Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Octavia Butler’s Uncanny Wild Seed

By Briana Whiteside

A black woman protagonist in science fiction seems unusual enough, but when she has shape shifting, internal healing, and living beyond three hundred years supernatural powers, she is uncanny—familiar yet foreign. Octavia Butler presents Anyanwu, the main character in Wild Seed, who is feared because is an oracle, and also because she surpasses conventional views of a “strong black woman.”

As a “rare find,” Anyanwu has the ability to live several hundred decades more than many, and because of her longevity, her “ears and eyes were far sharper than those of other people.” People feared her gaze—“her eyes were like babies’ eyes—the whites too white, the browns too deep and clear.” Anyanwu’s unusual appearance contributes her to eerie nature of what she is.

Beyond her appearance, Anyanwu tremendous and deathly physical strength also stands out as strange. We’ve all heard stories about strong black women, but rarely do those stories involve those women using their strength to kill. Anyanwu, however, kills seven men who were sent to kill her. strength.

“I took animal form when they tried to kill me,” notes Anyanwu, pointing out her ability to shift into a creature to escape danger and protect herself. She takes many forms throughout the novel such as birds, humans, snakes, and leopards, but the form she felt the safest was when she was a dolphin. Butler writes that Anyanwy, in her animal form, was sometimes pestered by “persistent males, but only in her true woman-shape could she remember being seriously hurt by males—men.” Having had “ten husbands” in her lifetime, Anyanwu refused to be hurt or misused by anyone else.

In Wild Seed, Octavia Butler presents a figure whose uncanny powers and abilities surpass and reconfigure our typical views of strong black women.

Related: Who's Afraid of Black Women?

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.    

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