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Walking Awake: Oppression and Dreams of Freedom

we need not look to distant places to find monsters - humans are capable of hosting evil.

Published onSep 27, 2019
Walking Awake: Oppression and Dreams of Freedom

Assignment: post your thoughts on the world or an artifact from your chosen “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” reading.

I read “Walking Awake” by N. K. Jemisin

My chosen “artifact” or “thing” from the world of this story, are dreams that tell truths that otherwise will not be explicitly revealed, but might be internally known. These types of dreams may be present in our world as well, but they are highlighted as an important tool of resistance for the oppressed in this story.

And like so much of the sci-fi we read, I must wonder - what is this story really “about”? I think the story is about the world that the narrative is within. The important themes emerge from the world that Jemisin has crafted, and the plot and characters are just literary tools to help us better see this world and develop our understanding of it.

I will attempt to review what I thought the main themes were “about” without giving away the plot, or retelling the narrative. The main themes that stood out to me are dreams of freedom, and layers of bondage.

In this future, humanity is enslaved. Some humans are grown so that their bodies can be used. These humans are bred for the purpose, and do not receive names, just numbers. Other humans act as caregivers. They are used to grow the numbered human children and prepare them for their use as bodies, and then assist in the transfer of their bodies to their next owners. These caregivers are in bondage as well, which is made clear by the main character, Sadie, who hates her role but can live no other life.

This theme of bondage is accompanied by a theme of Sadie’s desire to access windows and the outdoors. In her dreams she is excited when she finds rooms with many windows, and it is only in a dream that she experiences being outdoors in a meadow. The only time she had seen a meadow was when traveling in a train to her next place of bondage, and looking out the window.

Who are her oppressors? They are small crablike monsters that inhabit and operate the numbered human bodies. They are parasites and humans are used as their hosts. In a dream Sadie learns that while she had previously known these things to have come from the sky (like aliens), they are actually of the earth. This is a meta point in the story: humans need not look to distant places to find monsters. There is also a metaphor in how these monsters operate within the human bodies they overtake. Humans too are capable of hosting evil and becoming monsters.

Image and story from Lightspeed Magazine’s “Women Destroy Science Fiction!” issue:

Art © 2014 Hillary Pearlman.


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