Book Review: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Image result for binti

Honestly I could not sing the praises of Dr. Okorafor’s writing enough. While this book is a novella and therefore shorter than the format we are most used to, the author build a very clear world that include history, politics, and culture. All of which are complicated subjects to accurately relay and build, but she does so with ease.
Binti is at it’s heart the story of coming of age and what that means. Binti decides to do something no one in her culture would, especially as a woman, and travel off planet to get a formal education. I think what the best part of this plot is that Binti never tries to shame or ignore her culture, rather she finds her Himba traditions as a great source of pride and comfort. While also recognizing she has to break some rules in order to pursue her dreams. We all hope that it is a smooth successful journey for Binti who is an immediately endearing character, however in an infinity expanding universe, she runs into trouble, not of her making. As there are two books that follow this one, it can be assumed she survives, so I’ll stop here rather than ruining the whole plot.


Em, the Woman Left Behind {a critical analysis of “Earth Abides” by George R. Stewart

The novel Earth Abides by George R. Stewart explores the rebuilding of a small society after a catastrophic event. Afterwards, the rebuild is chronicled through the generations of a family, Ish and his wife, Em. This book shows the progression of the generation that follows the one that survived the catastrophe and how, as the years go by, their children revert to a lifestyle more suited to their environment. While adapting to this rehashed hunter-gatherer lifestyle, however, what you notice about this novel is how quickly women fall to the wayside. In the development of characters, many women in this book, including Em, were relegated to the margins of their own story. Each woman is more or less a mere copy of the other ones mentioned, leaving a great flatness in half of the population of “The Tribe,” the women contributing almost nothing besides bearing more sons who become central characters. In this novel, Stewart does not do the women characters of his reconstructed world justice, especially Em.

Em who is given the title of “Mother of Nations,” is only referred to when she gives birth to children after the first part of the book. Besides the first section of the book, her involvement and actions seemed to be based solely upon birthing and raising children. While some may assume that this is reasonable in hunter-gather type societies, based upon the need to survive, most roles in these types of societies were actually egalitarian. Now, the argument could be made that if a woman is rearing children then it should be intuitive that they are relegated to restricted roles, because they would not be able to provide food. However, in studies of the origins of gender, such as the one done by Sandra Bowdler and Jane Balme, they say:

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Beautiful Darkness: A Review


If you are anything like me and enjoy having your feelings hurt read this. A tale of fairly Lilliputian proportions, we peek into the grotesque under growth of a forest. In this forest childlike creatures who originate from the body of a dead child, enter the world completely unaware of the consequences of their actions. Honestly this would have been less disturbing had the characters been animals, as I understand the circle of life, but the plot so revolves around making us confront nature. And all of the effects of general naivete, and rapid decomposition. Disclaimer, I am by no means of weak constitution and even I was off put by this, thus the rating, excellent storytelling. Maybe not a story you want to see..

Beauty: A Review


Kerascoet manages to take all the concepts we hold dear and show us how beautifully macabre and dangerous they can be. beauty is the story of an ugly little girl and her fae friend who seeks to help her. Under the glamour put on the girl she maintains the appearance of the most beautiful woman ever to be seen. Leading to her eventual removal from poverty, marriage to a prince, and then horrifying downfall. All’s fair in love and war, but never trust a faerie. In the end of this book we are briefly and humorously reminded that beauty is a standard set and demanded by a culture, not an actually quantifiable trait. Don’t be fooled by the pretty pastel colors and opulent illustrations, this tale is very Hans Christen Andersen/ Brothers Grimm in it’s lessons a resolutions, so take care

Shakespeare, Austen, & Women’s Morality

In the case of examining literature, morality cannot be discussed via the oversimplified connotations currently carried with the word. “Morality,” is not only associated with what is good, but should be seen as a series of rules that societies or individuals hold themselves to, even when they are not consciously aware of them. Men are typically considered the most virtuous and brave, mainly due to them always being portrayed as heroes in popular stories, or at least in leading roles. The argument that I intend to make is that Shakespeare and Austen both subvert our typically hyper-masculine associations with morality. Women in both the play King Lear and the novel Sense & Sensibility embody examples of a woman’s ability to have and act upon their own moral judgments, a philosophical realm often only associated with the “rational” man.

