I’ve now had the pleasure of reading Octavia E. Butler’s Mind Of My Mind twice, on my own and with the book club B2Weird, and upon completing my recent reread, I realized that it’s a book I see myself returning to maybe once a year.
Mind Of My Mind is the second book in Butler’s Patternist series. In this world, there are humans who are born with naturally heightened abilities, as a result of the extensive breeding by an immortal named Doro. Doro is something not quite human, having no actual body to contain his soul. Able to “take” the bodies of others by consuming their souls at a moment’s notice, Doro has made himself invincible and fearsome. At the top of Mind Of My Mind, we find Doro checking in on one of his young daughters Mary. Due to generations of careful breeding and foresight, Doro expects Mary to transition into one of the most powerful telepaths he’s ever encountered. And this she does.
Mind Of My Mind is a formidable installation in this series not just because of the context it provides for the next two books, but because of the commentary it provides on society, self-determination, and oppression. Doro serves simultaneously as our protagonist Mary’s father-figure and as the subversive villain. Doro embodies the evasiveness of oppressive structures. Those caught in his web are deeply unhappy, yet accept the inevitability of their circumstances and thus, of Doro’s supremacy. Doro’s people, as they and he refer to themselves, don’t have the energy to actively hate or change their predicament even after all the harm they’ve endured. Doro’s ever-shifting face and body makes him almost impossible to pin down and defeat. There’s always the looming anxiety that he can pop up unannounced and make changes. No one is able to live completely how they choose; there’s no permanence or self-determination allowed with Doro. His word and whims are automatically law. How can a person live freely knowing that they actually have no control or rights in their life? What does this do to a person, a community, or a society? How are they supposed to reach their full potential stifled and afraid to make a misstep, especially when the consequences for a mistake are the loss of livelihood or even death?
Doro’s practices of managing his people is purely parasitic; only he benefits from the circumstances, and when a person no longer serves Doro’s purpose or may disobey, Doro eliminates their existence, which also benefits him on a carnal level. Mary, on the other hand, sways towards a more mutualistic approach. Those in Mary’s Pattern both benefit from Mary’s leadership and the rest of the group, while Mary also directly benefits on a biological and psychological level from the members of her society. At first, Mary worries that she’s a parasite like Doro, and this bothers her. In truth, Mary is fully capable of being a parasite like her father. Perhaps it’s because Mary spent her life as one of Doro’s people and has seen, up close, the harm Doro inflicts with no remorse. For Doro, every one of his people have the potential to benefit him, dead or alive. In his ruthless pursuit of a superior people, Doro has lost the ability to see people as other than fuel, and how can you effectively lead a people if you don’t respect or even acknowledge their humanity?
In building a community that actively embraces those discarded by Doro’s rigid standards, Mary emerges as a new type of leader. She, unlike Doro, hails from a similar background as those she leads. She sees value in both those exactly like her and those whose abilities are either unfamiliar or not yet apparent. If we’re looking at Doro as a symbol for oppressive structures, he begins to resemble capitalism. Like a capitalistic society, Doro manipulates people’s desire for basics (livelihood, peace of mind, sanity) to keep them in line. He discards those who don’t fit and they end up paying the price with their mental clarity and sanity. In Doro’s society, a person’s quality of life is determined by how useful they (and their genes) are to Doro’s plans. Conversely, in Mary’s civilization, a person is provided a good quality of life and a place of community, then are able to flourish and contribute to society.
The power of community seems to be a recurring theme that appears in Butler’s works, but it is in Mind Of My Mind that this theme is front and center. In this alternate reality, Doro has fostered these powerful and capable telepaths…separately. Because of this, telepaths may leads lonely and unfulfilling lives, unable to connect with or seek advice from those who understand them. Even Doro, with his centuries of experience and unique ability, does not know or understand what it’s like to be a telepath. Because of this, he deals with an immense amount of jealousy for someone so powerful. At the core of Doro’s plan is the innately human craving for a community. He’s made himself into a god-like figure (rarely seen but still highly influential and a taker of life), yet he still feels deeply unsatisfied. Doro has no one like him, therefore, no one to whom he can. He’s incomplete and forever searching for a sense of true belong. Ultimately, being “extraordinary” or exceptional means little and is incredibly disheartening without the presence of a community. At some point, a person’s grandeur is unable to fully blossom without the support and encouragement from those who understand and appreciate fully what they can do.
It’s a powerful feeling when a work of fiction moves you as strongly as Mind Of My Mind has twice moved me. Butler’s Mind Of My Mind remains an insightful and crucial examination of what is required to be a principled and effective leader, the deep importance of self-determination, and humanity’s intrinsic desire for self-acceptance.
Have you read any of Octavia E. Butler’s works – which ones? If not, are you planning to? Leave a comment down below! Thank you for reading!
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