In the world of Octavia Butler’s “Clay’s Ark”, those infected by the Proxi Two symbiont have strong sexual urges that cannot be easily restrained. According to Stephen Kaneshiro, a resident of the Clay’s Ark enclave, the symbiont makes you, “like having kids. Makes you need to have them” (Butler, Page 532). As far as the readers are lead to believe, these urges are hardwired, rather than environmentally driven. Converting others is not exactly a want, but it becomes almost a need. Eli, patient zero states, “The organisms were not intelligent. They could not tell him how to keep himself alive, free, and able to find new hosts…he might interpret what they made him feel as pleasure when he did what was necessary, desirable, essential: or as pain when he tried to do what was terrifying, self-destructive, impossible” (Butler, Page 481). We are then lead to believe that procreation/converting is as much of a need as breathing is. Anything that would stop this spread is equivalent to physical pain for those infected.
Now that the basics for knowing this disease has been covered, I would like to discuss whether or not the Clay’s Ark community is going about conversion in the best way. To obtain converts, they kidnap and forcefully scratch most of their “victims”. The reason I put quotation marks around the word “victims”, is because a victim usually does not benefit in any way from the crime committed against them and the antagonizer is usually in full control over their actions. With this infection, hosts are given heightened reflexes, as Eli tells us. Additionally, Eli is infected as well and is therefore in the same boat as everyone he’s infected. So who’s to say that the Clay’s Ark enclave aren’t victims themselves as everything they do is not of their own free will. Therefore, I put “victim” in quotations due to the grayness of this word portrayed throughout the story.
Regardless of how a victim is portrayed, I am not certain that they are free of all blame for their doings. They did not have to kidnap anyone and most likely could have inducted willing inductees. One idea that was floating around in my mind was whether or not their disease had to stay a secret. The whole idea of this parasite seemed absurd even to Blake and his family throughout the story. After they were all infected and even started showing symptoms they still doubted the traits given to those infected such as when Blake, the father and captive of the Clay’s Ark community states, “he hoped Eli’s people had told the truth when they claimed to be able to see in the dark” (Butler, Page 578). They have seen what the infected can do and still have doubts. The whole idea is so absurd, who in their right mind would believe it. That is why, if they were to publicly announce themselves to the world, only the weak and desperate would come to them. They would obviously have to leave out Eli’s existence as he would be sought after by those connected with the launch of Clay’s Ark. Then they could induct those who they deem safe and sane from a flock of willing inductees. Sure they would have to turn people away, and maybe induct people far from the compound for security reasons, but then they would not be abducting anyone or infecting anyone without consent. Additionally, I know that I said that no one in their right mind would believe Eli’s story unless they were insane; however, seeing how the world outside the enclave is not much better off if not worse, who wouldn’t be willing to find hope in a crazy story?
I’m not saying that this idea could work, especially without knowing the full context of the world in which this story takes place; however, for the beginnings at least, none would be forced into the enclave without knowing the risks. I definitely think they should have tried this before kidnapping people, as I think their concerns regarding capture by the government are only relevant if they spread the fact that Eli is alive. I may be wrong in this matter and I cannot predict what events would take place. However, I would think that being abducted would frighten anyone and would cause them to try to escape. It would seem like a natural survival response and as shown by the actions of Blake and his girls, it would seem that I am correct regarding this manner. Therefore, any escapees would most certainly spread the disease if they survived long enough. Willing participants would have no reason to escape unless their urges consume them. But they have ways of preventing this like when they, “bought some red light bulbs in Needles and put them in his den…Every now and then, everyone goes over there and stays for a while. It relaxes us”(Butler, Page 522). Therefore, they have at least one method of easing the sexual tensions that may lead to a pandemic.
In conclusion, would it have been a better idea to risk going public and induct those who were willing, rather than abducting people at random and infecting them against their will?