Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Oankali Inability to Understand Human Pride

“Shall we tell them they can come back to us?”

“No. And don’t be too obvious about helping them get away either. Let them decide for themselves what they’ll do. Otherwise people who decide later to come back will seem to be obeying you, betraying their humanity for you. That could get them killed. You won’t get many back, anyway. Some will think the human species deserves at least a clean death.”

“Is it an unclean thing that we want, Lilith?”

(pg 246)

The Oankali have made their lives about studying and understanding the human race. They have had two hundred and fifty years to study everything about humans: learn about their cultures, their mannerisms—both as a race and as individuals—, their biology. They have studied and learned so much about the humans that they know them almost too well at times. They know each person’s disposition, what makes them tick. Lilith’s ooloi Nikanj tells Lilith that it matched her and Joseph based on the way that they handled the isolation and questioning at the beginning of their inhabitation of the ship. The Oankali have their own values, their own sensibilities, but they work hard to look at the feelings of the humans objectively. They seem to anticipate and plan for every situation imaginable, they seemingly know everything about the human species, but they cannot understand or plan for the issue of pride.

When Joseph is killed, Nikanj tells Lilith that “there was no sign that Curt meant to kill….What happened here was…totally unplanned” (224). The Oankali cannot seem to understand the inner workings of human pride or the human need to be human. Humans are unique, and the Oankali know this, but they like everything to be predictable; they have structured everything in their world to be predictable. They think through issues and solutions quickly and logically. They have no way to really understand the terror and panic that happens to humans when their humanity is threatened. This calmness is evinced in their always steady and calm voices.

The Oankali see change as a good thing. They are a people that thrive on change, on seeing it, studying it, creating it. They see change as the logical next step in the evolution and perpetuation of the human race. The gene trade that they force upon the humans seems logical and right to them but they cannot see passed their own values to see how this might be detrimental to the race of people they are trying to help. They do not understand that the humans take pride in their humanity. If humans can be bettered, the Oankali cannot see why they would not want to be. But as for the humans, all they really have left is their humanity. They have never liked to be threatened, but they can deal with physical and emotional threats. Once their humanity, their human uniqueness is threatened, they act out in ways that the Oankali can neither percieve nor understand.

The inability of the Oankali to understand this need to remain unchanged will undoubtedly return in the next two installments of the trilogy. The fact that Lilith has already become pregnant through the help of the Oankali has already caused tension, and the knowledge that the ooloi have bonded with the humans and made conception impossible without them anger, confuse and sadden Lilith.

“But they won’t be human,” Lilith said. “That’s what matters. You can’t understand, but that is what matters” (248).

The inability of the Oankali to understand the human need to retain its humanity will be the struggle throughout the rest of Butler’s saga.


  1. Erika,

    I really like your subject matter. The concept of pride in Lilith's Brood wasn't at the forefront for me, but I think it's a great topic to discuss. I also think you chose a great moment to encapsulate your thoughts.

    In terms of what I think could use a little work, it may behoove you to set up a more solid definition as to what you mean by pride exactly. That may seem like a "duh" kind of thing, but the word pride itself is rather complex, and I'm having a little trouble pinpointing what aspect of it you're discussing here. Pride can mean being proud of achievements, but it can also have the connotation of arrogance, vanity, and boastfulness. In many ways pride can have a negative shade to it, so I think if you convey more clearly the exact aspect of the word that you want to apply to the actions of the humans and the Oaknali's understanding of it, this blog would automatically be stronger. Basically, you haven't proved to me that the human need to be human is synonymous with human pride, or what human pride in itself really means (it may seem like an unambiguous phrase, but when you really think about it, it's actually kind of complicated).

    Overall, I think this would be a great choice to revise. Your ideas are solid. I think if you added some more textual evidence that lead to a bigger conclusion rather than just some interesting observations, it would be a really interesting paper.

  2. I agree with Alison, and then some. The premise that the Oankali don't understand pride (maybe in the sense of tragic pride / hubris? We'll actually be talking about something like that idea next time in class) is an interesting and worthy one - but you aren't clear about what you mean be pride, and in this rather short essay which tends repeatedly toward generalization, you don't focus on pride as such.

    Why do you think that the humans are driven by pride rather than fear or xenophobia? Why, especially, do you think that Curt's pride was the source of his attack on Joseph - which was apparently in direct response to seeing Joseph's freakish ability to heal?

    It's a fine topic, but you don't actually do it. For an essay this short to work, every work needs to count, every word needs to be focused on and contributing to your actual argument - and you don't do that in this one. You are very short on evidence and very long on speculation here, even if the topic *should* work.