Humanity Is the Only Way of Avoiding Collapse: “Rappaccini’s Daughter” and “Speech Sounds”

Free «Humanity Is the Only Way of Avoiding Collapse: Rappaccini's Daughter and Speech Sounds» Essay Sample

Human conscious seems to have no limits that allow people’s perfecting their innate abilities and open new horizons. At first sight, there is no trick in such human seeming omnipotence, but it has the reverse side overshadowing the optimism of people’s unlimited abilities. Being concentrated on the single idea men become obsessed by it limiting the borders of their thinking to the threaten sizes. It creates the threat not only to the individual development but also for the whole society. If some persons possess this obsession, human omnipotence can transform from the developmental tool into the weapons of mass destruction. Nonstandard view from the outside may be a single way of breaking this circle. The art often is the expression of original vision and the mirror that allows looking at the situation from the different perspective, especially if to resort to the speculative fiction that creates the alternative reality exaggerating the situation or predicting its consequences by the means of unreal context. The paper seeks to explore this effect through comparing two stories “Rappaccini’s Daughter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne and “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler.

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Despite quite different plots of the mentioned artworks that are puzzling for making the analogy between them, both authors raise similar social issues of humanity saving its crucial meaning from the ancient times to nowadays. When in the story “Speech Sounds” by Octavia Butler this urgent social context is quite evident because of author’s emphasizing the communicational transgression caused by the pandemic, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s narration needs more efforts to comprehend his covert idea. Thus, just a title of Butler’s story tells the reader that the speech is the core element in her artwork and all events, and phenomena a reader should interpret from the point of language meaning. However, the ability to speak is not the object of primary attention but only a symbol of communicational skills. The story begins from the scandal in the bus that demonstrates the hostility between the arguing people and indifference of the rest passengers. The transport vehicle in this context unwillingly depicts the society where human misery and disorder prevail. It seems to be a genuine conception of the author who aspires to emphasize the global scale of the issue by the means of such analogy. Only later she presents the reason for such hopeless social situation that related to the inability to communicate successfully. There was no direct hints but further mentioning about the illness that “had cut even the living off from one another” provokes just a single reasoning (Butler, 1983, p. 570).     

Ability to speak seems to have no relation to the humanity at first sight. However, if taking into account that communication is the only way to understand each other, understand the need and aspirations of the people, manifest attention, and care, solve the crisis situations in a tolerant way this link becomes quite evident. Moreover, considering that Octavia Butler is one of the most prominent black feminist writers the context of humanity may also come with the interpretation from the perspective of black communities’ freedoms and gender equality. Language impairment may be the hint of existing discrimination in the ignoring voices of these social groups grounded on the lack of respect. The Butler’s phrase saying that Rye’s “would never hear her name spoken again” sounds like confirmation to this adjustment as well as contacting by name is the first expression of respect (Butler, 1983, p. 572).

Almost the whole story by Octavia Butler is full of despair, alienation and hopeless. Only closer to the end the reader can see the desperate human desire not to be alone and ability understand each other without language but by heart that reveal another side of communication. Rey happened to be in a critical situation and to leave the place of the accident as soon as possible was a single thought that reflexively came to her mind. Everyone from the society depicted in the story would act in such way, but the protagonist overcame her emotional dash and started caring about two orphaned children. Having felt their pain by heart, she hated her initial indifference and dared to speak despite the circumstances. Such finish of the story, most likely, underlines the individual choice that should be over following the common tendencies, stereotypes, and prejudices that cause the illness. Maybe that is why Octavia Butler did not find an appropriate name for this disease because of its numerous components and factors inherent to the society.


