social issues, such as feminism and racial discrimination, became more relevant and Butler’s work came to light. 

One major issue that appears in Butler’s work is the mistreatment towards people of color, based on her familiar experiences with discrimination. Her breakthrough novel Kindred is great example of showing this as it incorporates elements of slave stories. The influence behind writing Kindred and other novels came partially from Butler’s perception of her mother’s life. In an interview with Randall Kenan, Butler explains how her mother did domestic work and “was around sometimes when people talked about her as if she were not there” (Kenan 496). Butler also states Kindred was a response to the events and actions that took place during the sixties, a time when African Americans were treated poorly. Since the struggles that Butler’s mother faced as a working black woman in the sixties are nearly parallel to Butler’s themes, it is safe to say Butler made black injustice a clear topic in her work, especially in Kindred. 

Not only is black injustice a common theme in Butler’s literature, but she also includes feminism alongside black injustice. To represent feminism, Butler includes strong female leads in her novels. Using Kindred as an example again, it features Dana, a young black woman, as the main protagonist. Throughout the story, she experiences time travel between 1970s Los Angeles and pre-Civil War Maryland. Dana can be described as self-determined and quick to act unlike the cliché damsel-in-destress. When she first travels back to the 1800s, Dana notices a young boy, Rufus, drowning in a river and does not hesitate to save him. As she continues to travel back in time, she attempts to teach Rufus to be a caring person. For example, Rufus calls Dana the n-word and she tells him to call her a black woman if he cannot call her by her name (Butler 25). Dana saying this to Rufus truly shows her strong characteristics while also starting to show Rufus how to be respectful to others and remind him that black people are just like everybody else. 

Overall, Octavia E. Butler became more relevant today as a result of using social issues, such as black injustice and feminism, in her works of literature. As these issues become more known, they will start to impact the lives of many people. Children in school will learn more in depth about them and the media will present stories relating to these issues more often. In response to this, people should take the time to read Butler’s novels to either change or strengthen their view on these social issues. 

Works Cited  

Butler, Octavia, et al. Kindred. New York, Beacon Press, 2017. Millersville University Library, eds.b.ebscohost.com/eds/detail?sid=5d9fa699-7cee-4c30-8c12-24bfeeeba697@pdc-v-sessmgr06&vid=1&format=EB&rid=1#AN=1468178&db=nlebk 

Canavan, Gerry. Octavia E. Butler (Modern Masters of Science Fiction). Illustrated, e-book, University of Illinois Press, 2016.  

Jamieson, Ayana, and Moya Bailey. “Emergent Counter-Memories in the Field of Octavia E. Butler Studies.” Women’s Studies, vol. 48, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1–7. Crossref, doi:10.1080/00497878.2018.1559405. 

Kenan, Randall. “An Interview With Octavia E. Butler.” Callaloo, vol. 14, no. 2, 1991, pp. 495–504. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2931654. Accessed 26 Jan. 2021.