The Short Story “Speech Sounds” by Octavia E. Butler

Creating short tales is a unique writing ability requiring high-level professionalism and attention to plot details, settings, and characters that must be briefly presented and developed. There are many well-known and poorly-known authors whose works deserve recognition. At the end of the 20th century, Octavia E. Butler published her Hugo-Awarded science fiction short story “Speech Sounds.” It is about a mysterious disease that made many people speechless and deprived them of the possibility of communicating or exchanging information. It is hard to imagine modern people not talking to each other and not using their language. Thus, the analysis of the story in terms of its plot, setting/characters, and tone will help enhance a better understanding of the author’s mood and intention. The alternative universe introduced in “Speech Sounds” shows Butler’s success in developing a strong theme, using interesting characters within the same settings, and maintaining the same tone that provokes multiple emotions.

The plot of “Speech Sounds” attracts attention through a unique description of the alternative reality where the population cannot communicate. Rey, the protagonist, is “no longer certain of the degree of her own impairment” (Butler, 2014, p. 4). It is hard to guess how long the characters have not been talking to each that they have forgotten how their speech might sound. The difficulties of communication are evidenced by regular fights, wearing firearms for protection, and poor control of their activities. The offered theme reveals the worth of language in human life.

Another interesting element of the story is the choice of characters and their placement within the same setting. There are several critical figures in the story, but most observe each other with “at least as much curiosity as fear” (Butler, 2014, p. 12). Despite their disabilities, people need to continue living and adapting to new conditions. In the bus, Rye demonstrates her high-level prudence; Obsidian, the bus driver, searches for justice and understanding, and children cannot deal with their emotions and the necessity of having secrets. The bus becomes a meaningful setting for the characters to protect themselves and keep living. The combination of settings and characters strengthens the author’s message in the story.

Finally, Butler’s short story is remarkable in its primary sorrowful and depressive tone, ending with hope and faith in positive changes. The story ends with Rye offering the children help and support: “It’s all right for you to talk to me” (Butler, 2014, p. 12). For a certain period, people get used to living with the idea they cannot use their language because of some biological changes. The disease has made them unable to talk, read, and write. In endless depression and sorrow, the author rejects the inevitability of negative mood and adds the possibility of a better future. The story teaches that humans are strong and have enough skills and inborn qualities to resist the negative environment.

In conclusion, Butler’s “Speech Sounds” shows how language loss might affect interpersonal relationships and significantly decrease life quality. In several pages, the author is able to develop an interesting plot with several strong supporting elements like settings, characters, and tone. It is not always easy for a modern person to imagine a world without language. Creating such a utopia provides the reader with a chance to understand the worth of communication. Rye and the other characters have to spend some time on the same bus, leading to different outcomes. The depressive and unconfident mood of most characters disappears and gives way to a new beginning full of trust and hope.


Butler, O. E. (2014). Speech sounds

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Premium Papers. 2023. "The Short Story "Speech Sounds" by Octavia E. Butler." August 14, 2023.

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Premium Papers. "The Short Story "Speech Sounds" by Octavia E. Butler." August 14, 2023.