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In contrary to the previous story, the narration by Nathaniel Hawthorne starts from rather magnificent images. From the first lines, the reader occurs in the picturesque garden that is full of flowers of incredible beauty. Nothing seems to overshadow the romantic fairytale images. However, as it reveals later, all these plants are the result of experiments made by Professor Rappaccini who has an obsession with the science. From the first characteristic of this person expressed by his colleague the reader can understand why the humanity is the core message of the author. Thus, Professor Pietro Baglioni claims that Rappaccini “cares more about science than for mankind…… he would sacrifice human life, his own among the rest” (Hawthorne, 1844, p.6). Despite the seeming simplicity of the phrase attentive person can admit that the notion “mankind” is here not accidently but it is like an author’s accent on what he considers necessary. It implies that the humanity should be over the science in any case.

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One can see that the professional responsibility is the core issue of the story. Regarding this the title of it may be a little incomprehensible as well as it hints on the interpersonal family relation. However, if each achievement and scientific discovery are like the child for the scientist, the author’s logic becomes evident. Thus, scientific responsibility can be compared with the parenting implying the responsibility not only for the process of creating but also for further assistance in children’s self-fulfillment, the process of their socialization and liability for their further life that is the reflection of upbringing. Every scientist should work for the social wealthy but not against the humanity for his or her individual vanity. What is inhuman is artificial and in spite of unearthly beauty carries fatality. This adjustment can rise from the lines saying that the flowers have “appearance of artificialness” like they were the production “not God’s making, but the monstrous offspring of man’s depraved fancy, glowing with only an evil mockery of beauty” (Hawthorne, 1844, p.13).

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Humanity also implies the tolerance to the feeling of other peoples and freedom of individual choice. Being aware of this the reader can see one more accent on the Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story that shows ignoring the daughter’s will by his father. She perceived such situation as undeniable truth until the Giovani made her see the situation from the other perspective.

Although the story raises the issue mostly related to the science its title, as well as the father-daughter relation, seems to be here to emphasize the role of hereditary of human behavior. Because children are the continuity of their parents in spite the fact they can even have no awareness of copying family’s way of life. Thus, people may transmit inhumanity from generation to generation, and finally, there is a risk of losing this basic concept of human being. Scientific achievements often contribute the undermining the communication that also may be a scientist’s harming heritage. 

The threat of scientists’ ambitious who aspires to overcome one another in their achievements even by the costs of human life is another accent of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s story. The author actualized this issue by the means of emphasizing the jealous treatment of Pietro Baglioni to the Professor Rappaccini. The awfulness of such professional competition the writer demonstrates at the end of the story as if saying that it may cost a lot for humanity. Author’s comment to the death of the Rappaccinni daughters is quite eloquent: “poor victim of man’s ingenuity and of thwarted nature and the fatality that attends such efforts of perverted wisdom, perished there (Hawthorne, 1844, p.25). It is the price society pay for scientific obsession. Moreover, often the discoveries are not useful for the community and people should pay a rather high price for the progress.  After reading the Hawthorne’s story, the Butler’s artwork seems consonant to the idea mentioned above.  Octavia Butler emphasizing the crisis in communication mentions that this illness appears because of “A new virus, a new pollutant, radiation, divine retribution….” (Butler, 1983, p. 570) 

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It is worth to admit that Nathaniel Hawthorne and Octavia Butler use different art approaches in creating their core messages. When the artificial or post-human life forms are on the basis of the story “Rappaccini’s Daughter,” “Speech Sounds” depicts the social apocalypses or post-apocalypse situation. Despite opposite approaches they use to transmit their essential ideas, both authors emphasize global threats to the community. Nathaniel Hawthorne makes an accent on the personality of doctor Rappacini as if hinting that this only one man obsessed with the science can bring such substantial effect on the community and allow reader imagining of what threat may cause a few hundred of them. At the same time, Octavia Butler goes reverse depicting global collapse she leads to the thought that only one sane person can change the situation.

After all, the authors mirrored in their stories human reality but a little metamorphosed it by the means of their fears, hopes or individual ideas in the speculative fiction. Both writers appeal to the responsible individual choice with an emphasize on global threats. They use cultivating humanity as the primary way of avoiding and depict personal and frequent collapses. Although the issue seems exaggerated, everyone should remember that everything starts from the smallest and author’s fiction one day may become people’s reality if they are inhuman today.

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