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Octavia E. Butler's Short Story Speech Sounds

1366 words - 5 pages

In an interview titled “Magic, Mystery and Mayhem: An Interview with J.K. Rowling,” when asked about the way she came up with the names of characters in her books, she replied, “I invented some of the names in the Harry books, but I also collect strange names. I've gotten them from medieval saints, maps, dictionaries, plants, war memorials, and people I've met!” J.K. Rowling chose these names for a reason based on the deeper meanings behind every character's name and the way they relate to their roles and personalities. In Octavia E. Butler's short story “Speech Sounds”, Rye and Obsidian were the names she chose for her characters. Rye, the name of the main protagonist which symbolizes home and earth yearns to reconnect with her family and to rebuild a family of her own while Obsidian, the supporting character, is named after a type of lava stone, which is believed to contain magical properties that “absorbs and destroys negative energy such as anger, criticism, and fear” (Zagata). The names of the characters have two purposes: to describe the character's role and personality, and to give them an identity.
In my view, this is a tragic love story between Rye and Oblivion in search of a place to call home while helping weaker people around them. According to the traditional worldview, women are the weaker beings who need protection from men, however, although Rye received some protection from Obsidian, she was still able to take care of herself before she met him and after he passed way. It shows “the reversal of gender roles and the inevitable power struggle between two species who must become interdependent if they are to survive” (Podolsky). Although Rye was independent, her encounter with Obsidian whetted her taste for life and helped her bloom.
The names of the characters’ gave them an identity, both to the readers and the other characters in the story. “Speech Sound” is set in the distant future where a mysterious pandemic caused most of the human population to adopt animal-like behavior. Rye’s name was derived from an object she wore on her body. This object was “a pin in the shape of a large golden stalk of wheat,” “thinking it was as close as she was likely to come to Rye” (Butler 412). Valerie Rye was her name while Rye was her identity to the denizens of this new world. As for Obsidian, he has a name symbol in the form of a necklace. “The pendant attached to it was a smooth, glassy, black rock. Obsidian. His name might be Rock or Peter or Black” (Butler 412). Obsidian’s identity was also derived from a trinket, however; his true name was never revealed and he simply remained Obsidian. Both characters’ names in the story separated them from the others, and gave them an identity of their own.
The first meaning of Rye’s name is that, like the plant she is named after, she can dig her roots and hold on during tough times. In the beginning, in Los Angeles, Rye was on her way to Pasadena to seek her only remaining relatives, her...

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