Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Promise of Skin Color in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling

By Briana Whiteside

Octavia Butler’s Fledgling (2005) is a vampire parable about race, science, and identity. The protagonist Shori is the lost child of an ancient species of near-immortal beings who have a hunger for blood. As an experimental model she has been genetically impaired “well before humanity learned to do it.” Her dark skin was an attempt to find ways to make the vampires less vulnerable during the day.

Shori, a 53-year-old vampire can’t bare children until she is seventy, and has a life span of about 500 years. Despite Shori’s true age, she resembles a young female child of about 11 years old. Shori’s longevity of life and young appearance, positions here within a network of other Butler protagonists such as Anyanwu from Wild Seed.

Butler writes, “the sun wouldn’t disable her at once. She’s a faster runner than most, in spite of her small size. And she would have come awake faster when everything started. She’s a light sleeper…and doesn’t absolutely have to sleep in the day.” Shori is the latest experiment, one that had never been attempted before, she is part human. The “blended human DNA and Ina DNA and having children who can stay awake through the day and not burn so easily in the sun,” who is also black caused conflict between other species of vampires.

Butler highlights and glorifies the importance of melanin in the skin. More importantly, she draws attention to the tension between debates on colorism. Although Shori is the only character identified as black because of large amounts of melanin, she belongs to a larger community of vampires who are not identified as black. Her survival and difference signals a hope in prolonging a species that was in danger of being extinct.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student  at the University of Alabama and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.  

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