Octavia Butler Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Although she wrote novels primarily, Octavia E. Butler did produce some very successful short stories that were published in anthologies and periodicals. Her 1983 story “Speech Sounds” won a Hugo Award in 1984, and “Bloodchild,” first published in 1984, won a Hugo and other awards the following year.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

With her Patternist and Xenogenesis series, Octavia E. Butler won increasing popularity and critical praise within the science-fiction field and became established as a significant African American female writer whose particular cultural situation and interests gave her a unique stance among science-fiction writers on race and gender issues. Her initially implicit but invariably intense and penetrating consideration of sexual and racial prejudices, and their relevance to social power structures, gave her work considerable intellectual impact as well as imparting a heart-rending (and sometimes gut-wrenching) emotional viscerality to her narratives. Her use of alienated—and sometimes literally alien—narrators under extreme contextual pressure provided a sturdy platform for her contemplative analyses of human relationships and social dynamics. The principal recurring themes in her work—the essential awkwardness of gender roles, the dubious privileges and responsibilities of power, the sometimes-perverse operation of the survival instinct under stress, and the seductions of love, routinely coupled with the difficulties of miscegenation—insistently invite the reader to reexamine deep-seated and long-standing attitudes.

In addition to the two Hugo Awards she received for short stories, Butler received many awards and honors over the course of her writing career, including a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” in 1995 and the 1999 Nebula Award for best novel for Parable of the Talents. In 2000, the PEN American Center presented Butler with a lifetime achievement award.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The author has called “Bloodchild” a love story; do you agree or disagree?

In Kindred, what lessons about the past does Dana learn that she will bring into her life in the twentieth century?

Show how the female characters in Octavia E. Butler’s fiction must make difficult choices between their own needs and desires and those whom they love.

What possible solutions does the author suggest that might avoid the disastrous future she describes in her fiction?

There are numerous references to African American history in Butler’s fiction. Find examples and suggest reasons why she has included them.

Butler has called herself a pessimist. Considering the conclusions of her novels, do you agree or disagree?

Butler believes that the inborn human tendency for hierarchical behavior is the root of social problems. Cite examples of this behavior.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Ackerman, Erin M. Pryor. “Becoming and Belonging: The Productivity of Pleasures and Desires in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy.” Extrapolation 49, no. 1 (2008): 24-43. Presents an analysis of the trilogy in terms of its relevance to the theme of the likely inevitability of intolerance.

Agustí, Clara Escoda. “The Relationship Between Community and Subjectivity in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Extrapolation 46, no. 3 (2005): 351-359. Discusses Butler’s novel as portraying a “critical utopia.” Part of a special issue devoted to the theme of “multiculturalism and race in science fiction.”

Anderson, Crystal S. “’The Girl Isn’t White’: New Racial Dimensions in Octavia Butler’s Survivor.” Extrapolation 47, no. 1 (2006): 35-50. Provides a detailed analysis of the theme of race in Butler’s first-written and least-studied novel.

Barr, Marleen S. “Octavia Butler and James Tiptree Jr. Do Not Write About Zap Guns.” In Lost in Space: Probing Feminist Science Fiction and Beyond. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993. Discusses the relationship of Butler’s work to the evolution of feminist science fiction.

_______, ed. Afro-Future Females: Black Writers Chart Science Fiction’s Newest New-Wave...

(The entire section is 494 words.)