(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The role that language played in Babel-17 and that mythic patterns played in The Einstein Intersection is assigned to traditional sexual identities in Triton. In this novel, Delany explores the way in which one’s relationships, especially those dictated by the norms of society, determine one’s self-image. Triton depicts a sexual utopia existing in the year 2112 c.e., a society in which all forms of personal relationships are permitted.

Without any restrictions placed upon them, the inhabitants of this society are free to invent or develop whatever social and sexual identities they choose. Sex-change operations are common, as are “refixations,” procedures through which a person’s sexual orientation may be altered. The reader expects, at first, that this degree of personal freedom will be liberating, and it is liberating for most of the characters in Triton. For Bron, however, the novel’s central character, the unlimited choices available in his society create only a profound sense of discontent.

Bron is Delany’s first antihero. Self-centered, intolerant, and opinionated, he makes an unusual protagonist; Delany wants his reader not to identify with Bron. Like Kid Death in The Einstein Intersection, Bron cannot endure what is different, even in himself. While Kid Death’s hostility was directed outward, Bron’s intolerance has its greatest effects upon himself, providing the source of his unhappiness and alienation. Despite Bron’s best efforts (including, in the end, a sex-change operation and refixation), he is never able to overcome his limitations, and the novel ends with Bron still unhappy and disillusioned.

Triton thus contains Delany’s most complete commentary on the social effects of intolerance. Bron goes to extreme lengths to force himself and others into the sexual roles that he regards as right; however, Delany suggests that these sexual labels (and, by implication, any sorts of labels) can never bring one closer to understanding oneself or the identities of others.


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Triton has two sections: The first is “Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, Part One,” and the second is “An Ambiguous Heterotopia.” The first section’s title links Triton to a series of Samuel Delany’s quasi-allegorical fictions, including the appendix to Tales of Nevèry"on (1979), “Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, Part Three,” and his remarkable memoir and analysis of the advent of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) in New York, “The Tale of Plagues and Carnivals: Or, Some Informal Remarks Toward the Modular Calculus, Part Five” (in Flight from Nevèry"on, 1985). A calculatedly convoluted essay on the language of science fiction appears at the end of Triton as “Appendix B.”

Triton’s second section’s title refers to the subtitle of Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia (1974) and stresses the fact that unlike most Utopian novels, Triton describes a society in which the differences among individuals—especially differences in sexuality—are not merely tolerated but encouraged to flourish, thus lending the anarchy of difference a constructive and creative thrust. The addition of this element of calculated flamboyance to the traditional story of the ideal society does not rob Delany’s Utopia of its ambiguity. An ambiguity arising from Utopian fiction is the truth that one person’s Utopia is another...

(The entire section is 458 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Much of the action of Triton appears to take place in the mind of Bron Helstrom, the protagonist. Helstrom, unhappy in the seemingly Utopian society of an urban dome on Triton, seeks others to love him, to define him. He makes an appeal to The Spike, the woman he loves: “Help me. Take me. Make me whole.” Much later in the novel, after his sex change, Bron makes a similar appeal to Sam, another person whom he admires, “Take me to another world . . . I don’t care. I don’t know if I can move on my own anymore. . . .” Bron’s problem is that he does not know what he wants from a culture of groups, co-ops, and communes largely based on religious and sexual preferences. If he knew what he wanted, Bron could connect to the subcultures of Triton to obtain the pleasure, community, and respect he wants and needs.

Bron’s failings, in part, make satellite culture An Ambiguous Heterotopia (the novel’s subtitle). If Michel Foucault’s heterotopia in The Order of Things (1966) challenges the idea of Utopia, Delany’s ambiguous heterotopia goes even further. How can Utopian society aid someone such as Bron who does not know what he truly wants?

Bron, at the beginning of the novel, wonders whether he is happy. His uncertainty turns to doubt when he encounters a microtheater production written, directed, and produced by The Spike. Love for The Spike unsettles Bron’s narcissism, especially because Bron is only a...

(The entire section is 480 words.)