“I Mean to Survive”: Feminist Disability Theory and Womanist Survival Ethics in Octavia Butler’s Parables

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


For all of these authors, challenging mainstream notions of racial, gendered and cultural/epistemological differences imposed on black women and how society’s medical ethical conundrums are played out on the black female body prove paramount in their fiction. This trend continues in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower (1992) and Parable of the Talents (1996). In the Parable series, Butler’s critique of medical discourse is best examined through the lens of disability studies, an emergent field that researches how human bodies that are construed as other, deviant and nonnormative in actuality reflect how every body exists along a spectrum of difference. As Kathryn Allan points out, “Disability scholars are careful to distinguish the difference between physical impairment and the social construction of disability,”1 a distinction that underscores the ways an impairment such as lacking an arm or a leg becomes a disability by applying a negative valuation and creating barriers to access.2


Black Woman Ethical System Disability Study Street Poor Intersectional Identity 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Kathryn Allan, “Reading Disability in Science Fiction,” in Disability in Science Fiction: Representations of Technology as Cure (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013), 4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Lennard Davis, Bending Over Backwards: Disability, Dismodernism, and Other Difficult Positions (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 12.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2008), 3.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Octavia Butler, Parable of the Talents (New York: Warner Aspect, 1998), 12.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Integrating Disability, Tranforming Feminist Theory,” in Feminist Disability Studies, ed. Kim Q. Hall (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011), 17.Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Delores Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness: The Challenge ofWomanist God-Talk (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1993), 1.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Katie Cannon, Katie’s Canon: Womanism and the Soul of the Black Community (New York: Continuum, 1995), 126.Google Scholar
  8. 16.
    Philip Jos, “Fear and the Spiritual Realism of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed,” in Utopian Studies 23.2 (2012): 423.Google Scholar
  9. 17.
    Jerry Phillips, “The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower,” in NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction 35.2/3 (2002): 306.Google Scholar
  10. 18.
    Rebecca Wanzo, “Apocalyptic Empathy: A Parable of Postmodern Sentimentality,” in Obsidian III 6.7.2 (2005): 74–75.Google Scholar
  11. 19.
    Adam Johns, “‘The Time Had Come for Us to Be Born’: Octavia Butler’s Darwinian Apocalypse,” in Extrapolation 51.3 (2010): 404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 20.
    Peter Stillman, “Dystopian Critiques, Utopian Possibilities, and Human Purposes in Octavia Butler’s Parables,” in Utopian Studies 14.1 (2003): 27.Google Scholar
  13. 21.
    Ann Folwell Stanford, Bodies in a Broken World: Women Novelists of Color and the Politics of Medicine (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003), 217.Google Scholar
  14. 24.
    Lindsay Holmgren, Abraham Fuks, Donald Boudreau, Tabitha Sparks and Martin Kreiswirth, “Terminology and Praxis: Clarifying the Scope of Narrative in Medicine,” in Literature and Medicine 29.2 (2011): 255.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 25.
    Anne H. Jones, “Literature and Medicine: Narrative Ethics,” in The Lancet 349.9060 (1997): 1246.Google Scholar
  16. 27.
    Simi Linton, Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity (New York: New York University Press, 1998), 11.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities (New York: The Modern Language Association of America, 2002), 2.Google Scholar
  18. 33.
    Elizabeth Donaldson, “Revisiting the Corpus of the Madwoman: Further Notes toward a Feminist Disability Studies Theory of Mental Illness,” in Feminist Disability Studies, ed. Kim Q. Hall (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2011), 104–105.Google Scholar
  19. 35.
    Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (New York: Warner Aspect, 1993), 153.Google Scholar
  20. 46.
    Martha Fineman, “The Vulnerable Subject: Anchoring Equality in the Human Condition,” in Yale Journal of Law and Feminism 20.1 (2008): 1–2.Google Scholar
  21. 50.
    Jim Miller, “Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler’s Dystopian/Utopian Vision,” in Science Fiction Studies 25.2 (July 1998): 356.Google Scholar
  22. 56.
    Delores S. Williams, “Womanist Theology: Black Women’s Voices,” in The Womanist Reader, ed. Layli Phillips (New York: Taylor and Francis, 2006), 121.Google Scholar
  23. 74.
    Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Trumansburg, NY: The Crossing Press, 1984), 40.Google Scholar
  24. 75.
    Stephanie Mitchem, Introducing Womanist Theology (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2002), 47.Google Scholar
  25. 76.
    Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment (New York: Routledge, 2002), 12–13.Google Scholar
  26. 77.
    Linda E. Thomas, “Womanist Theology, Epistemology, and a New Anthropological Paradigm,” Living Stones in the Household of God: The Legacy and Future of Black Theology, ed. Linda Elaine Thomas (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004), 42.Google Scholar
  27. 82.
    Madhu Dubey, Signs and Cities: Black Literary Postmodernism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Esther L. Jones 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Esther L. Jones

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations