In Marissa Meyer’s Cinder, human life is surrounded by cyborgs and androids, who are classified as subhuman and treated as less important than fully human people. There are strong parallels between the cyborgs in Meyer’s universe and American people of colour. The cyborgs are treated as the “racialized other” because of bodily differences, in ways that are similar to how skin colour has been a marker to be treated differently. Their bodily autonomy is taken from them by those who have power over them. In examining various elements of the world that Meyer presents us with, such as the medical draft, the medical examination process, and attitudes regarding cyborgs, this post will be arguing that cyborgs in Cinder are treated as racialized, othered bodies.
One parallel between cyborgs and black people is their forcible involvement in medical testing. In Cinder, cyborgs are drafted to be test subjects to find a cure for the disease letumosis, as they are considered more expendable than humans. Similarly, black slaves were forced into being medical test subjects. There are several cases where black slaves were bought by doctors and subject to deadly and torturous procedures in the name of science. One example of this parallel is how Dr. Sims in the 1840’s bought black female slaves and experimented on their genitalia without their consent (Washington, 2007, p. 2). In addition, they were denied anesthesia because they were thought not to be human enough to feel pain. This idea is paralleled in Cinder when Cinder’s stepmother asks, “Can you feel anything at all, or is it just… programmed?” (Meyer, 2012, p. 63). This suggests that in both cases, they were used because they were not considered human enough to be treated like humans, but human enough to be useful to the “real humans”. Attitudes regarding both the real-life and fictional doctors is similar; to one group they are heroes, to the other, monsters.
Another way to examine the parallels between cyborgs and people of colour is considering the ratio detector examination as a rape scene, and comparing that to the experiences of female slaves. Consider the following passage in terms of the lack of consent and the violence of the med-droids:
“Perhaps if she fought hard enough they would knock her out again. She wasn’t sure if that would be better or worse […] Her heart galloped as the android undid the latch in the back of her head. She shut her eyes, trying to imagine herself anywhere but this cold, sterile room. She didn’t want to think about the two metal prongs being inserted into her control panel– her brain– but it was impossible not to think about it as she heard them being maneuvered into place.” (Meyer, 2012, p.80)
As a cyborg, Cinder’s control panel is where she is most vulnerable. We can read this as a rape scene because Cinder is nonconsenting, both verbally and with her body language, while the med-droid is forcefully inserting prongs into her control panel. Cinder describes nausea and inability to feel anything. She screams and counts with the scanner, waiting until it’s done. If one were to replace the mechanical terms with body parts and clothes, it would literally be describing a rape scene.
Cinder is clearly traumatized, and has been traumatized before in the initial surgery that made her a cyborg: “a fact never forgotten, always ignored… someone had altered her” (Meyer, 2012, p. 80). This trauma she deals with can compared to the experiences of black slaves because many of them suffered the same fate. It is a well-known fact that female black slaves were frequently raped by their masters. In terms of medical rape, slave owners would bring doctors to conduct full body examinations to assess their slave’s health and suitability to their needs. In a similar example, a Mormon physician named Frederick Gardener describes a scene he witnessed:
“Then he finally discovers a bright mulatto, who appears about 16 years of age and is quite good looking. She is ushered into a private room where she is stripped to a nude condition and a careful examination is made of all parts of the body by the Dr. and is pronounced by him to be sound.” (Washington, 2007, p. 25)
It does not have to be explicitly stated to be understood that this would be a violating experience of having your naked body assessed. It is also evident that this was not an uncommon scene. Similarly, Cinder’s control panel is exposed and is subjected to the violating experience of having her cyborg to human ratio tested to assess if she would be suitable to their needs.
The people of Meyer’s universe are not fond of those who are not fully human, resulting in cyborgs being treated as subhuman. Frequently, Cinder hides her mechanical parts to pass as fully human. Black people have always been viewed with fear and disgust. It appears that cyborgs are treated similarly. For example, “Chang Sacha didn’t serve cyborgs” (Meyer, 2012, p.19). This calls to mind the common signs posted in segregated US of “No Colored Allowed”. As it parallels race-based discrimination, it is not far-fetched to consider cyborgs experiencing racialized bodies in similar ways. It is also similar to the experience of biracial individuals; the more an individual can pass for white, the less racism they are subject to. For cyborgs who can afford skin grafts, and for those who do not have many modifications, there is a passing privilege.
Thus, it is evident that cyborgs in Cinder are treated as a racialized group. In understanding the similarities between Cinder’s experiences and black people in both the past and present, we can see how the violence that she is subject to is inspired by real-life forces. Like enslaved black people, cyborgs are subject to medical examinations and discrimination, as a result of being labeled dehumanized. Meyer carefully incorporated history into a future setting, potentially as a dystopian warning not to let the past repeat itself.
- Did you draw the same parallel when reading the novel? Can you think of any other ways in which the cyborgs are racialized within the novel?
- Do you think Meyer wrote this as a dystopian in an attempt to criticize the treatment of racialized bodies?
Meyer, M. (2012). Cinder. New York: Rampion Books.
Washington, H. A. (2007). Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. New York: Harlem Moon Broadway Books.