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The Mona Lisa

Themes of sexual orientation in The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin approach an understandable utopia. A synopsis / review explains the ambiguous nature of  The Telling, “The Telling tries to say a lot, and is not consistently successful in doing so… This idea is worked in as part of the dues ex machina that brings the story to the end, but does not push itself toward any conclusion beyond “Learning from the past is essential” (http://utopian-dystopian-fiction.suite101.com/article.cfm/review–the-telling-by-ursula-k-le-guin). Le Guin offers no citable solutions for how society in the year 2000 and onwards could remove the negative effects of gendering. Le Guin uses the Unist Father as a vehicle for explaining destructive thinking, “Because God created women to be vessels for men’s semen. But after freedom we didn’t have to hide for fear of being sent to revival camps” (237). Yes! Really, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever read, fictional or not, about the role of women. Contrasting the overwhelmingly religious and patriarchic attitude towards women comes from the story of Shiva,  “Because Sati is Shiva, and Shiva is Sati. You are the lover and the griever. You are the anger. You are the dance” (228). This message of equality and togetherness from Le Guin is utterly romantic, but she stops there. The Telling, being a fictional world, has (Great Song)the opportunity to at least idealize a setting where men and women are still men and women, but also exist in a way that does not see gender as a crutch or a disadvantage. Instead she uses a parable and then contrasts the parable with easy anti-religious pandering. Unless the reader is at church camp, or revival camp, how does her line of thought accelerate the human experience of togetherness? I agree with the author of this article: Le Guin, Ursula. The Telling. New York: Ace Books, 2000. ISBN: 0-441-01123-3, which is from the aforementioned web-site, The Telling has many great ideas without the substance to bring them into fruition.

 The obsession with carving stone gods relates similarly to the iconoclasm. Images mean a lot to people. The natives sacrifice the Easter Island statues for the same reason why the Protestants got rid of great catholic pieces of art. Being able to idolize an image allows people to transcend space, time, and USA vs Canada 3 p.m. tomorrow. Jeanette Winterson writes, “This is a magical observance, but not so strange to me for mine own country uses a flag as its symbol, which it waves to attract attention and signify dominion” (112). We all know how that game is going to end up, USA USA! If not, I look forward to tasting my feet. Back to the iconoclasm, Protestants chose to ban religious idols in an effort to negate the work of great artists like Michelangelo, Raphael, and Trystero. They knew that they couldn’t compete with the wealth and legacy of the Catholics, so they had to get rid of religious art all together. I like Winterson’s words better, “I fancied that this statue building was intended to obtain supernatural rewards, not dissimilar to our own medieval cathedrals, and paid for in the same manner, for a man who is building a Church cannot sow oats and barley or tend his flock, but must rely on others to supply his dinner” (108). Winterson attributes supernatural qualities to religious imagery. This type of obsession with idols is why the stories character’s fixate on the Stone Gods.

Humanity possesses one physical trait that the collection of ship aliens’ want for themselves. The ooloi want to change cancer’s negative affect and turn it into a limitlessly positive genetic tool. In return, humanity has a second chance at existence and the ability to speedily evolve. This scenario creates problems for Lilith because these aliens expect her to adapt to life without things like a hierarchical system. Throwing away her natural way of life consistently tests Lilith. Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood forces the reader to experience Lilith’s contemplation between holding on to human ideas and trying to survive.

Not being top on the food chart can really send a human on a loop. Imagine if a bear walked into your house, could speak to you, and let you know that he/she would be using your lavatory from now on. I believe this type of fear is akin to what Lilith must be going through. During Jdahya’s explanation of the symbiotic relationship of the humans and aliens, Butler writes, “We’re not hierarchical, you see. We never were… That’s the way we perceived your hierarchical drives at first” (41). These wonderful aliens are at least under the impression that they do not exist under a hierarchy. For them, an unmentioned hierarchy exists, but not to the severity of a human kind. Anger caused by this displacement of human order comes out of Lilith later, “No! A rebirth for us can only happen if you let us alone! Let us begin again on our own” (43). I wouldn’t want to deal with that burden either. Lilith must adapt to doing something humankind has never had to face before, equal specie cooperation. (Think of how Michael Scott reacted to being co-manager with Jim Halpert in the TV show The Office)

The theme of Lilith dealing with her natural desire to survive along with wanting things to stay as they were on Earth ~250 years ago comes up throughout the text. Butler uses this scenario to commentate on humanity’s need to learn to work together, to realize that we may not be the tallest monkeys in the tree, and to attempt to be ecologically cooperative. These things may happen when our hierarchical system finally breaks down. When talking to an ooloi, Lilith thinks, “It was also one of the creatures scheduled to bring about the destruction of what was left of humanity. And in spite of Jdahya’s claim that the Oankali were not hierarchical, the ooloi seemed to be the head of the house” (48). Lilith is able to distinguish the system even when the aliens claim there to be none. These two consecutive sentences suggest a relationship between destruction and a hierarchical system.

