Post-Separation Studies: Race and Gender in Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans (Laura B. and Aesha N.)

In her novel Orleans, Sherri L. Smith “connects the past to the future by imagining Hurricane Katrina to be the first in a series of extreme weather events leading to a post-Apocalyptic New Orleans” (Coleman 1). Smith’s post-apocalyptic New Orleans, however, disproportionately exposes women and Black individuals to devastation. Smith’s imagined world thereby examines gender and race relations and how these systems of oppression operate in a future world that has been devastated by a series of natural disasters and where blood type functions as yet another form of oppression. Specifically, in the novel, the Institute of Post-Separation Studies “ha[s] an interdisciplinary goal of understanding social bias and hate crimes” (74). This institute asks, “if people [divide] along medical lines, [does] race or gender matter?” (74). Throughout Orleans, gender and race exacerbate the impact of the hurricanes, which, in turn, causes women and Black individuals to be more vulnerable to the devastation caused by natural disasters.

To begin, women are more exposed to danger in the post-apocalyptic New Orleans due to their potential role as a mother figure. When Fen finds Lydia during the attack on their tribe, she remarks that Lydia has been “betrayed by that baby” because “[i]t coming right now, whether she ready or not” (40). Lydia is betrayed by Enola’s birth because she is debilitated by it which leaves her entirely open to attack. She is further endangered when she has to give birth in the forest, leaving both her and Fen unable defend themselves against any potential danger. Fen is similarly exposed to danger when she is entrusted with Enola’s care after Lydia’s death. As Fen begins caring for Enola, she notes that “babies don’t know how to hide, how to stay quiet” (61). Fen is frequently forced to quiet Enola or risk attack or capture, rendering Enola’s presence a danger to Fen. Ultimately, being a mother, and receiving no male support in child-rearing, places the women in Orleans in further danger.

Further, the blood harvesting Fen is subjected to by the man in the big black hat is closely linked to rape, to which women are disproportionately exposed. Martin Munro describes a trend in Haitian literature written since the 2010 earthquake which features an increase in prostitution narratives, asserting that, “it is as if the earthquake has stripped back two hundred years of history and recast the Haitian women in particular as an enslaved object, living in and still through the body” (382). Smith’s series of hurricanes seems to put young women in a similarly vulnerable position, as Fen is pressured to live with and obey Mama Gentille. Fen is sold both as a blood and sex slave, although these forms of oppression are inextricably linked. Before the man in the big black hat first harvests Fen’s blood, he “run[s] his hands along [her] knees and thighs and over the insides of [her] arms” (96). The man idealizes the fact that Fen appears to have never had her blood drawn, which, in turn, merges the concept of virginity with blood harvesting. Fen is thereby raped by the man in more ways than one. Because she is female, in the context of this novel, the man is sexually attracted to her. Therefore, he takes her blood, but when she can no longer provide this service to him, he rapes her. In this way, Fen is repeatedly violated as a direct result of her gender.

Similarly, in Orleans, race affects the level of devastation experienced by the series of hurricanes. Because Hurricane Katrina is placed at the epicentre of the text, it is worth discussing the details of this natural disaster. In their analysis of Hurricane Katrina, Jean Ait Belkhir and Christiane Charlemaine argue that race, gender, and class are inextricably linked (1). While the consequences of a natural disaster are, in part, environmental, the impact of such disasters is exacerbated by the aforementioned systems of oppression, especially in the case of Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans, Belkhir and Charlemaine assert, “is one of [the] cities within the United States most heavily marked by the internal wall that separates the affluent from ghettoized [Black communities]” (5). This separation is made unequivocally clear through the social factors that contributed to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. As a result of the city’s decision to redistribute the funding for levees to the war in Iraq, the deployment of the Louisiana National Guard to Baghdad, nonexistent evacuation plans for vulnerable communities and slow responses to the disaster, poor Black populations were disproportionately affected by Hurricane Katrina (2). The government’s lack of preparation and slow response to the disaster combined with the lack of resources among poor Black communities resulted in Black individuals being disproportionately affected by Hurricane Katrina, which demonstrates the way in which race affects the devastation experienced by natural disasters.

