Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Gómez-Vega, Ibis, 1952-

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of English


American literature; Literature; Modern


In On Moral Fiction (1978), John Gardner claims that contemporary authors no longer write moral fiction. Gardner rightly advocates for moral fiction, but he was wrong-or at the very least working from a limited, white male perspective-when he made the rather blanket assertion that twentieth-century authors have abandoned moral fiction. The goal of this dissertation is to explore some of the moral literature that Gardner's mainstream gaze overlooked and to examine how expanding the pool of authors may serve to provide relevant and important insights into modern society and its struggles. Specifically, this study will examine how Samuel R. Delany and Octavia Butler use closet imagery to grapple with cyclical prejudice in their science fiction novels Babel-17 (1966) and Fledgling (2005), respectively. These fantastic texts expose the marginalization imposed on those deemed "Other," which seems appropriate to study given Gardner's (and his society's) privileging of white male art as the art of the age. These novels promote the analysis of societal hierarchies, leading readers to better understand how such privileging comes to occur and why it is so detrimental to society. The texts include characters who are Other in terms of race, sex, sexuality, socio-economic status, as well as other aspects of identity, and they frequently have to contend with identity-based prejudice. However, the traditionally mainstream characters must also combat prejudice as they interact with the traditionally marginalized, revealing prejudice's multifold consequences. Through the fantastic genre of science fiction, Delany and Butler are able to create supernatural polyoids-characters who embody multiple seemingly-conflicting aspects of identity-whom society can neither neatly classify nor dichotomize; they fit all categories and yet none. Because they do not fit into a single social category, they do not have a prescribed community, and therefore, they must form new, nontraditional communities. These individuals have the potential to connect the various Others, but their society members' deeply-ingrained fear and hatred of the Other present constant obstacles for the polyoids and their newly formed communities. Both Babel-17 and Fledgling urge readers to contemplate the influence of prejudice, fear, and hate and to envision a society in which communication and community are employed to combat them.


Advisors: Ibis Gomez-Vega.||Committee members: James Giles; Amy Newman.||Includes bibliographical references.


212 pages




Northern Illinois University

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