POV in Lilith’s Brood

I just wanted to articulate more clearly what I was talking about in class on Friday about the first-person POV in Imago.

In the first book of Lilith’s Brood, we are only given Lilith’s POV through third person limited. Viewing it from a writerly standpoint, this makes perfect sense. Readers and Lilith are in the same boat when we begin Dawn; thrust into a fantastical situation with no idea what happened before or what’s going to come after.  We learn about the situation Lilith finds herself in at the same time that she does, and we have the same questions she does. Making Lilith have no idea what’s going on when she wakes up isa smart move on Butler’s part because it allows the other characters to explain her situation not just for Lilith’s sake, but for the reader’s as well. We have the same reactions as Lilith upon learning about the Oankali and what happened to earth; Lilith’s revulsion when she sees Jdahya mirrors ours. When Lilith thinks that the “it” pronoun suits the ooloi perfectly, some of us would have been thinking that, too. But as Lilith, our lifeline of sorts in Dawn because she is so similar to us, grows more familiar with the Oankali, so do we. By keeping the POV firmly in Lilith’s head for the first novel, Butler lets us acclimate to the Oankali along with her and shows us how the change from revulsion to acceptance is possible. Whereas, if we had been allowed into other character’s heads, such as Tate or Gabriel or even Nikanj, our experience of becoming familiar with the Oankali would have been interrupted; and familiarity with the Oankali is absolutely necessary considering that the next two principle narrators are constructs with Oankali genes.

In the second novel, Adulthood Rites, as Dr. McCoy said, some people were probably angry to lose Lilith as their narrator and lifeline. I didn’t mind losing Lilith as a narrator because I thought it was a cool move to tell a story from inside the head of a baby, but I did find the sudden switch to other perspectives jarring. I wasn’t expected to fall out of only having one third person narrator, since we had spent the whole last novel like that with Lilith. In Adulthood Rites, we are mostly with Akin, but we also get chapters from Tino and Dichaan as well. Whereas with Dawn, Butler chose to stick with a female narrator, here we are entirely with male narrators. We lose the closeness we have with Lilith, but Akin being a baby means that it’s hard to avoid having sympathy for him; the same struggle that the resisters have. We feel sympathetic for Tino and Dichaan, too. Tino is a human in an unfamiliar situation, the same as Lilith in Dawn, so he naturally grabs our sympathy. By the time we get Dichaan’s perspective, we have already been in Akin’s head for a large portion of the novel, so we have grown comfortable with having a not entirely human narrator. Therefore, it’s easier to feel sympathetic for Dichaan, especially since we know how troubled he is with Akin’s disappearance and the coming birth of his child.

I found the switch in POVs from Adulthood Rites to Imago the most jarring. By that point, I was very used to the third person, and did not expect first person at all. But it makes sense. Previously, we had female and male narrators; now we have ooloi. The first person narrator eases the transition into an ooloi POV. Lilith’s head is easy to slip into because she is familiar to us; the same with Tino. We can latch onto Akin because he still has some human characteristics and he’s a baby. Dichaan is Oankali, but we still get the male-female binary that many people find comfortable. However, being in the head of an ooloi is uncomfortable at first because we simply have no idea what it’s like to an ooloi. We can’t ever know that. (I’m talking about ooloi specifically, not non-binary human gender identities.) However, with the first person POV, we are as close as we can be to Jodahs’s thoughts and emotions. Whereas there’s distance between the narrator and the POV character with third person, in first person, that space is practically non-existent. We experience Jodahs’s emotions as they come to it and cycle through its thoughts with it because we are right there inside its head. We see Jodahs experiencing loss, grief, hunger, exhaustion; the whole gamut of emotions any living being feels. And, hopefully, we come to understand Jodahs as a person and not someone incomprehensible. With any other perspective, we would not be able to get that close to it.

Tldr; For the entire trilogy, with we have three different types of POV—third person limited to just one character, third person limited with many characters, and first person. Female, male, and ooloi. Each works in its own way to gain sympathy for the POV characters from the reader. I think my patterning of threes would work better if Butler had gone with a fully omniscient narrator for Adulthood Rites, but there’s enough difference in all three books with the POV that it still does works.

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