Moreover, conforming to the post-racial trope espoused in and by Young Adult dystopian literature, Smith’s Orleans implicitly suggests that blood type is the basis of oppression and segregation in the future New Orleans. In support of this suggestion, Daniel says “[f]or the most part, the rules of blood make race irrelevant. Blood types cross all ethnicities” (207). In doing so, Daniel dismisses the role of race in Orleans and instead presents blood type as a new form of racism. Prior to the series of hurricanes, however, New Orleans was a racially diverse city. Cinnamon Jones tells us that the people in New Orleans were “black, and white, and yellow, and brown, and pink” (35). After the disasters, though, White people in New Orleans are a rarity. Fen explains this point in saying that the “smuggler be white, whiter than you see in Orleans anymore” (77). White individuals, then, were able to escape the hurricanes and find refuge elsewhere. The disempowerment of Black individuals, on the other hand, forced them to remain in the midst of the hurricanes and thereby experience great amounts of devastation. Because the Black population in the novel was more vulnerable to the devastation caused by the series of hurricanes, race is reinforced as a system of oppression in the post-apocalyptic New Orleans.

In another way, race exacerbates the devastation caused by the series of hurricanes in Orleans through the way in which some groups of people are more susceptible to being infected with the Fever than others. Fen speaks to this point in saying, “[w]hen the Fever hit, all the Asians in Orleans moved over here. The Fever ain’t take to Asians the way it did the rest of us…Folks in Orleans all be mutts except for the Asians” (144). As a result of their relative immunity to the Fever,  Asian people are presented as somehow superior to other races. Their relative immunity also reduces the devastation they face as a result of the hurricanes whereas other races are more susceptible to this devastation. While we are unsure of the effect the Fever has on all races, in Fen ambiguously saying “the rest of us,” we are sure that she is referring to a population that includes Black individuals. In this way, race presents inequalities that affect how individuals experience the devastation caused by natural disasters.

In Smith’s Orleans, gender and race play an integral role through the ways in which the characters in the novel experience devastation caused by a series of natural disasters. While the novel suggests that blood type is the new form of racism, this suggestion is questioned through the struggles women and Black individuals face. As a result, Orleans demonstrates that systems of oppression are always inextricably linked.

Discussion Questions:

  1. In Smith’s Orleans, Daniel suggests that race is irrelevant and blood type is the new form of racism, yet the level of devastation experienced as a result of the hurricanes is exacerbated by race. What should we make of this paradox? What does it say about the post-racial worlds created in YA dystopian literature?
  2. While in this course we have focused primarily on the constructions of girls and girlhood, constructions of boys and boyhood are equally important to consider, especially in terms of how these constructions interact with one another. In what ways does Smith engage with traditional constructions of boyhood and girlhood? How does Daniel conform to or challenge traditional constructions of masculinity?

Works Cited:

Belkhir, Jean A., and Christiane Charlemaine. “Race, Gender and Class Lessons from Hurricane Katrina.” Race, Gender & Class, vol. 14, no. 1/2, 2007, pp. 120-152.

Coleman, Micah-Jade. Decolonizing the YA North: Environmental Injustice in Sherri L. Smith’s “Orleans.” MA Thesis, The University of Southern Mississippi, 2016.

Munro, Martin. “Fallen Nation, Fallen Women: Disaster and Prostitution in Makenzy Orcel’s Les Immortelles.The Romantic Review, vol. 105, no. 3-4, 2014, pp. 381 – 396.

Smith, Sherri L. Orleans. Penguin, 2013.

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21 thoughts on “Post-Separation Studies: Race and Gender in Sherri L. Smith’s Orleans (Laura B. and Aesha N.)

  1. Although blood type is ‘the new form of racism’ in this novel, I do agree that looking at actual racism is important to consider. I think that Smith is doing this in the novel deliberately for the viewer to consider race and humanity in a different way. While most of the population of Orleans is black, having them segregate by blood type is a way of speaking about humanity’s need to have a hierarchy. I believe that this is different than the post-racial worlds we have seen in other dystopian literature because the other novels completely neglect the idea of race.

