The Book of Martha by Octavia Butler Book Review



Religion has always been a highly debated topic. In a world more than four thousand religions exist, people have vastly different interpretations of God and what he represents. In the short story "The Book of Martha," written by Octavia Butler, the author explores the relationship between God and Martha's representation of humanity and how her views evolve as God takes different forms to end in one not so unlike herself.

At the beginning of the story, the main character, Martha, sees God as he most commonly is depicted, a "twice-live sized, bearded white man," who is "at least twelve feet high and inhumanly beautiful," and "literally glowed." The description of God, given by Martha, is what most people would imagine. It is what religion has taught us to believe to be God's proper form; Martha is no exception. Martha struggles with this preconceived idea of God; she views him as this all-knowing, all-powerful being. However, these views start to differ as their discussion progresses, and God himself states that he does not know everything; he "outgrew that trick long ago." It is at this point where her views begin to evolve as God's words "struck Martha as such a human thing to say."

As their conversation carries on, Martha realizes that he no longer looks as he once did. The new form God took was "smaller. More normal," "now he was her size-just under six feet-and he no longer glowed." God's form evolved from this godly stature to a regular everyday person as Martha saw more human-like qualities in him. She still felt an overwhelming sense of power from God even in this form, "she did not know what to think- or what to do."  He had very high expectations of her, he was expecting Martha to make such a life-changing decision, and she did not feel capable. She thought God himself should do it instead of her as he has had much more practice. She did not feel capable as she was afraid and didn't "want to hurt people. Not even by accident." Martha could not comprehend why God himself would not do it if it were so easy for him. For a second, she thought that "an eternity of absolute ease was just another name for hell" and that even God himself did not always enjoy all the power and ease. Once again, this caused Martha to see him as more human than merely as a godly figure. God made Martha see things differently; it showed her a "realist perspective.”

The third change in form happened a while later, "he was black now, and clean shaven. He was a tall, stocky black man wearing -ordinary, modern clothing." He has progressively changed form to appear more like the protagonist, now being a similar-sized person of the same race. This new form that God takes does not last as long as the previous one. Martha starts to understand on a deeper level that God is not just one determined thing. He changes and grows as you change and grow. Evolves as your thoughts and beliefs evolve and become what you believe him to be. As Martha thought more and more about what she had been asked to do, she started to look to God for advice rather than permission. She starts to view him as more of an equal than an eternally influential figure. She starts to see that "humanity is not a disempowered obedient object in the hands of a "higher power," but that they share more equal parts in their relationship than Martha initially thought.

God's final evolution mirrored Martha, when "God looked at her, and for a moment, Martha felt that she was looking into a mirror." It was a moment of realization for Martha, God was no longer  exceptionally tall or even just white; he had become the same race and the same gender as Martha, but not only that, they looked the same; they looked "like sisters." However, God himself is not doing this. God tells Martha that she is seeing him as she imagines him. God's form has evolved as her views have evolved, and she no longer sees God as what she thought he should be but as what he is to her. God tells Martha that "you see what your life has prepared you to see," and as a child raised with Christian beliefs, the first appearance of God was a giant glowing Caucasian male. Martha had "broken out of the metal cage" that she was raised in, one that had this preconceived idea of god "a human god,  a white god, a male god." God himself believed this thought process to be "an old habit," and with that, the idea that old habits such as this "tend to outlive their usefulness." And with that being said, God was more of an advisor giving her advice and answering her questions when they were asked and letting her figure things out for herself rather than telling Martha what she should do. He became a guiding figure.

God can mean many things to many different people. For some, God might be a literal being who glows and is double the size of any ordinary human. God might be a spiritual being who does not physically exist but guides you through life, and for others, they might not even believe that there is a God at all. This short story shows the evolution of Martha's belief in God and how he transforms from the renditioning that he is most associated with to someone who could practically be family. Martha realizes that God is not just one single thing; he is whoever you need or wants him to be at any moment of your life. As Martha's character evolved, her thoughts and beliefs changed, and so God changed as well. It shows that God is not this all-powerful being but whatever you need him to be at any given moment.