Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Imago in Imago

According to Merriam-Webster, the word imago refers to an insect that is in its final, sexually mature state of being.  It is my belief that several connections can be made from this definition to the final book of Lilith’s Brood, Imago.  While one of the obvious connections would be the metamorphosis of Jodahs into its sexual maturity, I believe that a larger element of Lilith’s Brood is reaching maturity.  I am referring to the relationship between the Oankali and humans.  As Imago progresses, I believe that we see the evolution of this relationship from an immature state to a mature one.
Wray explains to Jodahs, “your body has been striving to please her. You’re more brown now—less gray. Your face is changed subtly. You look like a male version of her.  She probably thought you were very handsome” (Butler ,588).  As the first human-born ooloi, Jodahs differs from other Oankali in several ways.  One of the differences that I found most intriguing was the way that Jodahs’ appearance changes depending on who he is mating with at the time.  Its appearance changes in a way that makes it more pleasing to the eye of its mate; Jodahs eventually looks similar to what its mate would want it to look like.  Jodahs really has no control over the changes in his appearance; it is dependent on who he is mating with.  I feel that this new quality serves to help evolve the relationship between Oankali and humans into its mature state.  Jodahs is the beginning of a new kind of Oankali that can appear much more pleasing to humans, perhaps making it easier for humans to relate to them.  This will also serve to make it easier for this new type of ooloi to attract human mates.  The Oankali, at least the ooloi, appear to be on their way to looking more and more like humans.   This will likely make them less alarming to human resistors, and may lead to a better relationship and understanding between the resistors and Oankali.
Another way in which Jodahs may represent the final evolution of the Oankali-human relationship is its ability to negotiate and relate with humans.  It seems to be able to, more often than not, convince humans to do what it wants.  Whether it is convincing humans to go to mars or not to kill, Jodahs finds a way to connect to humans on a more human level than any Oankali before has ever been able to do before.  An example of this is when Jodahs is negotiating with the resistors in the village who are likely about to kill it, “my people are coming here, but they won’t kill. They didn’t kill your elders.  They plucked them out of the ashes of their war, healed them, mated with those who were willing, and let others go.  If my people were killers, you wouldn’t be here.  And there wouldn’t be a Human colony on the planet Mars where humans live and breed totally free of us.  The Humans there are healthy and thriving.  Any human who wants to join them will be given healing, restored fertility if necessary, and transported” (Butler, 730).  In this example, Jodahs seems to be able to make the Oankali seem friendly, while at the same time appealing to the humans’ most fundamental desires of freedom and fertility.  Jodahs is able to negotiate with humans in ways that are much more effective than any Oankali before it.  Ideally, more and more Oankali will be born that have this same ability to relate to resistors on a very human level.  This will greatly strengthen the Oankali-human relationship, furthering its evolution to a mature state.
Humans are also responsible for the evolution of this relationship in Imago.  Towards the end of Imago, the human resistors seem much more willing to negotiate with the Oankali than in the past.  These humans have witnessed the way in which Jodahs has healed them of their diseases, and recognize that they must work with the Oankali in order to survive.  It appears that many of the humans in the village are coming around to the idea of mating and living with the Oankali.  Jodahs is eventually allowed to “plant” a town where it can have Oankali mates, and where these humans may live with some of the Oankali.
In conclusion, I believe the definition of imago directly relates to the maturity of the Oankali-human relationship in Lilith’s Brood.  This maturity may be seen as a compromise of sorts. Jodahs perhaps represents a new type of Oankali that is more capable of relating to humans, and more capable of appearing pleasing to them.  The humans are also less reluctant to work and negotiate with the Oankali; they recognize that their survival is dependent upon them, not to mention that fact that the Oankali can offer them a better life.  Ultimately, this compromise represents a relationship that is much more mature compared to that of the previous books.  It appears that the Oankali-human relationship is coming to its final, mature state.

Butler, Octavia E. Lilith’s Brood. New York City: Grand Central Publishing, 1989


  1. I like you idea of the maturation of the relationship between the Oankali and humans as an example of Imago. The obvious example would just that Jodahs is developing into its sexual maturity but I like the idea of maturation on a group level. And I do agree that Jodahs is the perfect candidate to advance the Oankali and human relationship. It is basically the best of both species but still had the ability to relate to either group. It is also an interesting idea that you characterize this relationship as a compromise instead of a consensus. I feel as thought a compromise connotes more of negotiations in which both groups have to give something up. To me personally I find is as having more negative connotations as opposed to a consensus which seems more like all parties benefit equally from the relationship. I feel like there is a lot of good work with the text here as well. All of the quotes you use coincide with your argument, which is helpful. Overall this is an extremely insightful argument.

  2. I thought this analysis remained in many ways at a fairly basic level. Here's what's bothering me, fundamentally. If you're interested in the maturity of human-Oankali relationship, rather than of Oankali biology considered by itself (a good focus, by the way!), what I want to see is a detailed discussion, using the text, of how those relationships have changed. You generalize a good deal about how Jodahs represents a new relationship between Oankali generically and humans generically, but a clearer and more focused approach would have focused on, for instance, the *relationship* between Jodahs and Jesusa, or between Jodahs and Francisco or Jodahs and Santos (or all of the above).

    I just think that it's clumsy to talk about relationships in a general sense when we have so many fleshed-out relationships to deal with - and when the darker side of adulthood is so much more manifest in those relationships than in your summary of them.