(Copied with permission from Suzette’s SFWA website to preserve for posterity’s sake.)
by Suzette Haden Elgin
Questions & Topics For Discussion
- In an excerpt from Heykus Joshua Clete’s private papers, readers learn that the governments of Earth are united in a conspiracy to keep humankind from knowing that every extraterrestrial people ever encountered by Terrans has been vastly superior to them, so that human beings look like “pathetic savages scrabbling in the dirt” by comparison. Clete’s position is that this is a fluke, that Earth can’t be a backward planet, because it was to Earth that “God sent his only begotten Son.” Without addressing the theological questions this raises — that is, if we accept the idea that he has the facts straight, for purposes of discussion — is Clete’s position logical?
- Do you believe that the governments of Earth could establish and maintain a conspiracy like the one portrayed in this book? (Something like it has been suggested with regard to the UFO controversy, for example.) Do you think it’s possible? If it is possible, do you believe that such a conspiracy would be necessary?
- Both Ham Klander and Heykus Joshua Clete believe that women are innately inferior to men — weaker both physically and morally, less intelligent, requiring supervision — but their attitudes and behavior in that context are radically different. Clete’s beliefs about women cause him to want to protect and coddle them; Ham Klander’s only concern is to find ways to exploit them. Unquestionably Klander is a bigot — a sexist bigot. What about Clete? Is he a bigot too?
- In Chapter 6, Jo-Bethany is worried about the possibility that it may be immoral to worship her God in the language that the Linguist women use at the Thursday night services — so worried that she takes the question to a minister. But she has a hard time explaining her problem. We read that “What she had had to say had been simple. A simple moral question. And it was taking forever, and she couldn’t find the right words, and she was keeping him standing here while she struggled to find some way to explain; and now he was of course treating her like a child. She wished she had never brought it up at all. Damn language, anyway!” This is a very clear example for the hypothesis that human languages are inadequate to express women’s perceptions (one of the four hypotheses explored in the novels). Does it seem to you to be an accurate description of a common experience that women have today? Do you think men have the same experience in their communication?
- When Jo-Bethany sees the bedridden elderly Linguist women that she has been hired to help care for, she’s shocked, and furious. Her perception of the situation is that the Linguists have simply dumped these women, without privacy and without the servomechanisms (the “healthies”) that every sick person is entitled to; her perception is that this was done because the women are old. The Linguist women object to that perception. They claim that the women prefer to all be together; they claim that human-to-human contact is necessary to healing, and that healthies should only be used when no human care is available. Which perception seems to you to be accurate in the universe of the novel? Suppose we had healthies today, medical servomechanisms able to do almost all the work done by nurses and much of what’s done by physicians; do you think the healthies would be used, or would be continue to rely on human beings?
- The claim has been made that the Native Tongue books promote male-bashing and hatred of men; it has been claimed that the Láadan language was intended to be only for women. On page 355 of Judas Rose we find Nazareth Chornyak thinking: “Meanwhile, Láadan would spread; the tiny wild vine wreaths, unnoticed by anyone, would go up on wall after all. It would continue to keep the women of the Lines, and all the women who knew it beyond the Lines, immune to the state of violence that the men strugged with so incessantly; it would continue to provide the women with the patience necessary to bring the men out of those endless loops of violence always begetting more violence. The day would come when they would have a war, and all of the men would look at each other and laugh and just go home. … In a while, Láadan would move out…. And the little ones, both boys and girls, would pick up the language as effortlessly as they picked up any other language, and use it among themselves.” Does this strike you as consistent with the claims listed at the beginning of this question?
- What is your opinion about the Linguist women’s idea that if the Láadan language were to become a native language, acquired in infancy by human children of all genders all over the world, human violence might diminish? Is that simply romantic nonsense? Could it be true, at least to some extent? Would it be a good thing for humankind if it were true?
Copyright © 2002 by Suzette Haden Elgin
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