Sophie A. Montecalvo
October 7, 2020
Professor Beth McCoy
ENG 431: Octavia Butler & Social Ties
“Crocodiles are easy. They try to kill and eat you. People are harder. Sometimes they pretend to be your friend first.”
– Steve Irwin
Humanity is a strange species. The inherent goodness or evil of us has been widely discussed for centuries, with no clear consensus yet reached. Is our conscious an integral part of being human, or has it been integrated into us throughout the years? Why do we help others – is it out of a genuine desire to be good, or wanting approval and praise from those we aid?
Robert Louis Stevenson created the character Dr. Henry Jekyll, who searched for an answer as to the duality of man. He agonized over how some people could be good and some evil. Jekyll’s conclusion was this: “that man is not truly one, but truly two.” He reasoned that every person held two minds within them, one light and one dark. As readers of Stevenson’s famous novella know, Jekyll proceeds to attempt to separate his dual minds, leading to horrifying results. As Jekyll makes the most use out of the evilness that he tries to “Hyde,” it becomes unclear which version of him is still good.
Stevenson’s work is a spell-binding science-fiction story, but it still brings us no closer to an answer. It is not so straightforward as a good and bad side to oneself – and no one person is entirely light or dark. It is difficult to tell at first, or even second or third glance a person’s morals or goodness. Even time can leave the issue unclear. As Steve Irwin points out, it is easy for a person to fake goodness. One’s true character can be hidden, for better or for worse.
Despite the duality of humankind and the impossibility to understand many evils, humans are always naturally drawn to one another. Human connection is as essential to us as breathing. Frederick II, the king of Germany, decided in the thirteenth century to raise infants without touch or spoken language to see what language they would speak. However, this experiment ended tragically, with the babies dying from lack of touch.
If we therefore need other humans so inherently, it is strange and paradoxical that so many people are cruel and evil. Why is our basic human need flawed at its core – why do we need what can be so harmful to us? And how do we solve this issue? Or does the universe address it – our need for communion? Some of the time, against all odds, humans will bond against their better judgment, or when tragedy seems to blot out all hope for light. The seeming answer to this age-old question, asofar, as to why we bond as humans is both simple and complex at once.
This is my own perception of the concept of bringing and bonding. I would like to give my thoughts on the matter, and how I will keep searching for a deeper answer.
“Lilith’s first impulse was to Awaken Joseph Shing – Awaken him at once and end her solitude. The impulse was so strong that she sat still for several moments, hugging herself, holding herself rigid against it.”
– Octavia Butler, Dawn
From Lilith’s desperation to meet Paul Titus, to her hunt for Fukumoto, to her gradual Awakening of the other humans, it is clear that she craves human contact. However, none of these encounters end well for her. Paul Titus tries to rape her, Fukumoto is already dead when she searches for him, and, out of all the people she Awakens, only Joseph Shing is a friend to her. Asofar, he is her only human ally. The other Oankali, Jdahya and Nikanj, are kinder to Lilith than the other people she teaches in the ways of the aliens. Despite each failure, Lilith still desires other humans, to recover their lost planet of Earth and begin humanity again. Her human wants are not outweighed by her previous experiences, and her faith is not lost. Lilith does not believe that humanity is doomed, that the Oankali have ruined her species altogether. Despite her changed self and her new powers, Lilith’s humanity is blatantly clear in her deep desire for others like her and her own world recovered.
It can be wondered if Lilith’s unshakable faith will be rewarded, and if returning to Earth will give her what she craves. Is she going to be able to trust these humans she has Awoken over the Oankali who have shown her small kindnesses? In the end, will it have been worth choosing humans for the sole purpose that they are just that – humans? Lilith is strong and stubborn and brave, and I know that she will not give up on her fellow people. However, at this point, it is not guaranteed that these fellow people will put the same inherent trust in her. They are doubtful and whisper, not even considering Lilith truly as human as themselves. Ultimately, when worse comes to worst, who will Lilith be able to trust – the foreign species or her own?
“A healed femur.”
– Margaret Mead
Margaret Mead, a notable anthropologist, shares Lilith’s Earthly field of study, earning a mention by Paul Titus. Mead was once asked what she believed the earliest sign of civilization among humans to be, expecting an answer such as a weapon, a tool, or an act. However, Mead responded with “A healed femur.” She explained that the femur bone in the human body would have taken roughly six weeks to properly heal in the early days of humanity, and would be as crippling to an early human as a horse with a broken leg. For a femur bone to have healed, other people must have aided the injured person, providing them with food, water, and protection. It would have been the end of the “survival of the fittest” mindset that humans would have finally broken.
Humans, as a species, tend to “pack bond” with not only other humans but other creatures, such as pets. Even when people swim alongside dolphins or see a gorilla at a zoo waving back, they find themselves in a moment of shared understanding. However, owning a cat or dog cannot make up for human interaction and companionship. The care that humans develop for one another, the instinct that drives them to aid others, is something deeper than bonded moments – it is as old as the first healed femur bone among early humans.
I would like to find this point in Lilith’s Brood – this point of pure bonding. Asofar, the people Lilith has awakened have tended to couple up, men and women pairing together. However, this does not appear to come from genuine care or concern for one another. Some crave comfort and protection, some desire granting it. The difference of their current “leader,” for lack of a better word, Lilith, has shaken the group dynamic in many ways. Lilith has been awake for significantly longer than any of them, she has abilities no one else has yet been granted, and she made the decisions as to whom to Awaken first and second and third, leaving the others in their comatose state until her choice. The humans whisper and point among themselves, but not with Lilith. Their distrust of her and each other has so far divided them.
I hope that this will change when Lilith and the humans finally step back onto their home of Earth. When they are equals, when Lilith cannot shape the walls and build the rooms, will the distrust and speculations fade? Will human instinct and desire kick in, or will the beginning of their relationship with Lilith destroy any chance of a loyal and trusting human civilization reborn?
I have my doubts concerning Lilith’s relationship with the other humans and their chances of survival together. However, I want to believe in the best of humanity. I want to trust that human compassion and instinct to help will prevail. That no one in Lilith’s group is hiding their true character. That they will ultimately come together because, in the end, Lilith is right – humanity is capable of many terrible and beautiful things, but being forcibly brought together they will bond. I am hoping that they will rise up past their quarrels and do great things.