Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ooloi as an alternative POV

The entirety of Lilith’s Brood is an alternative look at what can happen with humanity if we are looking to go beyond our moral boundaries. The changes that the Oankali make are similar to the changes that humans are able to make with new advances in technology. The form of this series also presents an alternative point of view than the standard human view. Obviously, one of the biggest themes in all of Lilith’s Brood is gender differences. The first novel is presented with a female main character, the second with a male, and the third with the ooloi construct. The first two novels are also told in third person narrative structure, while the third is in first person. I believe this was a way for Butler to present an alternative point of view for the reader. If the purpose of this novel is to use the unfamiliar to present an alternative view to the reader, then it would make sense for Butler to present the alternative point of view in the first-person.
Dawn and Adulthood Rites both have main characters that are familiar human sexes. Thus, the reader will be familiar with many of the feelings that occur for that character, and they don’t need to be described as intimately. Simple things such as Lilith being content with the food that the Oankali give to her when she was previously starving or her anger when they will not give her writing implements to document anything that occurs. These are all feelings that we, as a human, can relate to and understand. The part of Dawn where Nikanj first seduces Joseph and Lilith is another part where many humans can relate to what is going inside Lilith’s head without necessarily having to know exactly what she is thinking. On one hand, her reactions originally when Nikanj links with Joseph are very similar to the normal human reaction of wanting to protect a friend. Although he is given an unknown amount of pleasure, the situation seems like he is being forced it against his will. On the other hand, her reactions to the situation when she realizes how much pleasure Joseph is receiving are very human as well. The reader should not be unfamiliar with the feeling of wanting to find pleasure and a feeling of safety in the company of someone (or something) that is strange and different. “She thought there could be nothing more seductive than an ooloi speaking in that particular tone, making that particular suggestion. She realized she had stood up without meaning to and taken a step toward the bed” (Butler 161). This is just an example of the sexual emotions many humans feel towards others that seem to be unknown, mysterious, and new, and it is relatable and easy to understand for the reader. This is a common theme of the first two books, and the third party point of view for the narrative keeps it in a simple light that is familiar to the reader in relation with the human sexes of the narrators of these novels.
However, the narration of the third novel is told from a first person point of view. This shift occurs because the sex of our narrator shifts to something unfamiliar. Using the first person point of view allows Butler to present an alternative to traditional human sexes in a way in which the reader can relate. Jodahs is an ooloi-human construct, the first of his kind. Along with the theme of an alternative way to change human beings, Jodahs is the personification of change in humans. The first person point of view allows us to see what this new, changed person could be like. Jodahs is something inhuman that comes from a human mother. It wants to relate to these humans, but it is difficult because of his inherent differences to them. It also is a first person look at the human contradiction from the alien point of view. Up until this book, the reader had only been presented with what Nikanj and the other Oankali had said. Jodahs is speaking with a human girl, and he says, “’I understand that Humans must be free to go,’ I said softly. ‘I’m human enough for my body to understand that. But I’m Oankali enough to know that you will eventually destroy yourselves again” (Butler 530). Jodahs is able to understand the human contradiction without being overly attached the emotional side that humans experience. It is this unknown point of view that allows the reader to take a different look at human beings and their destructive nature. Butler uses this unknown point of view to allow the reader to see humans from a different, alternative light and present the human contradiction from an outside point. Butler deals with differences a great deal in Lilith’s Brood, and the form of her novels are a mechanism that she uses to illustrate these.


  1. I think that your argument that the third book is in the first person to show the alternative perspective of the unique experience of the construct ooloio is an interesting consideration. If you were to expand this for a revision, I would probably suggest that you discuss Akin a bit as well though and how he fits in to this scheme. In certain ways, I think that he seems more human than Jodahs, and he is able to see the human contradiction but he is still a construct. Maybe an interesting thing to consider would be why his part is in the third person when he is a construct too - do you think it's purely based on gender? I also think that you could probably find more/more relevant textual support for your claims that would help to convince the reader of your point.

  2. I very much liked where I thought you were going with this - which would be into an unpacking of how the "I" helps us grapple with the messy details of a new sex (biological category), gender (cultural category) and sexuality. You hint at this, and even start to do it, but you wander off into the more general idea that "Jodahs is the personification of change in humans." I agree, and I think that's a fine starting point for an essay in itself, *except* that your originally razor-edge focus on issues of sex in the trilogy is almost certainly a better approach. You start out focused and lose a lot of that focus (moving to Akin, as Colleen suggests, might have helped; after all, this is an *altered* masculinity, following a *human* femininity and moving to a more fully *alien* ooloi-hood - that seems like it would have given you a lot to work with.

    Strong beginning,b ut you needed to keep that focus and work with the text more to develop it.