Wild Seed (novel)

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Wild Seed
Wildseed1001.jpg
First edition cover
Author Octavia Butler
Cover artist John Cayea[1]
Country United States
Language English
Series Patternist series
Genre Science fiction, Horror
Publisher Doubleday Books
Published in English
1980
Media type Print (Hardcover and paperback)
Pages 248 pp
ISBN 0-385-15160-8
OCLC 731027178
Preceded by Survivor
Followed by Clay's Ark

Wild Seed is a science fiction novel by writer Octavia Butler. Although published in 1980 as the fourth book of the Patternist series it is the earliest book in the chronology of the Patternist world. The other books in the series are, in order within the Patternist chronology:Mind of My Mind (1977), Clay's Ark (1984), Survivor (1978), and Patternmaster (1976).

Afrofuturism[edit]

Wild Seed is an example of a black science-fiction that mirrors Africans' past and present. In this case, Octavia Butler presents the idea of slavery as an alien abduction. Anyanwu is the victim of this allegorical alien abduction as Doro takes her to the United States in the 18th century. The United States is her alien nation. Slavery is therefore like an alien abduction, since the slaves are transported somewhere else and are forced to do things (such as labor) they do not want to do and cannot go back to their native country. Hence, this presents a critique of the African present as well, as it demonstrates the African-American past and how they are living in an alien country, forced to let go of their native country and forced to adopt American customs against their will.

Technology[edit]

While Anyanwu’s special abilities (shape shifting, heightened senses, self-healing, etc.) can be argued as a point of power in some senses, they are also what define her reproductive slave status under the ownership of Doro. In other words, her abilities mark her eligibility for enslavement. In the context of Afrofuturism, the juxtaposition of suffering, blackness, and technology is not to be considered evidence of the digital divide where blackness and technology are understood as antithetical. On the contrary, Butler’s move to draw the link between Anyanwu’s abilities and her slave status serves to actually trouble futurist notions of utopia that hinge on the belief that the progress of technology serves to advance society to a state absent of inequality.

Summary[edit]

Anyanwu lives in West-Africa and is immortal. She is found by Doro, who is also an immortal. Even though she feels someone watching her as she tends to her garden, she believes that they don't pose as a threat so she continues to work and is mindful of the intruder's location. Once Doro presents himself he immediately ask her to drop everything and move him so they can procreate together. Although Anyanwu is hesitant because she is unfamiliar with this man, she eventually leaves everything behind with assurance that her family will be left alone and safe.[2] Anyanwu leaves with Doro because she wants to have children that she will never have to watch die because they are immortal too. Doro promises her this will be true but she soon finds that these are empty promises. Anyanwu leaves with Doro and travels to his American colony. During the voyage, Anyanwu struggles with her impending future and tries to reconcile these worries with the idea that Doro's people will be well taken care of. Doro introduces Anyanwu to some of his "creations"/ sons who also have special powers. Isaac is taken with Anyanwu and she likes him as well although they don't speak the same language. Upon landing on the American colony Anyanwu is overwhelmed by the difference between her culture and the American culture yet she does her best to assimilate. Doro makes every attempt to control her and forces her to marry Isaac, bear his children, and remain on the colony. Once Isaac is dead, Anyanwu runs away and takes the form of a dolphin for many years to hide from Doro. Eventually Anyanwu creates her own colony, which in many ways is more successful than Doro's and protects her people until Doro once again finds her and forces her to have her children breed with whom he sees fit. Anyanwu is once again enslaved by Doro but in the end it proves Doro and Anyanwu both needed each other in some way and they can't live without each other.

Characters[edit]

Doro[edit]

Doro is an immortal character who is able to stay alive by jumping from body to body. This allows him to live forever and keep his own personality, however, this constant need for new bodies results in a desensitization to the death of human beings as well as creating the problem that he has no companions his own age. He creates colonies where he tries to breed humans that have powers in order to hopefully create people who will be powerful enough to also live forever with him. He has several children which he fathers himself by taking the bodies of people he is breeding. He is not limited in the bodies he can take as long as they are human, but cannot use the powers that these bodies possess although he can pass them on to his children

Anyanwu[edit]

Anyanwu is a shape shifter who is living on her own in West Africa in the beginning of the novel. Her ability to shape shift allows for her to turn into different animals as well as look like different humans (with the ability to change things like race and gender at will). This ability also allows her to live forever since she is able to heal herself with her power and as a result has a good understanding of how the human body works. Doro finds her and tries to bring her to one of his colonies in the hope that she will be able to pass on her ability, be able to teach children how to use it, and also be able to combine it with other powers that will make people healers. Anyanwu is resistant to Doro and throughout the novel the two are at odds trying to reconcile that they will both be alive forever as long as Doro does not take her body.

