Mind of My Mind and Coercive Control [Octavia Butler Book Club]

*Trigger Warning/Spolier Alert*

Mind of My Mind Cover

“Are we going back home?” Vivan asked.

Karl glanced at her, then looked around. He realized that he was heading back toward Palo Verde. He had left home heading nowhere in particular except away from Mary and Doro. Now he had made a large U and was heading back to them. And it wasn’t just an ordinary impulse driving him. It was Mary’s pattern.

He pulled over to the curb, stopped under a NO PARKING sign. He leaned back in the seat, his eyes closed.

“Will you tell me what’s the matter with you?” Vivan asked.

“No.”

She was doing all she could to keep calm. It was his silence that frightened her. His silence and his obvious anger. He wondered why he had brought her with him. Then he remembered.”You’re not leaving me,” he said.

“But if Mary came through transition all right–”

“I said you’re not leaving!”

“All right.” She was almost crying with fear. “What are you going to do with me?”

He turned to glare at her in disgust.

“Karl, for heaven’s sake! Tell me what’s wrong!” Now she was crying.

“Be quiet.” Had he ever loved her, really? Had she ever been more than a pet-like all the rest of his women? “How was Doro last night?” he asked.

She looked startled. By mutual agreement, they did not discuss her nights with Doro. Or they hadn’t until now. “Doro?” she said.

“Doro.”

“Oh, now – ” She sniffed, trying to compose herself. “Now, just a minute – ”

“How was he?”

She frowned at him, disbelieving. “That can’t be what’s bothering you. Not after all this time. Not as though it was my fault either!”

“That’s a pretty good body he’s wearing,” said Karl. “And I could see from the way you were hanging on him this morning that he must have given you a pretty good – ”

“That’s enough!” Outrage was fast replacing her fear.

A pet, he thought. What difference did it make what you said or did to a pet?

“I’ll defy Doro when you do,” she said icily. “The moment you refuse to do what he tells you and stick to your refusal, I’ll stand with you!”

A pet. In pets, free will was tolerated only as long as the pet owner found it amusing.

“You’ve got your nerve complaining about Doro and me,” she muttered. “You’d climb into bed with him yourself if he told you to.”

Karl hit her. He had never done such a thing before, but it was easy. She screamed, then foolishly tried to get out of the car. He caught her arm, pulled her back, hit her again, and again. He was panting when he stopped. She was bloody and only half conscious, crumpled down on the seat, crying. He hadn’t controlled her. He had wanted to use his hands. Just his hands. And he wasn’t satisfied. He could have hurt her more. He could have killed her.

Yes, and then what? How many of his problems would her death erase? He would have to get rid of her body, and then still go back to his master, and now, by God, his mistress. Once he was there, at least Mary’s pattern would stop pulling at him, dragging at him, subverting his will as easily as he subverted Vivian’s. Nothing would be changed though, except that Vivian would be gone.

Only a pet?

Who was he thinking about? Vivian or himself? Now that Doro had tricked him into putting on a leash, it could be either, or both.

He took Vivian by the shoulders and made her sit up. He had split her lip. That was where the blood came from. He took out a hankerchief and wiped away as much of it as he could. She looked at him first, vacillating between fear and anger; then she looked away. Without a word, he drove her to Monroe Memorial Hospital. There he parked, took out his checkbook, and wrote a check. He tore it out and put it in her hands. “Go. Get away from me while you can.”

“I don’t need a doctor.”

“All right, don’t see one. But go!”

“This is a lot of money,” she said, looking at the check. “What’s it supposed to pay me for?”

“Not pay you,” he said. “God, you know better than that.”

“I know you don’t want me to go. Whatever you’re angry about, you still need me. I didn’t think you would, but you do.”

“For your own good, Vee, go!”

“I’ll decide what’s good for me.” Calmly she tore the check into small pieces. She looked at him. “If you really wanted me to go – if you want me to go now – you know how to make that happen. You do know. ”

He looked at her for a long moment. “Your making a mistake.”

“And you’re letting me make it.”

“If you stay, this might be the last time you’ll have the freedom to make your own mistakes.”

Mind of My Mind is the second book I ever read by Octavia Butler, and the one that stands out in my mind the most clearly. This is probably due to the heavy ethical questions explored within the text.

The scene above looks at dynamics of abuse, contrasting the physical abuse Karl deals to Vivan with the mental abuse they both live under with Doro. In that small scene, Karl wrestles with the main questions of the book. Can you truly love someone you can control? Is the idea of benevolence a lie? After all, after Mary discovered her pattern, Karl accused her of fostering thoughts very close to Doro, who has been the series antagonist up to this point. This scene in particular is painful foreshadowing – both for Vee, who does eventually lose her free will, and all humans after the Patternists rise to power.

The idea of free agency vs. a benevolent God is one heavily tapped in Mind of My Mind. Mary is put in a God like position, where her transition instantly gains her control of the formerly divided gifted. However, most of her first family initially resist her control, rightly fearing the amount of control she has over their lives. They soon realize death is their only true escape, so they eventually come around to the benefits of the arrangement. Still, Doro rightly feels usurped from his position as lead person in control, and battles Mary for control. When Doro casts the declaration of war, he notes “I can’t afford her unless she can obey me.” The theme of obedience in lessers returns time and time again, and often, it’s difficult to know what side to be on. The Patternists want freedom (of a sort) for themselves and to live under Mary; however, they easily deny this type of freedom to the humans (often referred to pejoratively as mutes) who live and work alongside of them.