    I find your question about Daniel and boyhood more interesting. When reading this novel I couldn’t help but think about how Fen conformed to a motherhood role and how this took the place of traditional heteronormativity in her femininity. While Fen is spending the novel trying to save this baby, Daniel is taking the ‘masculine’ role of trying to save everyone through his research. Although Fen saves Daniel over and over again because she knows the Delta Daniel still plays a masculine role by being a scientist and the ‘savior’. At the end of the novel Fen sacrifices herself to get Enola out of Orleans, and it is Daniel who is the ‘savior’ and gets her out. While this can be contrasted with the ways Fen and Daniel interact in Orleans there is always this idea of masculinity in Daniel’s character.

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    1. I agree with you that Daniel is associated with masculinity through the “white science saviour’ trope, but I think that by the end of the novel Smith has pretty effectively undercut the possibility that he will live up to the hype. Time and again, we see Daniel’s expectations of Orleans being rejected, and his own inadequacy shining through. He goes from expecting to save a few thousand people to hoping he doesn’t end up killing the thriving life that he finds there, before ultimately accepting that the only thing he is is able to do is listen to Fen one last time and take Enola across the border. While his bumbling around in Orleans is aggravating, and his dependence on Fen potentially a shade of the “Dumb Dad” trope rearing it’s ugly head, I read his side of the story more as an education in all the ways she, and Orleans, don’t need a white, scientist saviour. By the 80th time some aspect of Orleanian everyday life has almost killed him, leaving Fen to rescue him, it seems fairly clear that Daniel isn’t going to be rescuing anybody. Even before he loses the vials, the vagueness of his goal in Orleans (what is he even looking for? does he think the institute found the key to the cure 20 years ago and has just been sitting on it??) seems to indicate that his mission will not succeed, and he’s better off leaving Orleans to sort itself out. The Messianic leader in this text was Lydia, not Daniel.

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      1. I love this point, Ella! I find that I often fall into the habit of seeing a hint of a problematic trope, heaving a big sigh, and writing off that plot point. Obviously in a women’s studies environment, this is easy to do because these tropes become a bit exhausting. However, I wholeheartedly agree that Daniel, while placed into a role in which he COULD become a white savior, strong father, or brilliant scientist (all unfortunately too common in Speculative Fiction and YA), manages to embody no particular role of strength or dominance. In fact, I think that Daniel’s uselessness is extremely subversive in the post-apocalyptic genre. For example, Western society often touts men as “natural survivalists”, who are completely at ease in nature à la Walden, and women are seen to be much more materialistic and generally incompatible with nature (think: any “camping” scenario in a movie involving a woman saying some variation of the line, “Where do I plug in my hair dryer?”). However, in Orleans, Daniel can only survive when relying on information from previous smugglers, his technology, or Fen herself. I also think that he is not fully immersed in the “bumbling dad” trope because of his willingness to learn. Often, the “dumb dad” is completely oblivious to his stupidity, and places all intellectual burden on his wife. Instead, Daniel questions Fen and adapts to his environment based on her advice. Again, much like you said Ella, his incompetence serves to highlight how Orleans does not need a white savior. This is a message that translates very well into post-separation studies, especially when considering concepts like neocolonialism and interventionism.

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      2. Thanks for running with my argument Abbie! I think kind of twisting tropes is sort of Smith’s thing in this book. On a completely different angle, for instance, I was at first disappointed that she was going for the “voodoo is scary and a tool for evil” with Mama Gentille, especially in comparison to the angel-like nuns Daniel sees. later on, though, it gets a little more complicated: on page 298, Fen turns down baptism for baby Enola, “think[ing] of that Delta water running down Enola’s clean face”. The word clean is interesting, especially because Father John uses “unclean” a few pages later, but that’s another post. Fen tells us over and over that “Churches are sacred. They are sanctuary”(291), but no one else seems to have gotten that memo. The first church she goes to is a front for Mama Gentille’s business, where worshipers are drugged and kidnapped, and the last is a front for a priest keeping himself alive by hitting worshipers over the head and draining them of blood. Fen tells us religion and the religious are sacred, but the narrative does not agree: the mambo is a kiddie-madame, the Catholic priest is a sort of vampire (the irony) and Mr. Go, who can part the river and control the flood, is living surrounded by clean plants and bees in a Garden that “ain’t nothing but a big containment suit in the end”(260), (also he’s been charged with crimes against humanity????). Even the Ursulines are a little creepy, because we never get an answer for how they’re stripping the bodies of flesh without “lye vats” (113), as Daniel wonders. Not entirely sure what Smith is saying about religion, but it doesn’t sound good.

