Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Butler’s Healing Women

By Briana Whiteside

Several of Octavia Butler’s books cast leading black women as healers. Some have had the ability to genetically makeup medicines internally, mentally heal the minds of their followers, act as emotional healers, and pose as manifestations of old wounds through which healing can occur. Despite their various healing capabilities, or surface lack thereof, their presence in the novels brings recovery for everyone in the narrative.

Butler’s healers are positioned within a lineage of healers and healing beliefs/practices. Anyanwu (Wild Seed), Amber (Patternmaster), Mary (Mind of My Mind), and Shori (Fledging) correspond with Minnie Ransom in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters (1980) and Miranda “Mama” Day in Goria Naylor’s Mama Day (1988). Dana (Kindred), Keira (Clay’s Ark), and Alanna (Survivor) have the healing presence of Pilate in Song of Solomon (1977) and Sula Peace in Sula (1973) Beloved in Beloved (1987) that prompts others to confront their problems.

Although Butler’s characters correspond to conventional notions of healing, they also exceed them. In Mind of My Mind, after self-inflicting a wound, Mary explains, “I stopped the pain, just to find out whether or not I could. It was easy…My arm began to feel warm as I began the healing…my arm was completely healed.”

Healing powers display Butler’s keen awareness of bodily structures and functions. Her tendency to cast healers in her novels reveal a shifting paradigm on the outlook of the powers of women by presenting characters who have supernatural powers rather than those who are believed to have them.

Butler’s healers present alternative ways of imagining how black women protagonists restore themselves and others. Butler’s women also magnify the degree in which black characters can operate.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.     

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