Individuals are born with an identity, but they also need to belong to a group. However, people with genetic disorders have historically been isolated. Fear and stigmatization by others make their life unbearable as they struggle to fit in the society. Two of Buttler’s fiction stories reveal some critical issues with inherited malfunctions that are of interest to this paper. The narrations depict the victims as caged and the quest to find a place where they can feel relevant. There is an array of hope attributed to an opportunity to start a new chapter, where the sick are accorded their dignity as humans. The objective of this paper is to argue for people with genetic illnesses to be recognized and appreciated as personages in all institutions. A comprehensive analysis of five articles will aid in developing the thesis. Although any person can feel lonely, people with inborn incapacities are more likely to be isolated, yet longing for acceptance.
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All biological creatures have a hereditary source that gives them their specific characteristics. However, some of the genes mutate, thus making the offspring suffer from mental or physical challenges. In some cases, the individual may not be sick but belongs to a minority group, whose culture and physique are presumed to be lower than that of the majority. The two short narrations written by Butler present different cases of people suffering from such conditions. Conflict, despair, pain, and hope are peculiar to both texts. The remaining articles are all concerned with developments in eugenics. Reading the texts together provides a holistic view to analyze the past, present, and future predictions on hereditary malfunctions.
People with genetic dysfunction are rarely embraced by their “normal” counterparts. Buttler’s short story “Speech Sounds” opens with people journeying on a bus. The fears of the main protagonist that there will be trouble during the journey come to pass (Butler, “Speech Sounds” 89). The reader is left in suspense as to why Rye would be so sure that disagreements will erupt among people on the same journey. Metaphorically, the vehicle is the earth, and its direction is determined by the wishes of human beings. All individuals live on the same planet, and all have similar desires; yet, they still fight each other. There is always certain mistrust between people with different genetic make-up. Scientific developments in the field of eugenics and the debates surrounding this topic indicate that there is no consensus on the matter.
In most cases, the hatred for people with disorders is not justified. In writing about intolerance against the indigenous people, Mead enquires whether there is a “genetic predisposition” to the disabling condition of racism (5). The implication is that people who disregard others just because they are different have no adequate grounds. In the short story, the reason the two men were fighting was “more likely, a misunderstanding” (Butler, “Speech Sounds” 89). If people cannot communicate and understand each other’s point of view, then their attitude remains negative. Only in “The Evening…” some degree of caution is justified. In this article, patients with Duryea-Gode Disease (DGD) can have self-destructing symptoms at any time. However, they need care rather than hatred or isolation.
Naturally, a person is likely to be drawn to those to whom she/he is related irrespective of the obstacles. The primary motivation for Rye traveling was an expectation that “she might have one group of relatives left alive—a brother and his two children twenty miles away in Pasadena” (Butler, “Speech Sounds” 89). For Rye to choose to go for and such for her kin, it is clear that there was no replacement for them. The possibility that they may be alive made her take the journey. People who have incurred infirmities rarely find a sense of belonging among non-family members. Lynn, who has the genetic infirmity, says, “I didn’t eat in public anymore, didn’t like the way people stared at my biscuits” (Butler, “The Evening” 402). The lady was in the university, where people are expected to be liberal, but she was still avoided. When sick people are demonized due to fear, only home may offer some sense of liberty.
Furthermore, a romantic relationship is a stage in life which the disabled rarely explore due to their conditions. This is apparent from an anonymous poem “Ode to a Pedigree Chart,” which ends with “…strive at last to learn. To live unwed” (Nabasny 3). People are afraid of developing intimacy with people who have chronic issues. A hasty relationship due to the frustrations that a person may not be approached by another person is typical for this population. In “Speech Sound,” Rye meets a man on the bus; they move to his car and make love (Buttler, “Speech Sounds” 8). The relationship is also short-lived since the man is killed in the wrangles. Similarly, fast intimacy develops between Lynn and Alan Chi, who are convinced that nobody would want to marry either of them (Buttler, “The Evening”… 405). The quest to find a marriage partner who can overlook the flaws and commit remains a longing that only a few different abled people realize.
