Tuesday, January 31, 2012


            Parenting is a term that is thrown around in Georgia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood. Lilith and the Oankali seem to have different viewpoints to what exactly parenting stands for. According to Webster’s Dictionary the word parent can be defined as either “a person who brings up or cares for another” or “an animal or plant that is regarded in relation to its offspring”(Marriam-Webster, Parent).

The Oankali like to interpret these words in ways that are self-suiting. For example, when discussing Lilith’s intended job of parenting the soon-to-be ‘Awakened’ humans, Kahguyaht says, “That’s the way we think of it. To teach, to give comfort, to feed and clothe, to guide them through and interpret what will be, for them, a new and frightening world. To parent.”(Butler, 111). This is in correlation with the first definition of parent. It ignores the idea of needing relations present. In theory, this is what parenting is between humans and adoptive children. However, true parenting is something more than that. Parenting implies a deeper relationship between parent and child, and a connection transcends the roles or parenthood. This is something that even the dictionary definition misses.  I believe that what they are asking of Lilith is more along the lines of a glorified mentor, with the unspoken secondary role of scapegoat.

Parenting is taken to another level at the end of the week’s reading when Lilith discovers that she has been impregnated with a interbred child. Lilith, obviously repulsed, states, “But they won’t be human… That’s what matters. You can’t understand, but that is what matters.”(Butler, 248). This is a reinforcement of her previous statements, referring to the life inside of her as “a thing” and “a monster”. This intrigues me. Despite the fact that the “thing” is half human, part of her and Joseph, she is repulsed by it. I believe this returns to the definition of parent that refers to offspring. Though it is something that humans thus far are not concerned with in real life, I believe that these offspring need to be entirely biologically our own. Lilith is unable to feel ownership of this “monster” because it is not wholly of the same biological make up. Even I, a mere reader of a fictional novel am repulsed at the mere thought of it. This leads me to wonder if this is a type of taboo. Like the incest taboo we discussed in Wilson’s On Human Nature, perhaps because it is not biologically natural we are ‘programmed’ to cringe at the thought of such an act. Extrapolating on this theory, parenthood would then not simply be the offspring (or adoptive offspring) of the being, but biologically equivalent offspring.

The only issue with this extrapolation is the event of animals who adopt outside their species. This rare act baffles many, but I believe this is a logical event of nature that is reinforced by Butler. In Lilith’s Brood though Lilith and Nikanj are of entirely opposite species, they become very fond of each other, to the point of perverse interaction. It seems rational to me, given the circumstance, that this should be the case. Lilith is thrown into a stressful situation where she is without family, friends, or even her own species for many years. She then latches on to Nikanj who is kind to her, teaches her, and gives her shelter through unselfish behavior. This easily can account for the stories of cats adopting squirrels and dogs adopting piglets. Both parties are benefited by the relationship; one receives a companion, and the other receives protection.

Though the Oankali claim that parenting is simply raising a creature, I believe they are missing major roles. In my opinion, the true definition of parenting should be reformed to this; a deeper relationship between a biologically equivalent person and child that transcends, but still includes, the mandatory roles of parenthood.
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York City: Grand Central Publishing, 1989
"Parent." Merriam-Webster. Web. 30 Jan. 2012. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/family>.
Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press, 2004

1 comment:

  1. It's an interesting topic, and while the dictionary definition is nothing exciting, it's very interesting that you identify what amounts to an Oankali definition, clearly and unambigiously stated. I neither agree nor disagree with the premise that the Oankali fall short in some ways (I'll also point out that parents among us ofter are both mentors and scapegoats!), but I need to point out one thing that seems to be missing here, that would be critical if you want to clarify and really prove your argument. You say nothing about how the Oankali parent *among themselves*: this seems like a topic which should be absolutely central to this essay, since they seem (as you argue) to be applying their definitions to us, or possibly basically lying about how they see humans (that is, they talk about "parenting" but it's really more like something else). You've done a good job exposing one definition they use, and talking about some of their rhetoric connected with the expectations they have of humans - but how does that relate to parenting among the Oankali, for the Oankali?