Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Marq Dyeth, Delany creates an open and forthright character to contrast with the enigmatic Rat Korga. Dyeth’s education, privileged background, and nurturing family life serve as a foil to the ill-educated, abandoned social misfit Rat Korga. Even physically, the two are at odds: Dyeth is short and clean-favored; Korga is well over seven feet tall and disfigured. Perhaps most significant, Dyeth’s successful career is based on his understanding not only of his home world but also of the myriad cultures of other planets, while Korga has never understood his home world and knows virtually nothing about any other. That these opposites are still strongly attracted to each other underscores Delany’s cross-cultural and cross-racial themes.

Korga’s life on Rhyonon has been one of institutional and personal servitude and exploitation. Misled by the RAT Institute to believe that he would be happy after undergoing the surgical procedure, Korga loses his freedom to an institution that strips away his dignity and profits from his mistreatment. As if his economic exploitation were not bad enough, Korga is illegally purchased by a woman—on Rhyonon only institutions can legally own slaves—and experiences sexual exploitation. Required to fulfill his new owner’s erotic desires, the homosexually oriented Korga is obliged to imagine his female owner a man in order to perform sexually. Later, she sadistically abuses him for her own sexual satisfaction. These predestruction scenes on Rhyonon comment pointedly on the institution of slavery, reinforcing Delany’s position that slave...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Samuel Delany is interested first and foremost in spinning a fine yarn. He is a master storyteller, as he demonstrated in Babel-17 (1966) and as he proves again in this novel. He is also a great lover of words and language, an excellent prose stylist with occasional experimental flurries.

Delany is more than this: He is also a person of minority sexual tastes and skin pigmentation in his own nation. It is perhaps his statistical “deviance”—both an unloaded, technical, and a loaded, pejorative term—from the norm that has made him a superlative anthropologist of far future, deep space, and other worlds.

To the extent that Delany has purposes other than storytelling woven into his stories—he would deny they were “themes”—those purposes commonly include arriving at an understanding of the alien, the strange, and the unusual by virtue of his sympathetic exploration of the varied thought processes, languages, customs, and sexualities of the worlds through which he leads his readers.

In Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, he contrasts two rival polities, each of which rules many worlds. The Family is “trying to establish the dream of a classic past on a world [the original Earth] that may never even have existed in order to achieve cultural stability, . . . with the Sygn committed to the living interaction and difference between each woman and each world from which the right stability and play may flower.”

In the sentence just quoted, “woman” is the cue to...

(The entire section is 631 words.)