The Patternist Series Critical Context - Essay

Octavia Butler

Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

All of Butler’s writing is consciously parabolic and leaves no human question unaddressed. Her last novel, Fledgling (2005), with its post-African heroine Shori pursues the meaning of being human. It also explores what humans do not seem to be able to be. It proposes a significantly improved species—which, shockingly, happens to be vampiric. Some version of this vision informs all of Butler’s works, from the Patternist series through Kindred (1979), a fictional slave narrative; Xenogenesis, in which humanity is found tragically to put its intelligence at the service of hierarchical behavior; and the Parable novels (1993-1998), which portray ordinary humans wandering on a wasting earth. Anyanwu may be seen as a precursor of the gene-trading Oankali of Xenogenesis. Butler’s prize-winning short story “Bloodchild” also echoes the exploration of human nature and human history evident throughout Butler’s work. Her characters represent her search for new ways of conceiving both humanity and sentience. They are biologically and physiologically sturdier. They question the myths of gender superiority, monogamy as imperative, heterosexuality as exclusively moral, and supernatural interest in or deliverance of humanity. In this agenda, love is real and widely available, but it is also fleeting and dies easily in the progress of power and hierarchy. The ecstasy of an individual consciousness can transport a person, but its time is brief. It dies. It is survived by that final rite of grief that is hope.