Two classes back or so, we discussed what bothered us about Dawn. What bothered me about Dawn was Nikanj.
I initially liked Nikanj. I felt that, out of the other Oankali, Nikanj respected Lilith as a human being the most. When speaking of altering Lilith’s brain chemistry to help her speak the Onankali language, Nikanj states that it thinks “surprising people” is wrong because it’s like, “Treating (people) as though they aren’t people, as though they aren’t intelligent” (79). Nikanj was ordered by Kahguyaht to “surprise” Lilith—to change her brain chemistry without her consent. The fact that Nikanj realizes this is wrong and decides to tell Lilith made me very happy. I feel that Nikanj, by deciding to tell Lilith, displays a level of respect for her as an individual and treats her as another being as opposed to a research subject. Another instance of this is the conversation about Lilith’s injuries from Paul Tidus: Nikanj questions whether Lilith “need(ed)” to be told information concerning her, and promises to remember that she does need and want to be told (100). Nikanj, through words and gestures, shows that it believes Lilith’s opinion, her consent, is important. I loved that.
Then, of course, the ending ruined everything.
Much like Lilith, I had to do a double take when Nikanj tells Lilith that it made Lilith pregnant with Joseph’s child. I couldn’t believe Nikanj went from refusing to alter Lilith’s brain chemistry without telling her to impregnating her without telling her. What happened to the respect he showed for Lilith’s opinion?
What caught my attention was Nikanj’s response to Lilith’s “I’m not ready (to have a child)”: “You are ready to be her mother. You could never have said so…Nothing about you but your words reject this child” (247). Nikanj decides to impregnate Lilith because it believed Lilith was “ready.” The Oankali are shown to have perception skills of a whole different dimension: they are far superior to us in reading and understanding others. Nikanj felt or knew Lilith was ready, but I was much less sure: Lilith, by her words, tells us herself she is “not ready,” that she’ll “never be ready” (246).
But, as I thought about it more, I began to believe that whether Lilith is ready or not doesn’t really matter. The bigger question is whether or not she wants the child. And Lilith’s labeling of the unborn child as “monster” makes me think she doesn’t.
I’m not too sure what Butler is trying to accomplish by showing Nikanj’s duality and ending Dawn with a massive non consensual action. Perhaps it’s a warning to never get too comfortable: those who show deference to your opinion won’t always do so. Or perhaps it’s another way of showing how little Nikanj and the Oankali really understand humans. In the end, I’m not too sure.