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Black Alienation in Fictional Futures

Later in 1967, through another Science Fiction text, the Euro-American author Harlan Ellison approaches the ideas of gender and race in his short story, “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”. One important change is there is are characters of different races within this story. In all others previously discussed, most, if not all the characters were of European descent. Ellison writes in a very blunt way that is not without its slight racist undertones. Again, there is a main Caucasian male character named Ted, who is the focus of the short story. Ted is the narrator of the short story and through his words, he cannot be trusted. All the characters are slightly insane, but Ted insists that the other characters hate him because he was the, “only one still sane and whole” (Ellison 31). Ellison writes the character Ted in this manner, to show the reader that Ted is delusional to consider that everyone around him is insane, but he is somehow normal. Ted is a man, and being such, he is put in a position of control throughout the short story due to his underlying white superiority complex.

The female character Ellen is represented as a promiscuous female that is helpless without the protection of the men around her. At one point in the story, Ellen is being carried by two other male characters so that she would be safe. Ellen is represented as a weak female that only had a concern for sex and being overly emotional. Later in the story the reader is let on to the fact that Ellen is an African American woman when Ellis references her as having, a face that was, “black against the snow” along with having “ebony features stark against the snow” that surrounded them (Ellison 40). The portrayal of Ellen as an African American introduces the reader to a glimpse as to why Afrofuturism was created within Science Fiction: to alter how African Americans were characterized. Although Ellison does introduce an African American female in his story, the fact that she is portrayed a promiscuous and weak woman, is still a low blow towards what the future holds for African Americans in futuristic worlds.

Afrofuturist artists demonstrate how black alienation exacerbated the visions of the future and by challenging the transformation of these future fantastic stories (Yaszek, Afrofuturism, 48). Ellen is portrayed as a weak black woman, who in the end of the story, with the assistance of a male, realizes Ted’s plan and, “even as the fear gripped her” she kills one of her companions (Ellison 40). The portrayal of women as weak seems to be somewhat of a trend in Science Fiction, but the combination of being a woman and a different ethnicity spells out disaster for said character. Within the emergence of early Afrofuturism, there are little to no female characters. This was due to the lack of female Science Fiction writers as well as, those writers that could imagine an African American woman as anything other than alien or inferior. It was not until the creations of characters that came forth from the imagination of Octavia Butler, Nalo Hopkinson and the like, did Afrofuturism begin to feature more female characters.

Photo by: D.A. KRÓLAK

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