Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Of Gifted Children and Gated Communities: Paul Theroux's O-Zone and Octavia Butler's the Parable of the Sower

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Of Gifted Children and Gated Communities: Paul Theroux's O-Zone and Octavia Butler's the Parable of the Sower

Article excerpt

Skywalker began his life as a slave on Tatooine, cared for by his mother, Shmi Skywalker, and owned by a Toydarian spare-parts dealer named Watto. It was obvious from the beginning that he was unusual and gifted: his mother claimed that she had experienced a virgin birth for Anakin, and even before he reached his preteen years he was successfully competing in pod racing, a sport normally impossible for humans of any age due to inadequate reaction speed. In retrospect, it" was obvious that Anakin was using Force precognition to glimpse a few moments into the future.

(The Science Fiction Database)

Everyone loves Harry Potter and his friends, but how many people recognize the gifted behaviors or the problems and concerns of gifted children reflected in the Harry Potter stories? Each of the protagonists in the series represents one common type of gifted child. And the story itself can be seen as more than a children's fantasy story. It can also be seen as the coming of age story of gifted children, about the struggles they time and the way they come to terms with their abilities, their intensities, and their concerns about themselves and their world. (Bainbridge)


As this article's epigraphs make clear, two of the most influential pieces of popular culture in the last century--the Star Wars films and the Harry Potter books--deal at least partially with what it means to be a gifted child. Both the Jedi Anakin and the wizard Harry are very gifted individuals. While we obviously enjoy fantasy-realm fictionalizations of giftedness, the reality of the gifted child is a difficult one for most Americans to deal with. To be gifted is to be specially favored by God, genetics, or whatever term one uses for the prime mover. Most of us would say that that's just not fair. Success through hard work we believe in. Success through fate rankles. In Families of Gifted Children, Dewey G. Cornell argues that "the notion of giftedness both fulfills and clashes with the American value system. While the society institutionalizes egalitarianism and promotes the credo that all men are created equal, children are socialized to compete, achieve, and excel in endeavors, surpassing peers and earning recognition. The concept of the gifted child seems to straddle this dichotomy of egalitarianism and striving for individual superiority" (9). Cornell notes that "popular attitudes toward the gifted have been correspondingly ambivalent. While the gifted child is often praised and admired for his or her accomplishments, the notion of giftedness also arouses considerable antagonism. Charges of elitism are often made toward those who promote the gifted child" (9). Labeling the child's abilities as "gifts"--something bestowed, not earned--"heightens the conflict with American egalitarianism and the work ethic. It arouses feelings of antipathy and resentment toward the child" (9). Thus, portrayals of gifted children are often double edged. Slaughtering young Jedis wholesale, Anakin turns to the dark side and becomes Darth Vader, the Atilla the Hun of his day in a place far, far away. Harry's creator, J. K. Rowling, is routinely accused of promoting the practice of Satanism. I wonder whether part of the antipathy toward Rowling's work is for the way in which it presents gifted children being who they are. "While some might argue that Rowling's detractors object to the magic in the Harry Potter books and not the giftedness of Harry and his Hogwarts classmates, I would point out that certain kinds of giftedness--say the ability to visualize a problem in physics or even the ability to make three-point shots on the court--are magical to those who do not possess the talents. Thus, I think that in Rowling magic is a metaphor for giftedness.

One reason why the concept of giftedness is often difficult to deal with is that there exists no language to talk about gifts and talents. In Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham, one of the leaders of the new strengths-based assessment movement, argues that nobody is very good at talking about strengths. …

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