Eugenics, genetic determinism and the desire for racial utopia in the science fiction of Octavia E. Butler SCHAPPER, ANDREW

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Butler, Octavia E.; Eugenics in literature.; science fiction
African-American writer Octavia E. Butler brought the ethics of eugenics to the forefront of science fiction. Butler’s fiction demonstrates an obsessive focus on the ethics of directing human evolution by eugenic practices. I contend that Butler uses eugenics to achieve racial utopia that hinges upon the eradication of physical markers of difference. She envisions eugenics, genetic engineering and genetic mutation as potential means of solving problems of race, gender, class, and religious-based oppression by eradicating the biological causes of physical difference. Such an obsessive focus on biological causes of human behavior makes her fiction extremely biologically deterministic. For Butler, revising behavior always means altering biology. However, in her narratives, eugenic practices are always directed by external sources, revealing her ultimate pessimism about humanity’s ability to save itself. Her stories suggest that it is only through molecular level biological change that humanity can achieve any kind of meaningful utopia, but that the ability to direct such change will remain forever out of humanity’s reach. It is my argument that after 1980, Butler’s science fiction increasingly demonstrates a belief that it is only through eugenically altering humans that we will continue as species without destroying ourselves. Consequently I have limited my analysis of her work from the publication of her novel Wild Seed (1980), to her last published book, Fledgling (2005). Butler’s untimely death in 2006 has since sparked increasing interest in this intriguing and unique science fiction author. Her contribution to literature more generally is only now being acknowledged. It is the purpose of this thesis to reposition Butler’s fiction as important ethical discussions of the extent to which guided reproduction can be an evolutionary panacea to the abundant problems that seem to inevitably arise when humans encounter physical, spiritual, and intellectual difference.
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