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      3. After reading both of your responses, I can understand where you both are coming from but I still cannot look past the fact that even though Danielle doesn’t adhere to strict ideals of the white saviour complex he still embodies this role within the novel. His presence within the novel itself re-enforces his role as a “saviour” character, even if he doesn’t live up to it. Often times ‘white saviours’ are employed with the thought that they will ‘save’ people whether in fiction or in real life. There is a disregard to what is actually needed versus what the ‘saviour’ and their people think is needed. In this instance, Daniel may not be able to survive without Fen but he is still present within the novel with the intent to find a cure.

        We cannot overlook the fact that Fen dies while Daniel lives. Yes, she saves Enola but she is killed while a white man survives. The importance of Daniel’s survival is greater than his masculinity or male status, it is deeply linked to systemic racism, which Smith critiques thoroughly throughout her novel. The entire plot of Orleans is built on the systematic racism faced by Black Americans, meaning that Smith intentionally used Daniel’s role as a white saviour as a social commentary on race and racism within Western society.

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      4. I agree with you, Ella, in regards to Daniel potentially fulfilling the ‘dumb dad’ trope but I believe this can be linked to the trope of him being a ‘white saviour.’ I suggest that Smith makes a comment on systematic racism through the ‘white saviour’ but it is much more subtle than the idea all of Orleans needing Daniel to save it. I wholeheartedly agree with your point that “she, and Orleans, don’t need a white, scientist saviour” but, in this society, Smith comments that Enola very well might. Smith is very clearly commenting on the devastation that wracked people of colour in New Orleans, so I don’t think it would be too far off to suggest she shows the ‘white saviour’ trope through Daniel by having him being the one left to care for Enola. I believe that one way of interpreting this is that, in this instance, Smith is commenting on the fact that Enola might have had a better chance with a white male than with a coloured female. This is problematic for so many different reasons, but when Hurricane Katrina hit in the real world it was those “white scientists” that would have gotten safely out first because of their privilege. I believe that everybody’s outrage over Fen’s assumed death in class today is the very reason why Smith comments on racism in Western society: this systematic racism should be the source of outrage. Fen was the more competent parental figure in this novel and yet she was the one to die, not the white scientist.

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  2. In response to your questions, I had many of the same ideas as Angie and agree with her response above. To add on, I think that the paradox Smith presents suggests that it is problematic to gloss over race as an issue of oppression within the society because it still is a root of the problem. Blood as a new form of racism has developed as a result of racial oppression which arguably positioned citizens to be subjected to this ‘new’ form of racism. I think that in reading the novel critically, it is important to make note of such ‘new’ forms of oppression that the author is developing to be aware that it is problematic to gloss over the issue that is at root of the problem in the novel’s existing society. The post-racial worlds created in YA dystopian literature challenge readers to be critical I believe, because typically the issues, of oppression and inequality, raised are glossed over by more developed or exaggerated forms which somewhat draws attention away from the social issue – present in societies today – that is being addressed or hinted at.
    To add to the second question, by positioning Fen in a nurturing/mothering role, has more to handle while trying to survive herself in the existing circumstances, in comparison to Daniel. In this way she is more constricted in looking after herself, and faces more pressure by additionally looking after Enola. Daniel conforms to traditional construction of boyhood by being presented as this heroic figure working towards a cure for humanity. His role in the novel somewhat diminishes Fen’s heroism and strength in saving a life (of Enola) because he saves Fen in the end and is therefore positioned as a hero in the conclusion, as the hero who had to save Fen. At the same time Daniel also challenges male stereotypes by being reliant on Fen to get by in Orleans, through much of the novel, in this way she is positioned as a stronger character by having knowledge that is necessary for survival.

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  3. I completely agree that the world of the novel shows that racial and gender differences are still relevant to people’s lived experiences regardless of the characters’ suggestion that they are not. However, it seems problematic that Smith would have her characters deny this fact. I think it is interesting that though, as you point out, Orleans depicts how women and People of Colour are disproportionately disadvantaged in the Delta, Fen herself does not describe Orleans in those terms. She goes so far as to suggest that the city actually is in a post-racial society where the new race division is blood type.

