Apocalyptic Nature of “Wild Seed”

“Wild Seed”, by Octavia Butler, is a novel that plays with the system of slavery within a community as a powerful being, Doro, uses people with valuable powers to create stronger generations for the future. Doro’s superiority complex makes him a threat to all those he comes into contact with because if they do not behave, speak, or perform in the way he desires, their lives could be in immediate danger. Throughout the novel, Doro acts time and time again in bad faith because of his self-assigned purpose of breeding the best seeds together and creating prevailing humans he can use for whatever purposes he deems necessary. Doro’s veiled fear of being alone in the world can also be a striving motive behind his horrible actions because distress and concern can make it extremely difficult to act in good faith. Doro’s followers are either unaware of or uninterested in their treatment by Doro. Doro consistently treats his followers with malice and continues to do so for so long because of their blind devotion to him. The apocalyptic nature of “Wild Seed” is displayed through Anyanwu’s experiences since meeting Doro as she is forced to play his games with threats to her family constantly hung over her head.

            Throughout the novel “Wild Seed”, it is apparent that Doro views himself as superior to all of those around him. Doro uses his age as well as his powers to belittle Anyanwu, to force his followers into submission, and to dominate the rest of the world. From the very beginning of Doro’s acquaintance with Anyanwu, Doro thought to himself, “But once she was isolated in America with an infant to care for, she would learn submissiveness” (Butler, page 29). Doro planned to strip Anyanwu of her independence, her defiance, and her freedom by tying her down with children whom she would feel compelled to look after and protect. Doro maintains a consistent superiority complex throughout the novel because he views himself as the best specimen to walk the Earth. A phrase one of my classmates said that stuck with me is how Doro’s sole purpose in his life is to breed “a world of little hims”. He does not wish to live his life adventuring all of the land around him, finding the love of his very long life, or ridding the world of all of the evil people within it. Instead, Doro wishes to better the future rather than the present by breeding large communities of people similar, but in few ways comparable, to him.

The practices of bad faith were discussed and explored by the class early in the semester. We concluded that some bad faith practices included deception, dishonesty, absorption, closed mindedness, antagonism, domination, and isolation. While Doro kills and takes over people’s bodies in order to keep his youth and inherently survive, there are also times when Doro kills solely to threaten and scare others into submission or simply to prove his powerful nature. For example, after Doro took over the body of a 7-year-old enslaved child and then allowed the body to be cut in half by a machete, Doro then took over the body of the young man he was trying to convince to allow him and Anyanwu to cross the river. Following these awful murders, Anyanwu noted, “He could turn from two casual murders and speak to her as though nothing had happened. He was clearly annoyed that he had had to kill the young man, but annoyance seemed to be all he felt” (Butler, page 37). This level of gratuitousness occurs multiple times throughout the novel, as Doro so often kills in bad faith merely because he can. Another illustration of Doro’s bad-faithed nature occurs at the cost of the life of Thomas, Nweke’s father. After Doro forcefully breeds Anyanwu with the hideous and lifeless Thomas to punish her for misbehaving and disobeying, Doro learns thar the two have become familiar with each other and he becomes unnecessarily jealous and spiteful of their relationship. Doro maliciously kills and takes over Thomas’ body to spite Anyanwu and then commands Anyanwu to bury Doro’s old body. Anyanwu reflected, “He [Doro] did not let his people forget what he was, but his reminders were discreet and surprisingly gentle. If they had not been… if Doro flaunted his power before others as he was flaunting it now before her, even his most faithful worshipers would have fled from him” (Butler, page 186). Doro discriminates based on the capabilities and usefulness of his people. The class considered the idea of fungibility, or the ability to be replaced, and recognized that Anyanwu is a very rare and valuable seed for Doro to use whereas his other followers are “disposable” in Doro’s eyes. By ignoring the loyalty and dependency of his followers, Doro highlights his lack of integrity and regard for his people.

Andrew Santana Kaplan’s article, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought”, parallels well with Butler’s novel, “Wild Seed”, because of its description of slavery and the negative effects that the system has on human beings. Doro is essentially enslaving his devoted followers in their own communities through intimidation, force, and in many instances death. Kaplan’s article emphasizes how an enslaved person is “reduced to the state of an animal” (Kaplan, page 72). Doro treats his followers like animals as he picks and chooses who to breed together, without giving second thought to their own opinions on the matter and whether they are related or not. Doro raises generation after generation and teaches them to worship him. He convinces each person that their purpose in life is to be useful to Doro and do whatever he commands them because he always knows best. Doro thinks of Nweke as his property as he considers, “The daughter [Nweke] had been his from the moment of her conception – his property as surely as though his brand were burned into her flesh. She even thought of herself as his property” (Butler, page 159). Doro continues to treat Nweke as his property as he disregards her pain and suffering and solely pays attention to the success of her transition in reaching her full potential with her powers. Kaplan further explains the effects of slavery on peoples by illuminating, “slavery annulled lives, transforming men and women into dead matter, and then resuscitated them for servitude” (Kaplan, page 72). Kaplan underlines how enslaved people are destroyed as human beings and brought back to life merely to serve purposes for other people’s goals and ambitions. Doro’s blinded supporters are used to help Doro breed better generations for the future. As a class, we discussed how the system of slavery alienates people from both their kin and communities. A prime example of this from “Wild Seed” is how Anyanwu was separated from her family time after time again. Anyanwu was forced to abandon her family and her morals due to her need to escape Doro and his plans of using her and eventually killing her.

            In most cases, one immediately assumes that apocalyptic signifies the ending of the world in some dramatic and destructive way. However, Kaplan describes how, “the popular association of the apocalyptic with the destruction of the World neglects the fundamental function of revelation, which shows that the World needs to end because it is cast in error” (Kaplan, page 81). Kaplan works to get at the importance of change and growth in the world and in Doro specifically. “Wild Seed” pries at the idea of apocalypse from Anyanwu’s point of view. Anyanwu believes that by dying by suicide, she is able to end her world and life as she knows it to successfully escape Doro and his closed-minded, violent point of view. She no longer can take the pressures and effects that come with being Doro’s property and plaything. Anyanwu knows that only she can determine whether she dies by suicide or not, and I believe this to be quite comforting for Anyanwu because Doro cannot control this decision of hers like he has decided so may decisions for her in the past. Anyanwu explains to Doro on their last night together, “I learned to turn my head and ignore the things you did to people. But, Doro, I could not ignore everything” (Butler, page 294). After all of those years, Doro’s darkest moments stuck with Anyanwu, and she had finally had enough after birthing her last child. For the first time in the novel, the reader witnesses a weakness, or rather a strength, in Doro. While Anyanwu lays down to die in front of Doro, Doro pulls her into his arms and pleads for her life. Doro begs, “‘Sun Woman, please don’t leave me.’ His voice caught and broke. He wept. He choked out great sobs that shook his already shaking body almost beyond bearing. He wept as thought for all the past times when no tears would come, when there was no relief. He could not stop” (Butler, page 296). The thought of Anyanwu dying seems to be Doro’s breaking point, as he literally breaks down and implores for her to continue to live. Anyanwu seems to be the only one in the novel that keeps Doro in check, and I believe he knows this to be true and that he respects her for this. I suppose Anyanwu knows this information as well, which must be one of the few motives she has to continue to live.

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