History and Space in
Contemporary North American Women's Fictions

by Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler -- 
-- born on June 22, 1947 in Pasadena, California
-- spent her childhood in poverty.  (more bio info and picture

 "I'm a 53-year-old writer who can remember being a 10-year-old  writer and who expects someday to be an  80-year-old writer. I'm also comfortably asocial-- a hermit in the middle of Seattle -- a pessimist if I'm not careful, a feminist, a Black, a former  Baptist, an oil-and-water combination of ambition, laziness, insecurity, certainty, and drive." (source)

Dawn -- part of the Xenogenesis trilogy, called Lilith's Brood (which includes Dawn, Adulthood Rites, Imago). 
  • a "critical dystopia" (defined by Tom Moylan): "a narrative which points to the socio-historic causes of the dystopian elements of our culture rather than one which merely reveals symptoms." (Miller)
  • Cited by Donna Haraway in "A Cyborg Manifesto" as one of the "theorists for cyborgs" (173). 
    • ("The cyborg is a 'hybrid' [149], a figure which breaks down the 'boundaries' between 'human and animal' [151], 'organism and machine' [152], 'physical and non-physical'[153], and self and other with regard to 'gender, race, or class' [155].  A cyborg is a construct of transgressed boundaries,' comfortable with 'permanently partial identities and contradictory standpoints' [154]" qtd and explained in Miller 338.)
  • Regarded as "salvation history" but not utopian fiction by Haraway in Primate Visions: "an imaginative site of experimentation where new notions of identity and community are under construction. .  . .[It] 'requires readers radically to rewrite stories in the act of reading them.  . . to find an 'elsewhere' from which to envision a different and less hostile order and relationships among people, animals, technologies, and land' [15]" (Miller 33)

  • Contradictions in Xenogenesis: "These novels mix the typical science-fiction 'space-alien' story with elements of the slave narrative, the Genesis story, the nature/culture debate, utopian/dystopian tales, captivity narratives, and more.  Butler's aliens are both colonizers and a utopian collective, white the captured/saved humans are both admirable survivors and ugly xenophobes.  Lilith Iyapo, . . . , is both the mother of a new race and a Judas to humanity"  (Miller 339-40).

  • Controversies around Xenogenesis: utopian or dystopian, social constructivist or determinist (humans' Othering tendency), the last two books failure?,  self-sacrificing mother, heterosexuality remaining  unquestioned?  (Cf. Miller 343-44)

  • Contesting and revising our culture's most powerful originary discourses (Biblical, biological, anthropological) by keeping one in dialogue with the others: "XENOGENESIS resists 'recreating the sacred image of the same,' not by merely re-telling one origin story with a difference, but by putting the four originary discourses I mentioned above into a dialogic relation with each other." (Peppers)
    1. Adam's Others: Biblical Genesis and Slavery. 
    2. (Eu)Gen(et)ic Engineering: Sociobiology and Slavery. 
    3. Resisting a Paleoanthropological Recreation of the Same. 

Major Themes: 
xenophobia 1
I)  Oankali as Aliens
1. appearance: Jdahya  p. 11; tentacles, pp. 12, 15; the arm movements: 164; 193; 236-37; 

2. name & organization: Dinso, Toaht, Akjai
--home, not going back, 34, 36
--acquisitive, gene trader 39
-- L's name 62
-- ooloi "treasured outsider" 104; 
-- concept of parent 110

3, sex: 
--the role of ooloi 20, studying humans; 
-- involving two humans, two O's, and an ooloi pp. 189-190. 

4. ship and transportation: pp. 28-29; 35; dislike machine and their concept of trade 83 
5. As Traders, their manipulation of humans
-- Lilith's scar; 
-- a series of questions; 
-- not allowed to read, nor write 61
-- send to be mated with Paul; 
-- rejecting their lover without the medium of their ooloi 220; all co-opted;cannot resist their own ooloi 240; 
6. communication and unbridgeable gap
--silence p. 31
--alienness of Nikanj 96 (after the Paul Titus episode); concept of family 99
-- K, "Your children will know us, Lilith.  You never will" 111
--rejected ooloi, sick and withdrawn 206; 

xenophobia 2
Lilith and Joseph as Aliens: 
1. Lilith suspected of not being human; Joseph -- "faggot" slanted eyes 159; 
2. Joseph killed brutally because of his healing power.  
II) What is being "human" like? 
1. Human society criticized: 
  --Earth (after overall destruction );
  -- two problems 37: intelligence and hierarchy.  
     e.g. Joseph condescension to Lilith 157
  -- rape tendencies 178
2. Human body challenged: 
memory: Oankali's "gene map" of Lilith
cancer: a beautiful growth.
different ways of sex: p. 161-162; 
3. Different ways of survival: "Alive!  Still alive.  Alive . . .again."  
A. Paul Titus -- 86- , 
-- his view of O's genders 87
-- his dependence on O and refusal to go back 89, 
-- his view of being manipulated 90 - wanting L to "surprise them"

B. Lilith -- 
1) Her adaptability:  "reality was whatever happened, whatever she perceived." 
p. 132.  
2). contradictory responses to Nakanje and the other Oankali.  
--her responses to the captors: 1. curses or not responds --> answer the questions; (pp. 7-9); 
--first leaving her isolation cell, accepts Jdahya's sympathy p. 36
--sympathy + resistance 38; know they want her to be close to N 106; feel N's sincerity yet still resisting it 160-61.
-- Jdahya's offer of death 42
-- dislikes being patronized by Kahguyaht 48, 49
--dislikes being manipulated 53, dislikes being treated as a house pet 55-56; experimental animal.  58, Judas goat (Sheep cannot readily be driven to slaughter but will follow a goat. A Judas goat is used to lead the sheep to the killing pens.)
-- her attempts to feel "human" and her existence: 1) see O lie, 2) see another human.  p. 59; her Tiej trip 65-
-- wants her autonomy, does not want to be changed.  74; her memory of Sam and Ayre 75-76; feels being Paul's prisoner 87; 
-- given more freedom (after her memory is changed 101); getting books and pens 107, changes in her, attached to N. 
-- "home"?  

C. the humans awakened by Lilith: 
1) Tate 132
2) Joseph and Lilith -- not "Tarzan and Jean" type; 
3) Lilith -- not trusted by her friends 214-15; "another chance with a human group"; "Learn and run" 247
4. What does "being human" mean?  
1. the rebels: Peter  192;  "He died human."  196; "Were they strong?  Or simply unable to adapt?" 201; 
2. Lilith's attempt to rescue Nakanje  239
3. Lilith's pregnancy -- the child not "human" 246-47; 

Miller, Jim.  "Post-Apocalyptic Hoping: Octavia Butler's Dystopian/Utopian Vision."  Science-Fiction-Studies.  1998 July; 25(2 (75)): 336-60.  (Abstract) " In both the Xenogenesis trilogy and Parable of the Sower, Butler stares into the abyss of the dystopian future and reinvents the desire for a better world."

Peppers, Cathy.  Science-Fiction-Studie (SFS).  1995 Mar; 22(1): 47-62.  http://www.depauw.edu/sfs/backissues/65/peppers65art.htm

Related Websites:

Plot: 1. Womb (Lilith's isolation cell, Earth as well as Oankali's womb), 2. Family (Djahya's, Lilith's human family, Paul Titus's and Lilith's new family), 3. Nursery; 4. The Training Floor