Parting With Humanity In “Lilith’s Brood”
The Oankali take an aggressive tack in revising the human race in “Lilith’s Brood”, one with a pace and magnitude so great that it often frightens and even angers their subjects. Reactions to their plans range from the murderous, in characters such as Curt, to the frightful, in the instance of Cele. As Nikanj tells Joseph, “Different is threatening to most species…different is dangerous It might kill you. That was true to your animal ancestors, and your nearest animal relatives. And it’s for you” (186). To be fair, there is a relatively small group of wary support for the Oankali in Lilith, and to an extent Joseph, but by and large it seems as though the humans aboard the extraterrestrials’ ship are far from ready to have so much of the foundations of their former lives taken away from them. And true to Nikanj’s words, there is a solid biological basis for the aggressive tendencies found in some of the humans, as can be found in Edward O. Wilson’s “On Human Nature”. Parting with the once-dominant paradigm of human biology and culture seems as though it will be quite difficult for much of the humans, but in order to reunite with their beloved homeland, they must submit to the metamorphosis the Oankali have in mind. It can be said that the humans, at least as represented by Lilith and Joseph, are able to suppress some of their more primal urges when introduced to unfamiliar or adverse situations, somewhat in unison with
When Edward O. Wilson writes about the basis for human aggression, he notes that a major factor in inciting aggression is territoriality and the threat of violation of territory. Although Wilson focuses on territory in a physical sense, including shelter and area for mating, there is something to be said of territory that extends beyond the immediate and tangible. The rather abstract notion of genetic territory, or the biology that defines as humans as a species, plays perhaps an even greater role in turning humans such as Curt against the Oankali, as well as bringing about unease in wary supporters such as Lilith. In comingling their genes with the humans, the Oankali in a sense invade and permanently alter that which was once strictly human. This issue is not one of supply or space, as most that Wilson expounds upon are, but its nature is so precious to the self-identity of mankind that it becomes a territory of sorts that many are willing to risk their lives for.
One of the primary concerns of Lilith and those Awakened by her is the nature of any potential offspring that would occur on the new Earth, including that of strictly humans and that of intermingling between humans and the Oankali. The fact that the Oankali wish to permanently imprint themselves on Earth and on what remains of humanity is an uneasy prospect for many of the humans, but one that they must accept and even embrace if they expect to set foot on their home planet again. This conflict first fully materializes itself near the end of the first book, when Nikanj reveals to Lilith that he has impregnated her with material from the now deceased Joseph. Although she finds some comfort in the fact that her offspring will be at least partially related to a person whose company she valued so much, the fact that it will be, in her words, “a thing-not human” (246) obviously upsets her. As the most accommodating of the humans to the Oankali, a “Judas goat” as she says, it is her reluctant designation to also be the forerunner of the hybrid race that will eventually inhabit the new Earth.
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York City: Grand Central Publishing, 1989
Wilson, Edward O. On Human Nature. Harvard University Press, 2004