In my Inspire Paper I wrote about hope and its great power to get us through almost anything. Butler’s fiction demonstrates that hope is the one emotion ingrained into the human brain that moves us forward and continues to unite us. Despite the more negative feelings of fear, loneliness, boredom, frustration, and suffering that oftentimes bring people together, it is the unceasing feeling of hope that we as a society carry in our hearts that allows us to overcome even the hardest of obstacles and creates a common purpose among the human characters in Lilith’s Brood. While in my paper I mainly discussed how the feeling of expectation inspires and keeps humans going, I decided to look at the importance of hope in Oankali society for this blog post.
Aaor is a wonderful example of this, since its lack of hope of finding mates clearly contributes to, if not causes, the self-destruction and dissolution of the lonely ooloi. Like with humans, “its life is terrible if it has nothing better to look forward to” (Imago 684). We witness how Aaor slowly retreats from society and degenerates back to its original state (a tiny sea creature), close to losing itself completely before Jodahs and its mates enable the lonesome ooloi to recover. Because of its sibling’s encouragement and affection, Aaor finds hope again and thereby reclaims its identity, and even more importantly, its will to live. Thus, hope (and a sense of belonging and being loved) is what saved Aaor from committing “suicide.”
Moreover, readers are also confronted with the fact that humans (as well as nonhumans) often are led by false hope. Tomas, for example, informs Jodahs and Jesusa of how much he hates his resister village because it is “full of pain and sickness and duty and false hope” (687). He is aware that human beings will never be able to live on Earth as they have before and rather will remain under the power of the Oankali (be it on Earth, Mars, or elsewhere). In this way, Tomas has given up the hope of the old world; however, he continues to hope for a treatment of his tumors and a more fulfilled life with Jodahs and Jesusa. Had he given up hope completely, he most likely wouldn’t have endured all the trials of the Oankali and the “loss” of humanity.
As Jodahs states toward the end of Imago, Aaor “survived only because of their combined efforts and its new hope of Human mates to bond with” (691). And I believe this could be said for the majority of characters in Butler’s fiction, since hope seems to be the greatest driving force in all of them, whether they are human or not.
When I was reading the fourth section of Imago’s first chapter “Metamorphosis,” I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not Octavia Butler made the conversation between Jodahs and Nikanj resemble a conversation between a human child and his or her parent on purpose. While we still hear a lot of stories of human parents rejecting their child’s sense of identity or their sexual orientation, basically declining the validity of their perceived nature, the Oankali once again seem to be a step ahead of human society. I found the dialogue between Jodahs and his same-sex parent, Nikanj, beautiful and truly inspiring. Our society has a lot to learn from the Oankali, and from Nikanj in particular, who responds in a wonderfully accepting and caring way to its child’s worries and insecurities.
Nikanj carefully approaches Jodahs about the child’s fear of becoming ooloi (the third sex responsible for mediating between Oankali females and males) by letting its offspring know that it doesn’t want to push it toward the Human or the Oankali extreme, but rather wants its child “to develop as [it] should in every way” (546). Nikanj attentively listens to Jodahs and tells it that “there is no flaw in [it]” (547). We then get an insight into Jodah’s mind and learn that “its [parent’s] words gave a security nothing else could have” (547). In this way, Butler might have intended to emphasize the great importance of parental acceptance and unconditional love, which are two of the single most important aspects in a child’s life. Because it doesn’t want to hurt or cause any trouble for its family, Jodahs asks Nikanj if it could become male if it could change its shape. And Nikanj empathically responds by asking it if it “still wants to be male” (547). Thereupon we witness the child’s claim of its own identity, asking itself a significant rhetorical question: “Had I ever wanted to be male?” (547). At this moment, Jodahs realizes that it had just assumed it was male, and would have no choice in the matter. Moreover, it always thought that it could protect his family from being verbally or physically attacked and that “people wouldn’t be as hard on [Nikanj] if [it] were male” (547).
Toward the end of their conversation, Jodahs becomes more aware of what it truly wants and comes to the conclusion that it “wouldn’t want to give up being what [it is]” (548). Thus, only because of its parent’s acceptance and understanding, it recognizes that it really wants (and is meant) to be ooloi. However, Jodahs continues to wish it didn’t, because it doesn’t want to cause his family any trouble. Yet, Nikanj continues to support its child and emboldens it to stick to its true identity, reassuring it that: “You want to be what you are. That’s healthy and right for you” (548). These are what I believe to be the most encouraging, kind, and honest words a parent could (and should) tell their child in distress, especially, but not exclusively, when it comes to gender and sexual orientation.
In both of Octavia E. Butler’s novels we read so far, Clay’s Ark and Fledgling, the author repeatedly demonstrates how horrible humans can be. Oftentimes, Butler seems to think of humanity in rather negative terms, shedding light on our many weaknesses and emphasizing the importance of acknowledging our faults. She writes about the dark and realistic aspects of humanity, but with an optimism of exposing these things, knowing that we can be (and do) better. Thus, I wouldn’t necessarily call Butler a misanthrope, but I do believe her novels express a lot of contempt of the human species and of our fundamental dispositions and traits.
As we discussed in class, Butler is trying to make us imagine worlds that are more just and less aggressive than the one we live in today. But “how on Earth is that possible?” First and foremost, the author clearly draws a picture of our species’ brutality and the segregation we still enforce in our contemporary society, whereby she makes it clear that our world is everything else but perfect. Humans tend to include and exclude others according to their individual preferences, they fight and hurt, and they do whatever it is that will bring them to their goal (frequently neglecting how this might affect others). Yet, we all rely on each other and cannot deny that we are an utterly interdependent society.
Although Butler’s created worlds may seem unnatural (in sexual, communal, familial, societal, financial, and many other ways) to the reader at first, these fictitious places allow us to recognize and better understand the dilemma of our own world. Perhaps Butler is trying to tell us that what we think of as normal is only viewed as normal because our way of life is engrained into our brains from the moment we are enabled to think for ourselves. If we look at our society from a different (outside) viewpoint (to the degree that this is possible), we can see how distorted and corrupted the world is we live in. In many ways, Butler’s imagined communities function on a higher level than our society, her worlds’ inhabitants acknowledge their interdependence and therefore show more respect and appreciation to each other. Their knowledge of their reliance on others enables them to create one big in-group, rather than countless small out-groups. Accordingly, we see less rejection and discrimination in Butler’s worlds and can begin to ask ourselves if the world we live in is really as “natural” and “normal” as we think it is?