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Rufus and Social Determinism

One of the more interesting and controversial issues in Octavia Butler’s Kindred was how it seemed that Rufus was fated to become the kind of despicable character that he eventually became. Butler seemed to make it clear that no matter how Dana tried to influence Rufus and cause him to consider his role in the treatment of slaves, there was very little, if any, actual change in Rufus’ mindset or his morals. In the end, there is not sufficient change to prevent Dana from being forced to kill him. This seems to lead to a troubling realization: that those who are indoctrinated by society to be a certain way simply cannot change.

I have a hard time understanding why some academics and thinkers in general carry such fatalistic views as this. If I had a worldview which made all hope of both personal and societal change so dismally hopeless, I would probably decide to stop thinking about life, philosophy, and politics, and become a hedonist. Nonetheless, it seems that there are people out there who devote their lives to proving the futility of change, particularly in the study of race relations in the United States. I would not go so far as to say that Butler is fully a part of this camp, but she does surround Kindred with a vague feeling that everything is out of control, and that Dana’s ancestral past is inextricable from the present. She does not say that there are no solutions to the problem of racism and imbalances of power in the present day, but she refuses to offer a hint of any. Such a paradigm leaves the reader vicariously exhausted and ready to leave behind all thoughts of race or racism, seeing as how the solution to racism is so elusive when racism is perpetrated by the all-powerful super-consciousness known as “society”.

My point, to summarize, is that criticism of current conditions is overdone when it comes to social issues such as racism. Sometimes authors, such as Butler, make it appear as though there is no escape from social problems, while simultaneously calling for those problems to end. If we want to be able to solve these problems, we need to come up with solutions rather than new ways of phrasing the problem.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. rh567
    March 29, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    I have to disagree. I think that because of the genre and the popularity of this literary work, it needs to revolve around the idea of race. I think it is an important ‘social problem’ as you say and I think we, as academic students, hear a lot about it, but the population as a whole are blind and don’t wish to see the problems in our past or how they have carried into the present. But, because this book so clearly highlights the problems, it introduces them to a new audience. I just don’t know what you think we can do, besides bringing the problem to the public eye over and over again. If we stop doing that, then the idea will be totally forgotten because that is what people want to do. Yes, Butler does simply rephrase the problem, but I don’t necessarily agree that that is a bad thing.

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