    Her characters’ views seem to suggest that a return to the basic need to survive makes all humans equal, but does this stand up in the world she created? This also seems to suggest that privilege in society is no longer intersectional, but only reliant on one factor, blood type. That assertion is complicated further by the explanation that the Asian population is less affected than the rest of the people in Orleans by the fever. The Asian population is not fighting to survive, so they will not be viewed as equal in a society that so highly values health. Also, Fen specifies that “all the Asians” formed a tribe which suggests that they did not divide by blood type at all and race relations are still very much at play in Orleans.

    I think that though the book seems to clearly show how the society is not post-racial, readers who are not engaging with the text as critically as our class is may accept the characters’ assertion that it is. I think it is important that YA readers understand how important intersectionality is to relations within society, and while Orleans discusses this in a nuanced way, it is can be easily ignored by those reading the text superficially.

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  4. I think your argument is really interesting, especially regarding how the process of motherhood limits women’s abilities in the novel. I think this is really important especially because as you mentioned there are times when Fen stops doing something, or reconsiders her options because of Enola. However, I don’t completely agree because of the way Smith creates Fen to still be an exceptionally brave and strong protagonist – something which doesn’t seem to be affected too much by her connection with Enola.

    I think it’s interesting that you asked about ideas of masculinity because I think that Smith deliberately creates Daniel as a character who doesn’t fit masculine tropes. I think this is done in the same way as Collins creates Peeta, both Katniss and Fen are the ones who are powerful in these novels. Daniel’s foreignness could be an explanation as to why Fen is the dominant one in the duo. She is the one who makes the majority of the decisions and navigates them safely on their journey. However, despite the clear examples of Fen being strong and powerful, the power ultimately lies in Daniel’s hands as he is the one with the potential cure to the DF and he is the one who has the potential to save Enola therefore it can be argued that he does in fact fit tropes of the masculine hero.

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    1. I agree with you here on the fact that Fen’s abilities are not really limited by the presence of Enola (apart from some swinging and climbing, which she manages to complete regardless). Rather, her chances for survival are diminished, with baby Enola acting more as a burden. Time and time again, I found myself clutching the book, heaving a sigh, and thinking, “Man, babies are troublesome.” However, I do find that Fen, who time and time again, manages to escape from dubious circumstances and continues to survive (despite the additional burden of a Enola) actually exemplifies the strength, survivability, and potential of women; Fen, caring for Enola, shows that women can do so much, survive and endure so much and nurture debilitating life at the same time.
      Also, I find that Smith tends to challenge traditional gender norms through Fen and Daniel. Fen, who suffers so much for Enola’s chance of survival does so for the sake of her promise with Lydia. This immense dedication and loyalty between these women breaks traditional imaging of women being self-concerned, two-faced backstabbers and also breaks the YA dystopian fiction tradition of dissolving female friendships. As well, Daniel’s clumsiness, lack of know-how and innate survival instincts breaks traditional imaging of men as survivalists and “manly men.” However, there are times when Daniel does slip into gendered norms. For example, when “suddenly, Baby Girl starts wailing,” (178) and draws La Bete’s people towards their location, “[Daniel] don’t let [Fen] go. He grab [her] hand and don’t look back. [They] run.” (178) Despite Fen telling him that they go their separate ways if their plan were to go awry and despite knowing that he is the only one with night-vision and Fen and her wailing baby may only be more burden to his cause, Daniel slips into protective man-of-the-house mode, grabs on, and leads them to safety. Similarly, when Daniel considers unleashing his virus at the Blood Farm in order to ensure his escape, “He couldn’t. Because there was a baby, and a girl.” (134) Again, Daniel slips into protective man-of-the-house mode and must ensure their safety. This jumping back and forth between Daniel subverting and reinforcing gendered norms may be done intentionally by Smith in order to exemplify the fact that gendered norms are constructed by society and are in fact, not binaries.