Isaac[edit]

Isaac is one of Doro’s sons and is considered by Doro to be his favorite child because of the strength of his ability. Isaac is a very powerful telekinetic, showcasing his power in the novel by flying, directing his father’s ship through a storm with his mind, and easily killing characters throughout the novel. Isaac is very fond of Anyanwu and wishes to be with her, a wish that aligns itself with his father’s plan to breed the two in hopes of creating a powerful line of special children. Isaac and Anyanwu eventually do wed, albeit initially against Anyanwu’s wishes, and live a happy life together until Isaac is killed during Nweke’s transition.

Themes[edit]

Control[edit]

Doro's character plays an important role in the novel because he has total control over all of the other characters. Part of the reason that Doro has so much control is because he determines whether one lives or dies. Doro has the gift and curse of being able to take on the body of anyone he desires. This is a gift because is immortal, but it is a curse because when a body gets old, it is mandatory that he changes bodies in order to live. In order for Doro to survive, he must kill. This causes the other characters to be very wary of how they behave around Doro because they know that their life can be over at any moment. Another reason that Doro has so much control is because he is a man. The fact that he is a man makes it much easier for him to control other women, especially Anyanwu. Anyanwu is physically strong enough to fight Doro, but there are times where she does not retaliate against his physical abuse. Doro uses sex to draw women close to him and to create an emotional bond that makes it hard for them to leave.

Slavery[edit]

Wild Seed represents and comments on the history of plantation slavery in the United States. Scenes in the novel depict the capture and sale of Africans; the character of European slave traders; the middle passage; and plantation life in the Americas. Additionally, the relation between the novel's two main characters, Anywanwu and Doro, may be said to comment on aspects of the slave trade. Anywanwu is coerced out of her home and transported to the Americas to breed offspring on Doro's behalf. Doro thus symbolizes the control exercised over place and sexuality in the slave trade, while Anywanwu symbolizes the colonized and dominated native populations. Octavia Butler displays the emotional and psychological consequences of slavery through Anywanwu's conflicts with Doro—and the possibilities of slave agency in Anywanwu's resistance to Doro's control. Anywanwu and Doro's relationship showcases the dynamics of power vs. subordination and captivity vs. freedom.

Doro also resembles a slave master in that he only breeds individuals who are exceptional. When people are no longer of use to him he kills them because his main focus is to breed a race of people who have magical powers. Anyanwu characterizes her fear of this outcome when she realizes that once she successfully transitions the children she bore Doro will most likely kill her because she is of no use to him any longer. Thus, Doro takes the humanity away from the people he breeds which was a significant aspect of slavery.

Animality[edit]

In "Wild Seed", Butler portrays the distinction between animal and human as fluid. Anywanwu possesses the magical ability to transform into any animal she wishes, after she has tasted its flesh. Her entrance to the animal realm offers an escape from the violence and domination implicit in human social and sexual relations. For instance, after adopting a dolphin's form, the narrator observes, "She could remember being bullied as a female animal, being pursued by persistent males, but only in her true woman-shape could she remember being seriously hurt by males--men...Swimming with [the dolphins] was like being with another people. A friendly people. No slavers with brands and chains here. No Doro with gentle, terrible threats to her children, to her."[3]

Patriarchy and Western Modernity[edit]

In their initial encounter, Butler does the work of historicizing the past of both Doro and Anyanwu. Butler does this not as a medium to change the tides of history, but to ultimately work through the ways in which Western modernity employs racialization, as well as patriarchy, to build and maintain colonial projects.

The “history” of Doro’s reproductive colonies in which he calls “seed villages,” embodies the rationales of Western modernity. Doro also poses these “seed villages” as alternatives to Western modernity, more specifically slavery and colonization. As we see, the moment Anyanwu agrees to Doro’s continuation of his colonial project, she agrees to a patriarchal system of governance that controls not only her capacity to reproduce, but also whomever Doro chooses. This control of women’s reproduction is not dissimilar from the very same patriarchal governances of reproduction in slavery and colonization. After her agreeance, Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship is described in a master-slave/, colonizer/colonized dialectic. In this instance, colonization is linked to patriarchal desires, particularly those of control over reproduction.