Still, relationships are complicated in Butler’s worlds. Doro and Mary approach their face-off, resigned to an ending, but not taking much pleasure in each other’s destruction until the heat of battle. After Doro is defeated, Emma (Anyanwu) chooses to die alongside him, despite their initial differences. And Mary’s ascension to Patternmaster alters the world.

Readers, what stood out to you most in Mind of My Mind? What themes did you see?

(Apologies on missing September, folks!)

  • http://swirlspice.com Erica M

    Of the series, I found this one the most difficult to read, but also the most gripping. It was downright uncomfortable, but I plowed through it. The interplay between Mary and Doro in which she’s learning from him how to hold her new power is really interesting. I rooted for her against him, but also hoped (against the odds, perhaps) that she would use her power for good, not for evil. It was really interesting to see her justify previously distasteful situations as she accumulated power.

    It was unsatisfying to me how Emma/Anwanyu was relatively unimportant in this story. After such struggle between her and Doro in the previous book, I wanted to know more about how she came to the role she played in Doro’s society at this time. For her to just say “enh, fuck it, I’m out” when Mary came to power was odd.

    On the technical side, the concept of the Pattern was fascinating.

  • Lucascage

      I have usually read the Patternist series  as Ms Butlers further exploration of Power- Whether Anyanwu,Doro or at this point in discussion of Mind Of My Mind- Mary. The questions that are raised and explored during my reading and re-reading of MOMM are:
      1. What is power and how is it deployed by Anyanwu- Doro – Mary – and members of her 1st family?
      2. Can beneign power – I am controlling you to protect you and bring you peace Doro/Mary – be destructive?
     3. Are there gender diffrences in the deployment of power by Ms. Butlers characters in MOMM?
     4. Is hierarchical power – Patriarchy or Matriarchy- ever about free will – autonomy or benign oppression?

    I am not completely clear on any given (re) reading of MOMM.

    Ms. Butlers characters very often have a redemptive quality- even if that redemptive quality is the damage that has been forced upon them- and that they have overcome- Doro died and lost not only his parents- he accidentially killed them- he also lost his biological/birth body- outlived all of his family and cultural people by mor than a thousand years- and yet remains able to see beauty and give pleasure (connection) although disproportionally to the destruction and violence ( disconnectedness) he exercises over his “people”.
     
    Mary just may be her “fathers” daughter for all of her apparent commitment to building community.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=806562 Nonso Christian Ugbode

    Leave it to Octavia Butler to marry God, love and slavery. Your observations above are very intriguing Latoya, and they go to the heart of the whole book. And I am also intrigued by the “…induced love still matters” statement above. Induced love happens to us everyday I think in a lot of ways, we are materially induced, physically induced, sensually induced, continually struggling for control over our futures and ourselves, but willing to give up all that control to the right person as some sort of love currency. Ultimately I think Butler is saying control is ironically the only way we believe love. If love does not have absolute control over us we tend to doubt it. We even tend to mock it, abuse it. This was a great Butler read for me, and rightly one of the more complex – it’s hard to hate, or love any of the characters. Each of the people here come with so much potential, and so much damage. Mary starts out really screwed by the world, and you want to give her all the power because of this, but then she gets it and you realize getting power you were denied ruins you just as badly as having no power. It’s complicated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=806562 Nonso Christian Ugbode

    Leave it to Octavia Butler to marry God, love and slavery. Your observations above are very intriguing Latoya, and they go to the heart of the whole book. And I am also intrigued by the “…induced love still matters” statement above. Induced love happens to us everyday I think in a lot of ways, we are materially induced, physically induced, sensually induced, continually struggling for control over our futures and ourselves, but willing to give up all that control to the right person as some sort of love currency. Ultimately I think Butler is saying control is ironically the only way we believe love. If love does not have absolute control over us we tend to doubt it. We even tend to mock it, abuse it. This was a great Butler read for me, and rightly one of the more complex – it’s hard to hate, or love any of the characters. Each of the people here come with so much potential, and so much damage. Mary starts out really screwed by the world, and you want to give her all the power because of this, but then she gets it and you realize getting power you were denied ruins you just as badly as having no power. It’s complicated.

  • allburningup

    I find it hard to think of anything by Butler that isn’t about relationships in which people are mind-controlled, owned, or otherwise bound. Rather than characters who heroically fight against oppression, she writes about people who adapt to these situations and often feel some fondness or even love for the ones who have enslaved them (sometimes the love is induced by chemicals or telepathy or conditioning, but induced love still matters). There is usually some amount of struggling, sometimes lifelong struggling, but overall the picture is one of finding a way to embrace what is forced upon you. As for the ones who do the enslaving, they also usually have some fondness for those under their power. They often need their victims badly, and are in some way dependent on being able to exploit them.

    Butler called “Bloodchild” a love story.

  • Anonymous

    I bought and reread all of Octavia Butler’s books shortly after I learned she passed.  Reading your article really makes me want to look at this from another perspective vis a vis what she may have been saying about God but then also what she may have been saying about the legacy of slavery.  Very interesting. 

  • Big Man

     Saw the same things you saw. Loved those books. It’s a question that, as a Christian, I first began wondering about as a small child. Butler makes you think, which is one of the best things any writer can do.

  • Big Man

     Saw the same things you saw. Loved those books. It’s a question that, as a Christian, I first began wondering about as a small child. Butler makes you think, which is one of the best things any writer can do.