The Black Girl’s Burden: Eugenics, Genomics and Genocide in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling

  • Esther L. Jones
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


Speculative fiction has been notoriously suspicious of doctors in its depictions of the medical establishment. The “mad scientist” trope figures prominently in early novels that engage medicine and ethics, from Mary Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein to H. G. Wells’s Dr. Moreau. And certainly, speculative fiction’s specific extrapolations of genomics—the science of genetic engineering including cloning and other forms of genetic manipulation—depict a genetically modified future that rarely bodes well for anyone, especially not for the poor and people of color. The fleeting references to black bodies in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, for example, portray how genetic engineers marvel at the Negro’s ability to replicate embryos based on how the “Negro ovary responds to the pituitary,”1 perpetuating racial stereotypes in accordance with the accepted medical “knowledge” of the era. In many of these novels, patent distrust of mad scientists and dubious racial assumptions are linked beyond literary genre. The juxtaposition reveals how the literary imagination can be inscribed by a culture’s authorized tenets, whether such an inscription is expressed in protest that offers no solutions or in unreflective acceptance. In contrast, the black women writers of this study attempt to hold unchallenged assumptions up for inspection and to imagine solutions that offer alternate possibilities.


Black Woman Teen Pregnancy Black Family Body Politic Black Girl 
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© Esther L. Jones 2015

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  • Esther L. Jones

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