Further it is the pleasure that Doro receives from breeding that reinscribes his role as a colonizer/master:

“…In the beginning he had gone after them for exactly the same reason wolves went for rabbits. In the beginning, he had bred them for exactly the same reason people bred rabbits…He was building a people who could die, did not know what enemies loneliness and boredom could be.”[4]

By describing the monstrosities of Doro’s colonial project as stemming from “natural” desires and human propensities, Octavia Butler, in Wild Seed, does the work of creating continuities between the patriarchal projects of the West and Doro’s creation of “seed villages.” Butler invokes the same pathos used to describe some of most infamous of colonizers/masters (i.e. Christopher Columbus) to rationalize Doro’s actions. It is the patriarchal desire in this moment that blurs the distinction between Western modernity and Doro’s project.

Post-Colonialism and Neo-Colonialism[edit]

"Wild Seed" subverts several characteristics of Postcolonialism. Postcolonialism suggests that the world has entered a period in which colonization is no longer a reality. It also suggests that colonization ended within the same time frame for both the colonized and the colonizers.[5] Doro is the embodiment of a colonizer. When Doro arrives to a seed village at the beginning of the novel he acknowledges that, "Slavers had been to it before him. With their guns and their greed, they had undone in a few hours the work of a thousand years." [6] Doro has colonized the world with his seed villages thousands of years before Europeans could do the same. Moreover, Doro still operates seed villages and still selectively breeds his people well into the 1800s. Therefore, "Wild Seed" illustrates that colonialism is an ongoing process that does not have a set beginning or ending.

Postcolonialist theory also suggests that anti-colonial and Third World nationalist movements do not exist in the post-colonial era. [7] Anyanwu is the metaphorical Third World in Butler's novel. She does not speak English when she first meets Doro, she maintains the traditions of her homeland, and she has no knowledge of advanced technology. Doro feels the need to civilize her when he brings her to the new world. He gets her to dress in new world styles and gets her to learn English and new world customs. Additionally, Doro uses her to breed children with supernatural powers. In the first half of the novel, Anyanwu is only useful to Doro because she can shape-shift and because her body can adapt to any poison and illness she subjects it to. In this way, Doro is exploiting her for her resources while forcing to act in a Western or "civilized" manner.

A characteristic of Neocolonialism is that Colonial powers continue to exploit the resources of their colonized counterpart for economic or political interests. [8] "Wild Seed" exhibits neocolonialism in the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu and the relationship between Doro and his descendants. Doro uses Anyanwu's children in order to continue his exploitation of her supernatural abilities. He notes that "Her children would hold her even if her husband did not." [9] Anyanwu does not want to endanger her children by attempting to escape or kill Doro. Even after she tries to start a new life on a plantation, he breeds with her to pass her supernatural abilities on to his children. He has a vested interest in her powers, and he refuses to let her go. Anyanwu's children face the same struggle when attempting to escape Doro. Doro threatens them with death in order to keep them under his control. He purposely creates villages for his people so that if they decide to leave they will be left with nothing. They rely on Doro for kinship and protection. In return, Doro uses them for his own gains.

Reception[edit]

New York Times reviewer Gerald Jonas praised the novel as "a mesmerizing tale that combines traditions of African and African-American story-telling with a keen understanding of biological and evolutionary imperatives."[10]

Reviews[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ isfdb
  2. ^ Butler, Octavia E. Wild Seed. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980.
  3. ^ Octavia E. Butler. "Wild Seed." New York: Warner Books, 1980. pg. 91.
  4. ^ Butler, Octavia (2007). Seed to Harvest. Grand Central Publishing. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-0446698900. 
  5. ^ Notes on the "Post-Colonial". Ella Shohat. Social Text , No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues (1992), pp. 101 Duke University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/466220
  6. ^ Octavia E. Butler. "Wild Seed." New York: Warner Books, 1980. pg. 3.
  7. ^ Notes on the "Post-Colonial". Ella Shohat. Social Text , No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues (1992), pp. 101 Duke University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/466220
  8. ^ Notes on the "Post-Colonial". Ella Shohat. Social Text , No. 31/32, Third World and Post-Colonial Issues (1992), pp. 104 Duke University Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/466220
  9. ^ Octavia E. Butler. "Wild Seed." New York: Warner Books, 1980. pg. 82.
  10. ^ "Science Fiction", April 29, 2001