Changing_Bodies_in_the_Fiction_of_Octavia_Butler_S..._----_(1).pdf

Created from umichigan on 081746 copyright 2014

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Created from umichigan on 2018-03-26 08:17:46. Copyright © 2014. Lexington Books. All rights reserved.
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have experienced as they were loaded onto slave ships headed for a new world at the end of a long middle passage. On June 9, 1976, Dana and her husband Kevin (both writers) had just moved into their new home and were about to begin celebrating Dana’s 26th birthday when her own private middle passage began. Dana recalls: The house, the books, everything vanished. Suddenly, I was outdoors kneeling on the ground beneath trees. Before me was a wide tranquil river, and near the middle of that river was a child splashing, screaming . . . Drowning! (Butler 13) Dana rescues the child with the “ugly name” (Butler 14) from the river only to have her life threatened by the child’s father. The shock of looking down the barrel of a rifle about to be fired ended Dana’s first visit to the past as her nausea returned to take her back to her home in 1976 only a few moments later. It is not until Dana’s second trip to the past that an explanation of her excursion begins to be formulated. The little red headed child that Dana saved from drowning in the river is the same child she finds on her second trip setting fire to draperies at a window. Apparently the child is about to start a fire that will undoubtedly kill him and everyone else in the house. Dana puts out the fire and finds herself stranded with no money and no idea how to get home. The red headed child, Rufus, is four years older than he was during their last meeting, which for Dana was less than 24 hours ago in 1976. Rufus informs Dana that she is a long way from her home and her husband. By asking Rufus several questions, Dana deduces that somehow Rufus has set in motion the forces that have transported her body through time and space. We also find out why Rufus’s father was about to kill the person who had just saved his son’s life. Because of Dana’s clothing and dark skin, she was mistaken for a male slave attempting to harm Rufus and his mother. Rufus tells her, “You were wearing paints like a man —the way you are now. I thought you were a man” (Butler 22). “He [Daddy] thought you were a man too—and that you were trying to hurt Mama and me”(23). This moment of mistaken identity is the first sign that Dana’s body has not only been moved through time and space but has also experienced a redefinition of social meaning. Black females in the antebellum South did not wear pants and certainly did not do so while saving little white boys from drowning. Therefore, at her moment of peril, Dana’s body could have only been perceived as one thing in the mind of a slave owner with a rifle in his hands, a dangerous black man . In 1815, the year to which Dana is transported on her second trip, her body does not exist as it did in 1976. Dana’s body has neither the security nor agency that it may have had in 1976. In 1815 the definition of Dana’s body is reduced to property possessed by a white land owning male.
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