“Bridge” & Empathy

Jodas tells us that the term “ooloi” is “complex” and not fully translatable into English (326). He gives us some of the meanings: “treasured stranger,” “bridge,” “life trader,” “weaver,” “magnet” (326).

The term that caught my attention was “bridge.”

A bridge is something that connects two sides. If we take the two sides to be Humans and Oankali, then I think that it’s not the ooloi that function as a bridge, but rather the construct children.

At the end of “Family,” Kahguyaht tells Lilith: “Your children will know us, Lilith. You never will.” I think it was right. Lilith and the other humans are never able to understand or see the fatal “Human Contradiction” that makes the Oankali reluctant to let humanity survive as itself. The Oankali themselves don’t understand why the humans in the novel desire for a pure human bloodline.

Akin, as a male construct child, is described to “bear more of the Human Contradiction” than the other construct children (442). He is more human than the other female construct children before him. When making his plea for humanity, Akin tells the Oankali that their “Human-born” “should know that resister Humans must survive as a separate, self-sufficient species” (471). By specifying that the “Human-born” would understand, Akin draws a distinction between the construct children and the rest of the Oankali: it’s only the construct children, the part humans, that can understand humanity and humanity’s desire for “Akjai Humans.” Akin and the other construct children function as a bridge because they understand the thinking of both sides: human and Oankali. It is this understanding that makes Akin realize the necessity of giving humans the option of Mars.

The fact that it’s really only the construct children who can see both sides makes me wonder about the capacity of empathy. Is empathy really that limited by differences? Are we really unable to see the perspectives of others unless we are that person themselves? People like to say, “I understand you,” but can they really?

I’ve always been looking to be understood, and the prospect of it not being entirely possible is a bit disheartening.

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