Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dissolving Hierarchy

“After that, everyone came to us.  Even the most stubborn elders forgot how much they hated us once we’d touched them.  They didn’t suddenly begin to love us…Their people, however, did begin to love us and to believe what we told them and to talk to us about Oankali and construct mates” (Butler 737) the people of the mountains, the naturally fertile humans, came to Jodahs and Aaor willingly, not out of a desire to harm or take advantage of but to learn from and understand.  This is the breaking down of perhaps the most dangerous part of the human contradiction, our innate desire for hierarchy, to be subject and subjected.  The times when humans had gone to the Oankali before there was no real alternative, either sleep forever or breed.  Then the third option of resisting presented an even more divided idea of humanity.  With Jodahs there is the reconciliation of Human and Oankali, the need for hierarchy has been eliminated because of its strong desire for mates, a desire so strong that it could destroy itself without them as was the case for Aaor.  Human hierarchy reflects our desire to be in control of others, to have some power over them whether it is physical, mental or both we need to assert ourselves.  This ties to a very individualistic and oriented philosophy of our relation to ourselves and the world, that we must declare our own existence to the “great beyond” but at the same time must assert our existence on others.   Jodahs subverts this desire for hierarchy by creating a strong family structure, not as we understand it where we can love or leave our family, not where there is a clear patriarchal structure and we must defer to the elders.  But rather a structure that is codependent to the most extreme, literally the family is the only thing holding itself together without family the new ooloi constructs would not be able to sustain their form and dissolve into the organelles, as close to death as the Oankali can ever get.  This idea of family extends beyond the mated pairs to include the entire Oankali/human/construct population, Jodahs bridges the 3 groups, by creating an ever expanding and ever inclusive community hierarchy simply has no place to exist.  No particular group is attempting to control or destroy the other, even outside of mated pairs other families are regarded with caution and understanding, never hostility, “It held Aaor longer, then focused on Javier and Paz.  They were watching with obvious curiosity but without alarm.  They had already passed the stage of extreme avoidance of everyone except Aaor.  Now, like Jesusa and Tomás, they were simply careful” (Butler 737).
                The idea that the construct Ooloi would not be able to survive without proper mates demonstrates how connected the two races have become.  Existing apart is possible but the level of satisfaction or the length of that existence is poor at best.  The arrival of the construct Ooloi had been a forgone conclusion but one that must never happen, but these new Ooloi would be new life and the Oankali revere life above everything else and life had found a way.  Whether through deliberate or unconscious mistakes, Nikanj had created the first construct Ooloi but at the same time across the world more were being made, this new life could only come about and succeed if humanity (as far as the ones who had not elected to go to Mars) had finally conquered their hierarchy.  That is not to say that they forgot it, Lilith and the other humans still understood hierarchy and often applied this to their relationship with the Oankali but they had come to the conclusion to elicit the other half of the “human contradiction” to deny their hierarchal tendencies.  By the end Jodahs is finally able to meet communally with the Oankali, it has demonstrated its own abilities and through communion comes to an understanding with the Oankali that ooloi constructs are not dangerous, they tied to a mate for codependence unlike any other Oankali/human before them and that there are more coming.  These ooloi constructs are the next step in the melding of the two species and with this strengthened union humanity has itself changed.  For arguments sake Butler may have had only two real conclusions to the trilogy, either it works or it doesn’t.  Now all matter of events could spill from those simple endings but boiled down that is what we have.  If the Oankali revere life above everything else there is no way Jodahs could have ever really failed, it gained after metamorphosis, the ability to essentially commit suicide.  Even in death it would be able to propagate life and renew the cycle but instead of losing itself, Jodahs tied itself to humanity and humanity with it that the “human contradiction” would simply dissolve.


  1. In the first paragraph (very questionable paragraph structure, by the way) you give an optimistic/utopian reading of what the construct Ooloi mean. I'm completely fine with that, and in many ways you're articulate about it, but I think you slip a little in your discussion of hierarchy. Early on, you talk about hierarchy in terms of masters and servants; later you slip into a habit of arguing, basically, that hierarchy has been eliminated because people no longer want to be masters.

    Here's the alternative I see (I think Santos would say it something like this): this is not the end of hierarchy so much as submission, humanity willfully surrendering, putting itself beneath the Ooloi (regardless of whether they themselves are hierarchical). This doesn't make you wrong, by any means - I'm just pointing out that there is an obvious alternative reading, which at least needs to be engaged with.

    The 2nd (again, poorly structured) paragraph makes no real progress over the first one, when you shoudl be, at least, engaging with the difficulties than Santo (and even Jesusa's sense of duty, or Lilith's moral qualms) should raise. You handle everything, especially in the 2nd paragraph, through generalizations, rather than through a close reading of the text. You're moving in a good if imperfect direction in the 1st paragraph - you needed to develop that, though, rather than just vaguely repeat it.

  2. I thought your first paragraph was very convincing. It was great to hear an interpretation where the Oankali are actually a good species that will help humanity. I had a few more problems with the second half of your paper. You say “this new life could only come about and succeed if humanity (as far as the ones who had not elected to go to Mars) had finally conquered their hierarchy.” This is a really interesting assertion but in a revision I would definitely take the time to really argue this statement. How is this lack of hierarchy apparent in the mountain humans and the humans who have breed with the Oankali? Also, what about the humans on Earth who have not yet left for Mars, why would these effect or not effect the constructs? You have some grammar mistakes that need to be fixed and while the whole paper makes sense I would separate your paper into more paragraphs. It is harder to separate ideas and concepts when there is no pause between them.