Karen Joy Fowler alludes to the Garden of Eden in order to layer the women’s choices with Eve’s. The short story, What I Didn’t See, employs female characters that must choose whether or not to allow the men to sidetrack their ambitions. On the expedition’s first trip through the jungle, the protagonist is happy and excited. She describes the jungle as, “Furrowed fields below me, banana plantations, and trellises of roses, curving into archways that led to the church. How often we grow a garden around our houses of worship. We march ourselves through Eden to get to God” (344). Beverly and the protagonist are both hopeful before they discover their fate. Only a few paragraphs later, Fowler foreshadows Beverly’s disappearance with, “Soon Beverly sand out for the gorilla to come and carry her the rest of the way” (347). Almost immediately the protagonist mentions her earlier comparison with Eden, “I revised my notions of Eden, leaving the roses behind and choosing instead these remote forests where the gorillas lived…” (347). Fowler fuses her comparison of the jungle and the Garden of Eden with these adjoining statements. Additionally a character from nowhere via hearsay tells the protagonist how they must hunt, “Anyway Russel says that Burunga says we’ll never see them, dressed as we’re dressed. Our clothes make too much noise when we walk. He told Russel we must hunt them naked” (348). Eventually the protagonist hunts gorillas naked, only to be interrupted by someone else from her crew. This layering of the Garden of Eden leads to one of the possibilities of Beverly’s disappearance.

Although not likely, Fowler does want the reader to entertain the idea of Beverly choosing to go with the apes. Did Eve embrace her animal side when she chose to eat the apple? Once finally out of her jungle situation, the protagonist contemplates Beverly’s choice, “My attention is caught instead by these young women who’d sooner live in the jungle with the chimpanzees or the orangutans or the great mountain gorillas” (354). Beverly could have curiously followed the apes into their shyingly human yet overtly animal homes. Fowler does not want the reader to step in any sort of particular direction. This open-ended style for finishing the story does not force any particular reading on its audience. Instead, Fowler weaves several possibilities in order to keep the reader entertained and thinking.

In Octavia Butler’s, “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”, the word “disability” is a social label put on people who are different. Lynn attempts to live a normal life amongst her peers, but has no luck. The judgment coming from others towards her has a significant effect on her self-esteem. Butler describes a difficulty in Lynn’s everyday life at school, “I didn’t like the way people edged away from me when they caught sight of my emblem. I’d begun wearing it on a chain around my neck and putting it down inside my blouse, but people managed to notice anyway” (267). Lynn has to hide her difference from the other students when she should be embraced for her struggle. Instead of seeing the value of DGD, society disregards and discriminates against them.

Society keeps DGDs around for the off chance that they may produce something that benefits them. Butler does this to point out the “fair weather” nature of normal humans. If a person is different in a non-productive way, then they have no value.  If a person is different, but may benefit society, then they have some opportunities. Lynn reflecting on the possible reasons why she is still allowed to attend school, “And some of us went good- spectacularly- and made scientific and medical history. These last kept the doors at least partly open for the rest of us” (266).  The poor DGDs would have no support were it not for the accomplishments of a few.

By labeling people with DGD, society takes a difference in human beings and makes the difference into a disability. All DGD people could be productive yet different members of society if they could all get the same treatment like Dilg. Butler creates Dilg in order to show that people who are considered disable can lead happy, healthy, and even productive lives.

“Woman on the Edge of Time”, by Marge Piercy depicts the psychiatric profession as an oppressive and unjust system. The awful medication administered by the doctors makes a patient for a day a potential life long customer. When responding to an attendant, Connie says, ““Why should I stand there for twenty minutes waiting?” She tried to speak with quiet dignity but the medication slurred her tongued. “The medication makes me dizzy. I’ll wait here”” (103). Connie can not even stand in line long enough to get lunch. All she wants to do is sleep, but patients are not allowed to sleep during the daytime. Every detail from sitting to standing is controlled by the nurses and the doctors. Anyone would go crazy with that much lack of freedom. Later in the story, Connie talks about the type of operations her ward commits, “Please, Dolly, do something. I beg you. Look around this ward. They’re operating on us. They’re sticking needles in our heads!” (212). Connie’s friend does not sympathize with her. Instead, she gives the status-quo justification for the hospital’s actions. Dolly says, “You forget what the world’s like, shut up here. I’m on top now. I know what I’m doing. And last week I made four hundred dollars!” (212). She can turn her face at the obviously awful things happening at the ward because she is making money. It almost seems as if the ward is afraid of finishing rehab on their patients because they are worried about losing their jobs. Dolly continues, “Daddy says they’re famous doctors from a university. That they’re famous doctors from a university” (212). Hiding behind a degree in order to push their own agenda of testing on humans makes these doctors awful. Marge Piercy exaggerates Connie’s situation in the psych ward in order to commentate on the corruption and non-help that psych wards can have on their patients.