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  5. I think you make a really great argument about racism, but I particularly like your question about the construction of Daniel. I agree with the other posts that state how Smith might be challenging gender norms in his case. We see Daniel as someone who is attempting to be a saviour figure, but doesn’t quite fulfill this ideal. He’s not described as being particularly masculine or having any sort of skills to survive and he relies strictly on Fen to get him through situations. At the end of the novel, (spoiler alert), Daniel is the one who takes baby Enola and promises to take care of her. He becomes the saviour of Enola, but not of New Orleans. In this way, he’s taking the role that Fen had adopted — the surrogate parent.
    Daniel reminds me a lot of other characters we have encountered. Alex from Delirium challenges gender norms in a particular way — he’s ‘romantic’ because of his exposure to the wilds. He likes poetry and literature and though he’s not explicitly emotional, it’s clear he loves Lena. However, he also has the ‘saviour’ figure attributed to him. He saves Lena on multiple occasions, most prominently at the end of the novel. Daniel, clearly, is not like this with Fen — he has no idea what he’s doing — but he has the overarching trope of the potential to be a saviour. Peeta is also a type of saviour who challenges gender norms. He has a ‘soft heart’ as some might say, but he also helps to save Katniss by becoming a part of the rebellion and giving her bread when she was starving.
    I think it’s important to realize that although the males are challenging tropes, so are the women (as we’ve been studying in this class). Though Fen is taking a motherhood role, she’s also saving Daniel time after time. Katniss also saves Peeta, and we encounter her ‘soft’ side with Prim and later with Peeta. Lena, I’d argue, is a little bit less of a rebel/saviour than Katniss and Fen, but she ultimately does understand that the structure of her society is less than ideal and she attempts to save Hana when the raids happen. I think this levels the playing field between the genders a little more than we think. It’s easy to pick out the tropes and how the characters adhere to them because we’re so used to it with our history. But these authors, though they consistently adhere to tropes, are also beginning to challenge them in certain ways. I think most in our class would agree it’s not enough, but it does help to realize that males and females can both carry the characteristics of the other gender (constructed gender). Ultimately, isn’t that how it should be? Shouldn’t we be free, no matter what gender we are, to be who we are, whether that be saviour or mother or romantic or scientist or all of the above all at once?

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  6. I agree with your idea that race and gender are linked to systems of oppression, especially against minorities. Natural disasters like hurricanes are exacerbated by race because whichever social group is the minor minority, is placed at the greatest risk of poverty and illness. Based on Daniel’s suggestion, blood/blood-type is the new race in Orleans. When all the white people leave New Orleans after the hurricanes, the only people left are black or mixed. They (the people still in the Delta) find a new way to discriminate against each other: blood-type. For Young Adult dystopian literature then, there is never a post-racial society, only a society that racializes people differently than the society in the real world. As YA novels are supposed to offer the reader a way to critique their own society, the reader is left comparing how discrimination works within literature and their society. Because Daniel’s race is never explicitly mentioned, it is mutually assumed that he is white. In this sense, Daniel is stereotyped as a ‘white savior’ figure who rescues a segregated and racially different community.

    In regards to traditional constructs of masculinity, Daniel both conforms to and challenges them. His main reason to find a cure to Delta Fever (DF) is because his brother died. This adheres to the ‘white savior’ figure I mentioned earlier; the only reason he, an assumed white man, wants to find the cure, is because his brother, another white male, has died from DF. This is Daniel conforming to traditional constructions of masculinity because, as a white man, he believe he is the one who can find the cure. He also challenges traditional stereotypes, however, by being placed as weaker in multiple ways (physically and emotionally) next to Fen, who has lived her whole life needing to be strong enough to survive in the Delta. Daniel is also the one left in charge of taking care of Enola at the end of the novel, taking the role of the nurturer.

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  7. This is a wonderful post and presents important critiques of Smith’s implementation of race. With reference to your first discussion question, it seems Daniel’s idea that America is perhaps a post-racial society isn’t too far from a common thread of mainstream discourse. Many in the mainstream took President Obama winning the White House as a sign America had gotten over race. I can recall during the Ferguson protests John Stewart presenting a clip of a Fox analyst who declared, “You know who talks about race? Racists!” To which Stewart replied, “Did you just ‘He who smelt it, dealt it’ racism?”

