Disability and Literature
6 May 2021
The Offerings of An Unkindness of Ghosts
What does the future hold? Not many of any of us know the answer to that. Sci-Fi authors have been trying to imagine what the future will hold for us for centuries. Most people think quite a bit of our technology we have has been based on these written ideas of what could be in the future. From the “pocket telephone” which comes from “Space Cadet” by Robert Heinlein, which is what we now refer to as smartphones. To flying cars in writing and in filmography has been highly characterized. My first encounter of the flying car was Ian Fleming’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The use of a traditional model vehicle with merely the ability to fly. In comparison to others that barely look like a vehicle at all.
In a large majority of Sci-Fi material, you do not often see race or social class-based discrimination as a main plot point, but rather a side story or a filler for background. That is a past and current issue not fitting in a futuristic idea of space travel. This piece of written work, An Unkindness of Ghosts, that takes a spin on a racial disparities, all the while being staged on the spacecraft that has been traveling from Earth for 300 years. This concept is almost unrealistic as the reader. That an advanced intellectual crew of humans can be ignorant or intolerant of others upon their very ship.
However, race is not the only factor in the case of Aster. Race can bind the group of people that have it in common together and also the discrimination that they face as a whole. Yet Aster still feels ostracized from those around her. We quickly learn that Aster is neuro-divergent from the first little bit of the book, “Aster was always memorizing new ways of being with people” (Solomon 9), then again from being called a name by a fellow lower decker, “Insiwa. Inside one. It means you live inside your head and to step out of it hurts like a caning.” (Solomon 12). Finally, it is pointed out by someone close to her, “It was like what Aint Melusine was always saying, that Aster was one who looked sideways, or one who saw through the corner of her eyes. When you saw the world sideways, you couldn’t always get a proper handle on things.” (Solomon 62). This reminds me of another piece we read in this class Preface: Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Matter. By Morenike Giwa Onaiwa. In this piece Giwa Onaiwa talks also about being black and being neuro-divergent or autistic and says this, “even those who accepted, cared for me, loved me still did not understand me”(Onaiwu, XV). Giwa Onaiwa also goes makes a statement that Aster most likely understands as well with, I “looked the part” I was supposed to automatically understand and be fluent in all these random aspects of life attributed to black American culture.” (Onaiwa XIV). Onaiwa notes that since it is not something that they do not just do something is wrong with them. For Aster she only felt at peace in her botanarium, “There, at least, there was some kind of quiet” (Solomon 12).
Asher was different in the eyes of everyone on the ship from the guards to her fellow lower deckers. However, the abuse of the guards was known by Asher and her fellow lower deckers. “….the morale of the Guard, and the details of previous abuses: strength, force, duration” (Solomon 25). Again, Onaiwa is able to relate to this with race-based discrimination along with being disabled, when they say, “We are painted as defective, flawed, undesirable, different. To be pitied. Not only are we non-white, but we are also disabled too?”(Onaiwu, XI). Which takes me back to the part of this still being a problem of the present and hard to grasp the thought of it still being a vast issue for the future. Yet thinking about where we have been in the past and where we should be today and yet we are not. I perhaps should not be as shocked and quite frankly appalled. More so disappointed that someone could envision these races, merely skin pigment issues never being eliminating from our apparent mind. “Giselle knew as well as Theo how Lieutenant singled Aster out for a startling array of abuses.” Then a little later it says, “He had given her name to several guards, so though she rarely faced him in person, she frequently experienced his wrath by proxy.” (Solomon 18).
It is so easy for Lieutenant to do this because Aster is a lower decker. The only reason, she is around Theo is because she’s different because her mind works different. In another piece, we read for this class they describe this as, “assuming that one person can serve as the voice or face of an entire community is an assumption that has jumped straight from the hotbed of microaggressions” (Ashkenazy, XXIX). Then they define what microaggression is, “meaning of everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership”(Ashkenazy, XXVII)
On the ship of Matilda, an everyday exchange for a lower decker is to do as you are told or be punished. Aster’s gift of Flicks foots from hypotherma to the Lieutanant as a reminder of the cold in the lower decks to him was a normal day’s punishment. However, I saw it as microaggression because of being not only aimed at the lower deckers but also at Aster personally. As Aster meets with him, she says, “Any leniency he gave was so he would have something to take away later. She didn’t know what her punishment would be, but it was certainly coming” (Solomon 82). Then Aster sees that come to fruition when “The person Lieutenant led out in chains to be executed was Flick.” (Solomon 84).
Through everything Aster faced, losing loved ones, her place of peace, she still started a revolution in part with the bravery of Theo. Not necessarily getting past the difference of being neuro-divergent but using it as a way to process things at different angles, seeing races as one people, seeing this ship as one society that needs to work together to survive successfully. Truly, I believe if the world had more Aster’s, that we would be in a much better place.
Word Count 1135
Ashkenazy, E. Forward: On Autism and Race, All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, DragonBee Press, 2017, xxiii-xxxix
Giwa Onaiwa, Morenike. Autistics of Color: We Exist… We Mater, All the Weight of Our Dreams: On Living Racialized Autism, DragonBee Press, 2017, x-xxii
Solomon, River. An Unkindness of Ghosts. Akashic Books, 2017.