Any Other Thing But Human

Posted on September 22, 2011 by Tiffany KW.
Categories: Uncategorized.

After reading the most recent group of short stories, I have to admit that I’m impressed.  W.E.B. DuBois’ uncanny ability to predict behavior patterns and draw them out in the form of a narrative about calamity amazed me.  I know him best from The Souls of Black Folk.  In his blog, Michael said: “What I found the most valuable and interesting element of this short was not the carnage and science fiction element of the story as described by the writer, but rather the true story of the man Jim Davis hidden amidst the text. Somehow this catastrophe became a backdrop for a window into racial prejudices and in an extremely powerful way it was more impactful because of this hidden agenda.”  I have
to agree.  DuBois crafted a complex story made of several simple threads.  The thread in which I’m primarily interested concerns the inherent racism through the story.

Julia’s breakdown following her futile calls for help speak volumes.  She considers her situation, and thinks: “She turned toward the door with a new fear in her heart.  For the first time she seemed to realize that she was alone in the world with a stranger, with something more than a stranger, — with a man alien in blood and culture — unknown, perhaps unknowable” (p.264).  The otherness she ascribes to Jim is exactly the kind of linguistic tagging folklorists, ethnographers, and other students of human traditions find fascinating to study.  But the reason her commentary rings true, even in this day and age, is because we’ve witnessed an “us versus them” mentality so many times throughout history.
If the “stranger” she had been describing was any other thing but human, would we even think twice about her wording?

1 comment.

Comment on September 22nd, 2011.

I definitely think it’s worth it to focus on the word choice here, as you do. “Stranger” is such a powerful word (and it lies at the heart of most science fiction). The roots of the word are telling; it comes from the Latin word extraneus, meaning external or from the outside. Jim is certainly from the outside of Julia’s world, and when the boundaries of that world shift dramatically (temporally), it looks as though Jim will be allowed to enter it.


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