Toward the beginning of the class, Dr. McCoy mentioned how some people think Butler is writing about slavery in her novels, but Butler asserted that she’s not. Slavery never really came up in more than passing mention during our discussions about Butler’s novels, and without giving away too much about our final project, it definitely was not something in Butler’s works we felt needed to be addressed. This is interesting (possibly to no one but me) because my first impression of Octavia Butler’s writing, specifically Xenogenesis—now known as Lilith’s Brood, was that it was quite blatantly about slavery.
I’ve been thinking about Sandra’s post about hierarchy in Lilith’s Brood, and while I agree with her notion that the hierarchy the humans can, and often do, employ involves “imbalances of power in relationships,” I had a sort of epiphany when finishing up Lilith’s Brood that led me to a different definition of hierarchy that I believe the Oankali see as humans’ fatal flaw. Sandra makes a good point about hierarchy being present in human and Oankali relationship when it comes to one group having more power than another. It’s clear that that is present considering adults have more say than children, even regarding ooloi. However, I think that the type of hierarchy that ultimately led to human destruction and would most likely lead to it again is different.
Part of what causes me problems when I’m reading Lilith’s Brood is that I can’t picture the Oankali, so I can’t truly understand the human’s reactions to them. I know from reading Lilith’s Brood that they are bipedal with two arms—four if they are an ooloi—so they vaguely resemble humans. Oankali are hair-less with greyish colored skin and have tentacles covering their heads and bodies. They use these tentacles to see, hear, taste, touch, and smell; they function as sensory organs. There are dense clusters of the tentacles near an Oankali’s eyes, ears, and throat.
When Lilith is first introduced to Jdahya, she is frightened by the sensory tentacles that remind her of Medusa’s snakes, and I was similarly repulsed reading it (13). However, as I’ve almost finished Lilith’s Brood, I find myself less offended when reading about the Oankalis’ appearances. I’d liked to say this is because I’ve grown and learned to accept their appearances, like Lilith, but, in reality, I know it’s because I have a tendency to imagine them to as close to human as possible when reading about them. This makes it easier for me to ignore what I would have trouble accepting if I were to truly encounter them, which I know is not what Octavia Butler would want. To make it easier for me to understand what the human characters feel when they see the Oankali, I decided to google if anyone had tried to illustrate these alien creatures. These are some of the pictures I found striking:
While reading Fledgling, I’ve been struggling to accept Shori and Wright’s sexual relationship. When we first meet Shori, Wright thinks she looks about ten or eleven (8). Later, Shori tells Wright she’s pretty sure she’s older and remembers having sex before, and even though she still looks physically young, they have sex (21-22). I think part of that definitely has to do with the venom in her bite which links humans to Ina, but there’s still part of Wright that is attracted to her. This made me feel, for lack of a better word, “icky” because Shori seemed so young. I know we were having conversations about consent in class, and the issue arises because Shori looks like a tween, but is really 53, so technically she can consent, but does that make it okay for Wright to have sex with her? Butler wants to push us on this, especially when we consider that Shori actually has more power over Wright, so I keep trying not to let myself get caught up in how it bothers me. Even as the book develops, their relationship still makes me uncomfortable because Shori is still very-childlike in her physical appearance.
Brendan’s post about the relationship between Gan and T’Gatoi reflecting many elements of Western society’s model of love and marriage reminded me of Butler’s claim that “Bloodchild” is her “pregnant man story” (30). Brendan claims that Butler has the “talent to alter this familiar institution (marriage) in such a way to make it seem foreign and repulsive”, but I think her mastery goes even further to take giving birth, something that happens numerous times a day and is generally considered a “miracle”, and make it into something that seems like torture. It might seem different because Gan is a boy and this is the way the Terrans “pay the rent”, but the impregnation of Terran men and subsequent birthing is very similar to what women have be going through for years. Read more