While this is not the most common contemporary association, there are still visages of these nonsensical and archaic ideologies within many circles of academia, and within portrayals in popular media. Continue reading

Split, The Duality in Zitkala Sa’s narrative

Gertrude Bonnin, who later became known as Zitkala Sa, was a Yankton Lakota woman whose narratives have offered us a view into a world we haven’t got a lot information on. As a young girl Zitkala Sa is given the opportunity to attend residential school to learn English and become accustomed to the world of the whites. In our current society (I’m going to define this as the post-residential school era 83’ on) we view our country as a melting pot, a place where things meld together in a way that creates balance for our citizens. However, for many others, particularly for Native Americans, this is just fancy wording for assimilating to survive. Zitkala Sa offers us an internal view of what happens when attempted duality and balance do not go as planned. This creates a schism within her world, one that she never truly rectifies or sets straight for herself internally. This however begs the question, where do we find these separations in both her writing, and her life, and how do we benefit from this dual perspective as readers?

In a paper dealing with an issue of identity we must first consider how to define it. In this case the question is: How to we identify ourselves as people, through and with our writings?   While considering this question and doing research on criticisms of Zitkala Sa’s work I came across some information about her life after the period of time she talks about in “Impressions of an Indian Childhood,” (Norton 1107).  Cari Carpenter wrote a piece called “Detecting Indianness:Gertrude Bonnin’s Investigation of-Native American Identity.”  Carpenter explores the side of Zitkala Sa’s life that we as readers may not often consider. Carpenter presents the argument, that as all identities are complicated and often up for debate or challenge, so is Zitkala Sa’s. Identities are often called to question, Zitkala Sa is not exception to this.  Be it outside forces, or internal, we have to consider how many activists, and most people often times have to commit themselves to a facade in order to further in order to promote their cause. Not in a way that questions her ties to her Yankton background, but to her motivations. “While a number of studies portray her as a figure who led a ‘schizophrenic life,’ who was ‘caught between two cultures,’and who existed in ‘two diametrically opposed worlds,’ I would argue that her letters demonstrate that her challenge was not to maintain her connection to an American Indian identity but rather to fine-tune the public persona that was most amenable to her activist work.” (Carpenter 2). Now while this passage does not directly say it, the implication is that all of Zitkala Sa’s writing serve the purpose of maintaining and building a facade of her identity as an activist. Which calls to question the motivation behind her form of writing narratives, and her true intentions behind them.

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Political Sovereignty & First Nations Rights: Also I greatly dislike John Locke

America’s foundation has been based upon the idea that our citizens and our country have more personal sovereignty than under the oppression of Old World states. In that we have rebuilt our country under ideologies and influences of philosophers who sought to use their intellect in order to create a more ideal country. One of the greatest influences to such change and development were men like: John Locke, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill. Locke believed heavily in property and contractual laws, limiting the government to enforce these sovereign rights. After the formation of treaties and the ending of the Indian wars, First Nations people agreed to the social contract placed before them. Defining their property rights Euro-centrically, making them eligible to the protection of such rights as defined by these contracts. Mill and Hume later built upon this foundation and theorized deeper and more specific guidelines. All of which, to some extent have influenced the development of this nation and its laws.

Not many people are aware of this, but under the laws of the United States tribal nations of this country are considered sovereign nations of their own. That is, to an extent, as there are a great number of exceptions acted upon quite readily by the government. What is sovereignty and what does it mean, and how has it applied in this country’s interactions with the First Nations? Sovereignty for the First Nations allows each tribe to create and enact their own laws of government within reservation borders, members who are registered to the tribes are subject to the laws of their individual tribes. These laws are put in place and upheld by tribal councils with elected officials, and laws that cater to the culture values of the different tribes.

First Nations laws, rights, and land holding were defined through treaties signed during the last hurrah of the Great Indian wars (considered officially ended after Crazy Horse was killed, but that is a cultural standard).While sovereignty is, in theory, granted to First Nations people, federal law still takes precedence. This means that our government has created laws that restrict tribes, examples of which are:  laws that influence which people can and cannot be registered to their tribes (called Blood Quantum laws), how large a population has to be to be considered a recognized tribe under our law (an example of an unrecognized nation is the Lumbee people), and what lands, granted by previous treaties, still remain under the charge of these sovereign nations (ex: the DAPL protests currently happening in North Dakota). Our government’s overbearing control of the nations that have been in theory nulled as rights were granted to this concept of sovereignty of First Nations people, make this concept almost void in actual practice. Normally the government enacts its control over the First Nations to strip them of benefits, and when there are severe issues within indigenous communities the government turns its back, stating the First Nations’ sovereignty as the reason for not intervening in situations such as rampant poverty, severe lack of housing, and sexual assault of indigenous women (1 out of 3 native women before the age of 25) committed by non-registered white men 80% of the time.