Pat Murphy’s “Rachel in Love” focuses on man’s dominion over animals. Rachel, the protagonist chimpanzee, struggles with humans trying to change her from an independent intelligent chimp into a breeder for science. This happens with the loss of her father, Dr. Aaron Jacobs. Along with Dr. Jacobs, Jake the janitor seems to sympathize and help Rachel more than any other human. Even though they both help the chimp, each man uses Rachel for their own means. Jake the janitor gets to drink more on the job and do less work because he lets Rachel out of her cage. Dr. Jacobs substitutes Rachel for his daughter when she dies.

The drunk and perverted janitor, Jake, lets Rachel out of her cage on the basis that she helps him clean and then return to her cage. He does spend time with Rachel after they clean, but that entails sitting with him while he masturbates. Rachel lets him get to his relaxation sooner, “By the time he is halfway through the second cup, he is treating her like an old friend, telling her to hurry up so that they can eat dinner” (228-229). On top of that, Jake is too drunk to do a good job, “The few blackboards are sloppily done, and Rachel, finished with the wastebaskets, cleans the places that Jake missed” (229). Drinking for hours finally catches up with Jake and Rachel is there to make up for him. On first impression Jake seems like a good friend to Rachel. She even loves Jake in some odd way. This has more to do with her seventeen year old mind with the innocence of an ape, than her really seeing Jake’s self-worth.

Dr. Jacobs also appears like a great person for Rachel to have in her life, but he too has his selfish reasons. Rachel broods over the idea of having a chip planted in her brain like the other chimp that can sign. She does not question the fact that she roughly had the same thing done to her by her father. Rachel reciting her favorite bedtime story, “He used a mixture of norepinephrin-based transmitter substances to boost the speed of neural processing in the chimp’s brain…. In the chimp’s brain was all that remained of Rachel Jacobs” (219), At least the other chimp had his own natural personality. Dr. Jacobs was more in love with the idea of the chimp being like his daughter, than he was with the chimp named Rachel.

My wife does nothing but cook awful meals, have babies, and take care of children. She doesn’t even have to raise the kids past the age of accountability. A little bit after the time they can talk, our children get sent to a government center that can provide for them much better than we can. Ugh! Ann does nothing well except produce clean babies. Besides her one to two hours of work, she sits at home ready to piss me off when I get there. If she had any idea about the amount of work I do in order to keep us from being on Subsistence, then she might stop burning my bacon, screaming at me to wake up, and wasting my money. She is so fortunate that I am an easygoing man or I’d have left her a long time ago.

This first person narrative of Mr. Henry Crothers illustrates the unsympathetic attitude Henry has towards his wife. Nothing that Ann does for the kids, the home, or Henry is good enough in his eyes’. On an everyday basis, the most ridiculous symptom of Henry’s treatment of Ann is with bacon. Being extraordinarily particular, Mr. Crothers says, “Then why’d you cook bacon? You know I can’t eat bacon without eggs” (69). Henry may have a bacon with egg only palate, but he goes too far by yelling at his wife. The co-op ran out of eggs, which must be Ann’s fault. Far worse is Henry’s treatment of his kids. Ann has to raise kids like a cattle breeder, while Henry cannot be bothered with them. The kids stay in the basement while Henry eats breakfast and go to bed before he gets home. Ann reflects on Henry coming home from work, “The children were asleep before he came home, and Ann was glad. Sometimes they got on his nerves and he swore at them” (72). To Henry, his kids mean a bonus check from the government. Ann has to curtail Henry’s encounters with the children because he does not even care to see them.

Taking this story as an exaggeration of what the household was like for women in the 1950s should still scare the reader. Women were underappreciated and that really shows in this text. The role of a breeding maid does not suit anyone. Having this story set in a science fiction world allows for the overstatement on the deficit of quality of life between men and women of A.E. Jones’ time.

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