Don’t Get Too Comfortable

In class on Friday (November 3rd), we were asked to think of what we wanted at the end of Dawn. As the group I was in began to think about this question of what we wanted, I started to think about what I didn’t want to happen. Throughout the semester, I have noticed that Octavia Butler is constantly pushing us as well as reminding us to stay aware of our surroundings. In Lillith’s Brood (specifically Dawn and Adulthood Rites) I find her constantly making us comfortable with our characters and their situations, only to change them and make us readjust. As discussed in class on Friday, it’s both interesting and incredibly frustrating.

Not only does Butler ask us to understand these changing settings of wildly different worlds, but she is also asking us to accept the changes in characters. An example of this is when Lillith is first introduced to the Oankali, it is through Jdahya (Chapter 2 of Womb). We begin to get comfortable with him as Lillith does, he is our first introduction as to what the Oankali are. Then, just as easily as he comes into this world, he is suddenly replaced with Nikanj. Although Nikanj does not leave us (or at least hasn’t yet), after it’s metamorphosis, our perception of it begins to change. Similarly, when Lillith finds Joseph and chooses him as her mate, we begin to feel comfortable, and maybe even content, to know as readers that Lillith has this support, and by the end of Dawn, he dies. This takes him away from Lillith but from us as well, as we were just getting comfortable with what this character provides the story. The introduction of specific characters is not the only way that Butler adjusts our comfort zone, she also pushes us when we lose Lillith as the narrator in Adulthood Rites. Throughout the entire first novel, we become used to learning through Lillith’s eyes, and just as easily, we begin the next novel through the perspective of Akin, although even that is inconsistent as it switches from his perspective as well.

Now of course, no good fiction exists without conflict and without these changes, there would be no story. I do however find them to be abrupt and at times I wonder the significance of introducing these changes in the first place. Through these examples, I am again motivated to wonder what the bigger picture is here. Through Butler’s constant change in characters, POV and setting I am forced to change my ideas of this world that she has placed us in and see it through a different lens. I can’t say I fully understand all of Butler’s literary decisions, but I am hoping to find some answers when we start Imago.


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