Where people like Locke and Hume come into play are that they both believe that a number of restrictions should be upheld in order to keep whatever government is in place in balance with its people. Hume believed: 1. The social contract is revocable once a sovereign removes a sense of safety and organization. 2. Social contracts can be reviewed and revised. 3. Using force or violence to create these social changes is acceptable if the other routes have been exhausted (pg 33, para. 3). This relates to the above example of the DAPL in particular; under the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1865 the land surrounding the Standing Rock reservation reverts to the jurisdiction of the Sioux Nation.  An example that is currently relevant, DAPL was approved without the consent of the people who actually have property rights over the drilling area, so it follows under both Hume and Locke’s ideologies that the choice to protest is well within the rights of those in residence at Sacred Stone Camp.

Protesting the pipeline is not only legally permissible to Locke but also morally. It follows under the ideas of reparation and restraint. Considering our massively genocidal history with First Nations people, and our continuation of breaking contracts (treaties), a protest is a more measured response than should be expected. When First Nations people moved out of what could be considered (under Locke’s view) their “state of nature,” and agreed to receive the benefits and protection of the state that imposed this contract upon them. First Nations agreed to live majority consent, so long as the treaties were upheld.

Our Nations rightfully governed themselves before colonial influence stripped them of their right to their own sovereignty. However, the type of “sovereignty” currently granted by the United States government is arguably not actually sovereignty, but some perversion of the concept.  If we are to really uphold the Locke’s rights in relation to First Nations people the first step would be to obey treaty laws, and not affect or intervene in the property entailed to them. The second would be equal reparations for the wrongs done to them under the jurisdiction of the United States government. In current application many groups who are currently affected by the restrictions on their sovereignty are and would be well within their rights to refuse the current social contract and demand a new one, or a removal of the current system.

Locke personally considered Native Americans to be wild and not entitled to their land rights as they had no concept of property. However once we had agreed to the social contract First Nations did not receive the legislative protection Locke promoted in order to protect property and sovereignty. The main criticism that could be made of Locke is his lack of consideration for protecting the property rights for minorities. He believed that if you could not commit yourself to the will of the majority, you should, and are allowed to, leave the state or community you feel does not benefit you. However, the major issue here how we apply this case to indigenous people. When one has left Europe for the Americas and found the laws here do not suit them, they can simply return to their land of origin. This is the First Nations’ land of origin and so they are severely restricted in their ability to leave. Furthermore, Locke did not believe in being physically restricted; one’s ability to move themselves in a literal sense is a right. The very creation of reservations is a break with this idea, if a whole group of people lose their rights and protection outside of a reservation then the social contract has become nothing more than a repeat of feudalism. This is because Locke did not consider the rights of minorities that this gap has become a problem. Someone who followed him, John Stuart Mill, did consider these factors.

Mill, in reflection of current events, would have seen the need to question the current usage of our legislative branch, which should be in place to protect all people, including minorities, from being completely run over. Minorities should not be subjected to enslavement by the majority. This form of Utilitarianism, if actively placed and practiced by our government, would mean that injustices such as DAPL would not be forced upon First Nations people (pg 133). As soon as a minority is fighting to maintain their property, as well as fighting for their physical well being, they should not only be supported, but ignoring these goings on is immoral.

Furthermore our government (and frankly our populace) could be accused of and proven to cause evil by not intervening in the construction of DAPL and the violence being enacted upon the protectors currently stationed at Sacred Stone.

All three of the philosophers cited in this paper did not intentionally create their ideas to protect First Nations people. As a matter of fact, Locke did not believe in rights for indigenous people at all. This, however, in modern context would prove to be confusing to especially Locke. Once Locke, Hume, and Mill found out that by signing treaties Native Americans had given their explicit consent to be a part of the current social contract, they would find that now their philosophies would have to be applied to First Nations people. Thus endowing them with the same rights as European colonizers, rights that have repeated been violated. In conclusion this means that First Nations specifically are no longer obligated to uphold their side of the social contract. Their sovereignty and safety has not been upheld, and so our government is, within reason, removable, and in need of being completely restructured. Whether this is applied only through the lens of Locke’s property rights, or Mill’s ideas of Utilitarianism, our current government has violated the philosophical rights of the people, breaching the standards and contract originally created to prevent harm to the populace of the states.

(no lies I wrote this for a class, got a b+ and never turned in a second draft, so there is huge room for improvement)


Works Cited


Stewart, Robert. Readings in Social and Political Philosophy. Oxford University Press, New York. 1st edition. 1986.