    The idea that other topics stemming from the novel besides race are worthy of discussion seems to me at first to be misguided, but upon reflecting, the combination of many valuable discussion points within Fen’s experience (health, education, gender, motherhood etc.) presents the most honest projection that Sherri Smith could make of America today; as glaring a wound that the United States’ systematic racism is, it’s never discussed in the mainstream simply as a mechanism for oppression. It’s always combined with a host of other topics- housing, crime, party and schools to name a few- which makes race-centred discussion in the mainstream challenging. History too plays an important role in these discussions, with white Americans having no real conception of what American history means to a black American in the year 2016. On page 184, Fen walks into Sacre Coeur with Daniel, considers taking her knife out but doesn’t, because “knives ain’t no good against ghosts, and they the only thing waiting for me up them stairs.” She seems to partially reference the ghosts of a complicated past within the walls of the Delta- something Daniel doesn’t understand. Through adding various elements and two seemingly different raced individuals, Smith’s novel is a compelling depiction of the struggles black Americans face in having their message heard by those who do not see social issues through a racial lens.

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  8. Laura and Aesha,
    I find your link to the implications of natural disaster on gender and race extremely interesting. I agree with the argument on gender that presents solid points regarding Fen’s experience as a female in Orleans as a disadvantage for survival. The additional reference to Martin Munro’s description of the trend in Haitian literature “written since the 2010 earthquake which features an increase in prostitution narratives,” provides an important perspective on the realities of post-natural disaster societies. Similarly, the topic of race is explored through Smith’s problematic choice to incorporate blood types as a “new form of racism.”

    To answer your discussion question about Daniel’s suggestion of race as irrelevant as a result of a new focus on blood type, I find this concept to be a reoccurring theme in YA dystopian literature. Cinder provides a similar metaphor for race through technology with cyborgs. While Meyer does not explicitly state cyborgs stand in for race, like Smith does in Orleans, the suggestion is evident to link being a cyborg as a new race.

    Although metaphors for race provide potential topics of discussion, I would argue that if the author truly wants to talk about race in their novels they should address race instead of using metaphors. By using metaphors for race, authors distance individuals with lived experiences of race from themes that should spark conversation. If YA literature intends to education readers, I believe that is it about time race is addressed to start a conversation on what it is instead of using a metaphor as a catalyst for discussion.

    As we have discussed in class, authors create post-racial societies generally because they do not want to address issues of race. This mentality is problematic and troubling as our current society is not close to being a post-racial society. The unfortunate aspect of the YA dystopian literature post-racial trend is the potential it has to discuss social and political issues within current society. Sadly, issues of race in dystopian literature thus far (and at least from our syllabus) prove to favour metaphors of race instead of addressing lived experiences.

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  9. Laura and Aesha,
    Your argument is very compelling, thank you for sharing! In analyzing racism within this novel in relation to gender inequalities, an intersectional analysis of YA dystopian novels emerges – a very important framework through which we should consider this genre. In response to your discussion question, I assert that the idea of a new form of racism conferred through blood type is paradoxical in arguing that blood type functions to eradicate actual racism because it does not eradicate it, but rather the blood typing becomes yet another intersectional identity categorization where unequal distribution of power and privilege result in hierarchies.
    Your analysis of the disproportionate effects of the hurricanes on Black individuals, as well as the segregation of Asian bodies, works to highlight that racism remains a powerful force, even within this YA dystopian novel. As such, race does not become unimportant, despite the introduction of a new social order. Rather, within the racialized communities, blood type simply acts as another mechanism of hierarchical social order, but does not erase nor devalue the effects of race. I think it is also important to note that one of the only explicitly mentioned white people in the novel is the smuggler, whom you quote from Orleans (77). The whiteness of the smuggler necessarily allows his body to move past the wall and into the States without being recognized. As such, this serves to show that whiteness has the power to move from the devastation in the Delta into a privileged space, while Black bodies have little power, if any, to do so.
    The inequalities that result due to blood type function in addition to this racism, thus an intersectional analysis is required. Black, female, and O-type blood individuals, such as Fen, are necessarily at the bottom of the social hierarchy: she is constantly vulnerable and relatively powerless when it comes to external forces. If Fen were to be of A-type blood, her position would remain disadvantaged due to her race and gender, however her blood would confer an increase in power within her specific society. Similarly, if Fen were white-skinned, it is possible that her ability to escape the Delta and cross the wall may have been improved, as whiteness is normalized and thus confers invisibility in the privileged States beyond the wall. Thus, it is not that blood type takes the place of race, but rather it functions in addition to race to create inequalities and power dynamics both within and outside of the Delta.

