Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Finished Species

In biology, the imago is the last developmental stage of an insect after its final metamorphosis.  It is the only stage of an insect’s life in which it is sexually mature and thus an adult.  Octavia Butler titling her third book Imago makes a lot of sense as the Ooloi is not only the final gender to be produced but the gender that will complete the constructs and thus make the new species sexually mature.  Using this term allows us to not only see construct species as complete and able to reproduce but also as a species that has matured and grown into an adult, a species whose nature has been completed, and a species to be respected. 

The Oankali Ooloi were bred and trained to work with and form bonds with humans and yet when they first approached humans they repulsed humans, they could not control themselves, and they changed the humans they came in contact to without verbal consent.  As humans we view what they did as wrong, they raped couples for the pleasure, and impregnated women.  We see this begin to change in Adulthood Rites. “It always said there was no point in paying attention to what Humans said. It knew Tate would eventually have accepted it, but it listened to her and let her go.” (Butler 300) In Adulthood Rights the Oankali with power, the Ooloi, have learned that the humans words and opinions should be respected, not just their bodies, but it is not until Imago where the new species is finished in its maturation do we see true choice given to the humans by the Ooloi.  Because of Mars and because the Ooloi are half human and thus understand the humans need to assert themselves as independent they have finally achieved a moral adulthood.  Jodahs does not tell his mates the whole truth at first but he does not rape them either.  He lets his scent work on them but he also lets them dictate what they want. “’Touch me,’ she said. ‘I touched her and her body flared with sexual feeling.’” (Butler 634) He heals his enemies without their consent but all others he lets come to him and they are free to leave.

This is even truer with Aaor.  Aaor desperately wants mates and humans, he will dissolve without them and yet he restrains himself much better than Jodahs seemed to or the Oankali ooloi before him. He does not approach Jesusa or Tomas without Jodahs and waits albeit impatiently for human companions until it is safe to get them.  Even when approached by humans with mutations, the guards, “Of the seven, four were obviously distorted by their genetic disorder.”(Butler 704) He holds himself together, literally, and waits for a fertile and willing couple.  Aaor is rewarded for waiting by a mated couple who openly welcome it into their family and life.  After only one night with Aaor they know about the travel, the healing, and the children.  Aaor has told them the truth and as Jodahs asked of the humans he meets ask for their consent.  “’I want to go.’ Paz said quietly. ‘I’m tired of telling myself lies about this place and watching my children die.’” (Butler 713)

The biggest sign I see of Imago being the book of the final stage or adult stage of development of the species is that the Oankali finally live up to their name. The construct ooloi have the best of both worlds for humans, they can accommodate human needs and morals being part human themselves but they also show the strength and potential and pleasure of Oankali genes for humanity.  Because the new ooloi have both sets of traits and can also offer the freedom in mars, the construct ooloi are able to finally manage a trade without bitterness, a full trade.  As Oankali means trader this suggests that this is the goal and thus adult stage of the species, a goal that at the end of Imago is finally reached. Through the two construct ooloi, a community of humans is able to see all the benefits the Oankali offer.  The humans are able to accept the ooloi without revulsion and are thus able to accept the Oankali and the good of the trade without fearing the extinction of their species.

The construct ooloi finally show the end of development for the construct species.  The ooloi are the perfect mix of humanity and Oankali to appeal and understand both biological extremes and accept them. They do not have the rift between their natures, the tearing between two biological cultures as Akin and even their human parents suffer from.  They cannot exist without their mates but they do not question being Oankali and Human.  They can help humans without raping them convincing with truth and pheromones rather than drugging. They respect both human and Oankali morals and because of all these things and the existence of choice, of Mars, full trade and the goals of the species can be completed. Without the new ooloi, the Oankali goal would never be fully reached.  There are simply not enough humans once Mars was allowed for a good trade.


  1. This could probably use some grammar revision, but that really isn't a critique on the quality. I like a lot of your arguments here. The second and third paragraphs do a very good job presenting an argument that Jodahs and Aaor have matured into adulthood. You could probably choose better excerpts from the book to support your argument. I think that your argument that they are developed because they are finally able to trade efficiently with humans could use some work. You claim it was your biggest sign of why the title is Imago, but I don't feel very convinced by those last two paragraphs. It seems like there is a lot more focus on why these construct ooloi are superior to past Oankali ooloi, as opposed to how they have completed their metamorphosis. It could probably be cleaned up a bit, but overall I liked your idea here.

  2. Cody is right about the last couple paragraphs - they don't quite measure up to your goals, or to the earlier paragraphs.

    What I liked here is that you started with a straightforward definition of Imago, picked a (at least initially) narrow understanding of what aspect of adulthood you wanted to focus on, and then did it, at least for a while.

    In other words, you are interested in "maturity" as moral maturity (which may or may not be rooted in biological maturity); you are arguing that in their finished/perfected state, Jodahs and Aaor should be understood a moral beings in a way that Nikanj, for instance, could not.

    I think you have a productive approach here, but I'd like to see some kind of engagement (if you revise) with alternative points of view that see thtempt e ooloi as destructive, and that at least attempt to ask why they get people to give concent to everything. In other words, I'm proposing that Lilith's discomfort with Jodahs silence, and Santos' hard, unanswered questions are deeply relevant to your moral defense of the two ooloi.

    I like the approach, even if it's somewhat unfinished and if the end is not fully satisfactory.