The Value of Impoliteness in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Trilogy

Margaret Hostetler


Despite extensive critical discourse on themes of power, conflict, and language in Octavia Butler’s work, the impact of linguistic impoliteness on these themes has not been previously explored. This paper analyzes Butler’s use of linguistic (im)politeness in her Xenogenesis trilogy finding that Butler undermines polite forms of communication thereby foregrounding power asymmetry between characters. Although dystopic literature creates an expectation of impoliteness and conflict, Butler relies on a normative framework of ordinary conversational politeness to heighten impoliteness effects so that they remain salient to readers. The spokesperson for this privileged view of confrontational verbal interaction is her main female character, Lilith Iyapo, whose focalized interactions allow Butler to connect impoliteness with key themes of the trilogy—truth telling and an authentic human identity.


Octavia Butler, Impoliteness, Reader response

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