In Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, human beings and cybernetic organisms coexist in society. Cyborgs are “a hybrid of machine and organism” that co-inhabit Earth with humans (Haraway 5). However, cyborgs are viewed as subhuman and are treated as objects. In this novel, the world is plagued with a lethal disease called letumosis, leading to the creation of a daily draft to recruit cyborgs at random “to act as guinea pigs for antidote testing” (Meyer 29). The draft is evidence that cyborgs are treated as an alienated race whose rights to their own bodies are denied. Prior to Cinder, all of the testing has been unsuccessful, leading to the death of every cyborg unlucky enough to be drafted. Cinder is only seen as a valuable member of society once her immunity to the disease is discovered. Thus, this marginalization of cyborgs and how they are denied their own bodily integrity supports our argument that Cinder is not treated as a human being, causing her gender to become irrelevant.I
In New Beijing, cyborgs are oppressed. This discrimination shows that “the fusion of machine and human [is] a metaphor for how systematic racialized structures restrict or oppress the Othered individual” (Hale 4). Cyborgs are universally subjugated by humankind, sometimes even being barred from entering certain establishments. People fear cyborgs and act as if the “wires are contagious,” despite that becoming a cybernetic organism was not their own conscious choice (Meyer 5). Cinder’s marginalization is evidenced through the treatment she receives at the market. She is not permitted to enter Chang Sacha’s bakery and the street vendors around her often complain about the smell of her booth; however, “Cinder knew they really just didn’t like being next to her” (4). This treatment is typical of how all cyborgs are treated in society and demonstrates some instances in which they are treated as less than human.
Further, cyborgs are not treated like valuable members of society. Young cyborgs, like Cinder, are denied “freedom within society” and are seen “as a piece of property that can be bought and sold” (Hale 8). This becomes evident with the implementation of the cyborg draft. The names of cyborgs are drawn so they can be injected with the plague and then given an unsuccessful antidote. While this should make cyborgs highly valued members of society because they could be the reason a cure is found, it instead emphasizes their status as subhuman. As Fateen, the doctor’s assistant, states, “it’s better than testing on people” (Meyer 70). The draft reminds citizens that “cyborgs [are] not like everyone else” (29). Cyborgs are chosen for this duty because they do not have the same rights that the ‘true’ humans in their society do. According to Haraway, “a cyborg body is not innocent; it was not born in a garden” (65), implying that cybernetic organisms are unnatural, despite the fact that they were born human and were made into cyborgs due to unforeseen circumstances. Although most cyborgs are over seventy percent human, they are treated as though they are entirely a machine that can be controlled by the government.
Cybernetic organisms are refused their bodily integrity because they are viewed as subhuman. They are not given the same rights to their own bodies that ‘true’ humans are given. Young cyborgs are expected to obey their legal guardians, regardless of the consequences, which shows how the free will of cyborgs is not viewed as a basic right. Many cyborgs, including Cinder, are “forced to sacrifice” themselves for a society that oppresses and discriminates them (Hale 7). In Cinder’s case, she is mistreated by her stepmother, Adri. Adri uses her legal power to force Cinder to become an antidote test subject against her will. When the med-droids come to take Cinder away, she tells Adri that she cannot force her to go to the labs. Adri replies, “I can. So long as you are under my guardianship” (Meyer 67). The reality that a guardian can trade the life of their cyborg ward in exchange for monetary compensation reinforces the idea that cyborgs can be treated as objects. This is further evidenced by the way Adri treats her, despite Cinder being the family’s sole source of income. Since Adri was obliged to take care of Cinder, Adri constantly reminds her that “[l]egally, Cinder belonged to Adri as much as the household android and so too did her money” (24). Although Cinder was once fully human, the thirty-six percent of her body that is machine takes away her free will.
The absence of a cyborg’s bodily autonomy is due to being subhuman. This makes the gender of the cyborg irrelevant. Since cyborgs are not treated as humans, their gender is inapplicable to their daily life. Cinder’s stepmother barely treats Cinder as a human being, let alone in regards to her biological sex. Adri views Cinder as “this thing” (65) that she has been forced to take care of against her will, rather than as her stepdaughter. Cinder, herself, does not pay attention to feminine qualities. She focuses her time and energy on her duties as a mechanic and on supporting her family. Even when she is given the opportunity, however small, to go the ball, she occupies herself with work and does not focus on matters like finding an appropriate dress. This is also because she understands that Adri will not give her the money she has earned to buy a dress because Cinder’s stepmother views her as an emotionless machine, undeserving of feminine luxuries. Therefore, the way that Adri behaves toward Cinder is reflective of the general public’s treatment of cyborgs, which causes them to be viewed by most as genderless subhumans.
In Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, cybernetic organisms are treated as secondary citizens who are marginalized and looked upon as subhuman. This results in the lack of bodily integrity given to cyborgs and the increasing irrelevance of gendered characteristics and behaviours. The treatment of cyborgs in Cinder is representative of how even in our present-day society, racial minorities can be mistreated, oppressed, and discriminated against.
- We assert that the discrimination of cyborgs is an issue of race rather than class. Do you agree or disagree? Explain.
- Sierra Hale says that “technology [is used] as a social metaphor for race to encourage discussions of contemporary society’s racial politics” (15). Do you agree? If so, how does the treatment of cyborgs correspond with the treatment of “othered” races in our society?
Hale, Sierra. “Post-Racial Futures and Colorblind Ideology: The Cyborg as Racialized Metaphor in Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chornicles.” Raced Bodies, Erased Lives: Race in Young Adult Dystopian and Speculative Fiction. Eds. Miranda A. Green-Barteet and Meghan Gilbert-Hickey. Anthology Under Review.
Haraway, Donna. Manifestly Harroway. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist: Feminism In the Late Twentieth Century.” University of Minnesota Press. 2016.
Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. Ch. 1-11. Rampion Books. 2012