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  10. I agree with your analysis that being a woman in the Delta makes you more vulnerable during natural disasters. Pregnancy, rape and motherhood make women more vulnerable to violence, and this repeatedly brought up throughout the novel. It’s important to look at how females and males lived experiences are different because of their gender. One aspect of womanhood that is not discussed in Orleans is menstrual cycles. I find this interesting since blood is so important in the Delta and woman experience their menstrual cycles once a month. Would this not make women more vulnerable as well? How would this affect the ways women live? Would this make it easier for blood hounds and blood hunters to find them? Fen was able to get diapers for Baby Girl, would the woman in the Delta be able to get feminine hygiene products?

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    1. You raise an interesting point, but keep in mind that Fen isn’t using disposable diapers for Enola. She’s using whatever cloth she can find or moss, which is absorbent. It is interesting that a woman’s menstrual cycle isn’t discussed. There could be a biological explanation though. Menstrual blood can’t be used in transfusions. A woman would likely be more vulnerable when she’s on her period though as the blood hunters and blood hounds could smell the blood.

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  11. I really liked the way in which you guys compared the distinction between blood types to the way racism is perceived, however I do not think it is fair to consider this ‘the new racism’, as others also mentioned in previous comments. The different blood types provide a different outlook on- and maybe even a metaphor for racism, however there is still a racial distinction described in the novel. In one particular part of the book, Daniel described how he ‘had never seen someone this dark’, and the way in which the Delta mostly consists of colored people, whereas Daniel constructs the idea of normalized whiteness on the other side of the wall describes the idea that there is still a racial distinction. On the other hand, it becomes clear that Fen’s parents were not born in the Delta, which suggests that there is at least some sort of racial diversity on the other side of the wall. Overall, I thought you constructed a nice observation of the book, however I do think there is a lot more to be considered.

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  12. I found this post to be particularly enlightening in regards to notions of boyhood and girlhood within this dystopian novel. Throughout Orleans, there are obvious notions to Smith’s characters conforming to traditional constructs of boyhood and girlhood, echoed in the ways the characters depict their own femininities and masculinities. This notion is evident in the concept of Daniel as a white saviour, for he exerts typical tropes of masculinity in his desire to be protective and find a cure for this dystopian world. Although relying on Fen countless times, he still adheres to constructs typical of boyhood, for example, his incredible and vast knowledge on science has him display a very hegemonic masculinity, as it conforms to social norms that boys and men flourish in the sphere of science and engineering, compared to girls who thrive in the area of arts. Smith continues to present stereotypical concepts of girlhood and boyhood, evident in Fen’s nurturing and protective role, that seeks to depict her as a conformer to ideologies surrounding motherhood. Influenced heavily by Enola, Fen centrals much of her life in the Delta on the safety of the baby, and thus she becomes a symbol for a maternal figure. However, the bravery and independence of Fen is one way in which typical traits of femininity are perhaps challenged by Smith, thus making Fen a particularly interesting and admirable protagonist.

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  13. To respond to your first question, Daniel seems surprised to learn that blood type is the new race in Orleans, suggesting that perhaps race is still relevant outside of Orleans. Those within Orleans do not consider race an important distinction because blood type is what separates and bonds them. Outside of Orleans, however, racism may remain an issue where the fever is not rampant and tribes divided by blood type do not exist. The difference in the effects of the fever on the Black population occurred before tribes based on blood type were created. So, the novel is not necessarily claiming that racism was not a factor in the immediate effects of the flood and the ability of privileged groups to get to safety, while others had no chance. In this case, it may not be a paradox that race was a factor in who was effected by the floods while race no longer matters in the post-flood Orleans. Perhaps Smith is using the comparison of race and blood type to point to how illogical divides based on skin colour are, as they are not grounded in anything, and can be replaced by a new form of discrimination, such as that based on blood type.

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