The identity of the sick is often disregarded as the focus is put on their illness at the expense of all the other good qualities that they may. The story about Rye is told from a third-person perspective indicating a disconnect with self. It is only in the last sentence that she says, “I’m Valerie Rye,” and adds, “It’s all right for you to talk to me” (Butler, “Speech Sounds” 108). When Rye found the two children that had speech, just like her, she came to the realization of who she was. The second story also indicates similar struggles in which those with inherited impairment are categorized as DGDs, illustrating how their abilities, intelligence, and talents are disregarded.
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There appears a drift between the sick and the healthy that leads the former to be at the mercy of the latter. In Butler’s fiction “The Evening…” Lynn asks, “Do you want someone else telling you what to do with your body (403)” This rhetoric phrase is an obvious reality to people with any form of disability. The rest of the population makes laws that they selfishly believe to be the right ones for people living with impairments. Scientists in eugenics are advancing ways in which they can discover inherited characteristics of individuals. In doing so, some people’s freedoms, like was the case in slavery, are considered illegal (Mead 2). The efforts to eradicate infirmities explain the negative perceptions towards the sick.
Victims of genetic illnesses sometimes feel frustrated with their condition, which makes them submit to their oppressors. As Lynn and Alan discuss their illnesses and how it destroyed their parents, it becomes apparent to the readers that they both have bitterness (Buttler, The Evening… 403). As they confide in each other about feelings and secrets that they have never shared before, the topic of sterilization comes in. Alan supports the idea because she wishes that DGD could be eliminated. His conceding to castration shows that he believes that others are justified to carry out any experiments on them as long as it helps eradicate the condition of the human race.
Conversely, Lynn has her reservations on the government imposition laws to castrate all people with DGD. Evidently, in her statement, “Killing part of yourself when so much of you was already dead” (Buttler, “The Evening” 405) The dilemma is apparent; the people with genetic illness do not have intentions of transmitting their condition to others, although they wish to procreate and have families. This fiction story is a reality for many people living with mental, physical, or intellectual incapacities. Eugenic programs are active in many developed regions, including the United States, Germany, Japan, Northern Europe, and Scandinavia (Malacrida 478). Women with disabilities are often advised to undergo sterilization either voluntarily or by coercive measures. The government will always choose the easiest means to rid illnesses without minding other repercussions for the victims. For instance, a few countries have policies for disabled parenting (Malacrida 473). The implication is that the people born with inherited health issues have little hope to ever enjoy life like others.
The hope that humanity will become tolerant and accommodating to all radiates a sense of fulfilment to the people. In “Speech Sounds,” the story ends with suspense since Rye’s mission readers are not told whether she ever met her relatives. Nonetheless, she rescues the children from a woman who dies in the conflict, which can be perceived as a sign of hope as they can communicate effectively with each other. The love between Lynn and Allan also indicates that there is a possibility to have a fulfilled life even for individuals with infirmities. Allan’s mother is happy, judging by his words, “Good. No one will close him away from himself. No one will tie him or cage him” (Buttler, “Speech Sounds” 414). The concerns that this mother had are common for parents with disabled children. They do not enjoy the freedom as the rest of humanity, and therefore, finding a home amidst all the struggles gives a reason to view life positively.
Conclusively, individuals who inherit infirmities suffer from their parents’ face resistance, hatred, and isolation from the rest of the population. Such people are frequently considered unfit for some activities and relations. The categorization and focus on the illness rather than the personality of the person cause identity conflict. The sick individuals only confide in close family members who believe in them. The story of Lynn going to look for her family members images the situation of many people who want to belong. Developing committed and intimate relationships is also a challenge as healthy people have some prejudices against those with ill-health, as was the case with Lynn and Alan. Amidst all the issues, there is hope for the dignity of all people where the ultimate freedom is achieved. In the future, it is important to ensure that all humans will be embraced and respected despite their individual difference.
Butler, Octavia E. “Speech Sounds.” Bloodchild and Other Stories, 2005, pp. 89-108.
—“The Evening and the Morning and the Night.” Callaloo, vol. 24, no. 2, 2001, pp. 401-418.
Malacrida, Claudia. “Mothering and disability: from eugenics to newgenics.” Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies edited by Watson, Nick and Vehmas Simo, 2019.
Mead, Aroha Te Pareake. “Genealogy, sacredness, and the commodities market.” Cultural Survival Quarterly, vol.20., no. 2, 1996, pp.1-9
Nabasny, Jake. Eugenic Discourse: Reproduction, Disability, and Literature in Twentieth- Century America. “Dissertation” State University of New York at Buffalo, 2020.