In Octavia Butlers “Dawn”, there is a deep sense of loss. When Lilith is awoken from her 250 years of sleep, she is oblivious to reality. Humans are almost extinct and they are now under the supervision of the Oankali. Lilith is forced to start over with her life in another time , Jdahya realizes Lilith’s loss and even offers to kill her to end her suffering. Jdahya tell Lilith,
“touch me here now and you will die very quickly and without pain”. This shows that the Oankali are intelligent beings because they understand Lilith’s situation and how she must fell to offer something so drastic as death. Lilith also is isolated from the other humans and is forced to follow the path that the Oankali has set for her. The fact that the Oankali are genetic engineers is frightening because as Jdahya mentions, the Oankali no longer look like their original selves. Rather they have mutated and evolved based on dominant genetic codes that they picked up over their travels. To Lilith it must be a feeling of deep loss because even her captors do not look the way they were intended to, completely alien and grotesque to her.
“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.” … “She did not pretend outwardly or to herself that she would resist Nikanj’s invitation — or that she wanted to resist it.”
So this somewhat creepy passage shows a large shift in Lilith’s attitude toward the Oankali. An suggestion she once thought of as grotesque and deplorable, she now considers seductive. Not to mention, this is sort of rape-ey because Joseph is asleep and drugged. There was a big part of this book missing; at one point Nikanj is sleeping, Lilith by its side, and the next, Lilith is in a big room preparing to Awake humans, after having trained in their “forest” and lived with Oankali for another year. We don’t really know of every interaction or modification she underwent during that year, but this passage is hugely indicative of the attitude shift she has had. To me, she is less human than she thinks. It seems like these alien ideas are becoming addictive, or like a habit she can’t kick and doesn’t want to. And she even knows it’s vulgar! A few paragraphs later, “she tore off her jacket and seized the ugly, ugly elephant’s trunk of an organ, letting it coil around her…” The imagery in that sentence and the meaning behind it is goose-bump inducing. I’m not sure where this is all going but it seems like she has entirely accepted her fate, even though she still thinks to herself that they will learn to live, then escape on Earth. Weird stuff here.
“…This one might have been taught to parent a group himself, but when I showed the other ooloi the match, they agreed that the two of you should be together.”
“You…you chose him for me?”
“I offered you to one another. The two of you did your own choosing.”
This part of the novel shows just how controlling the ooloi are. After Lilith and Joseph’s experience through Nikanj, it reveals to her that she didn’t really have a choice with who she mated with. It was already decided by the ooloi that they were a good match, and they were set up to pick each other. This causes doubts in Lilith between what is real and what is a neural stimulation from the ooloi. They know her wants and body better than she does and that takes control out of her hands.
“Sensory arms, we call them in English. They’re more than arms -much more- but the term is convenient.” It focused its attention on Lilith and spoke in Oankali.
“Do you think it would help if he saw a demonstration?”
“I’m afraid he would be repelled.” she said.
“He’s an unusual male. I think he might surprise you.”
“You should trust me. I know a great deal about him.”
“No! Leave him to me.”
Reading this passage, made me think a lot about what Nikanj had to say about Joseph that he was hiding from Lilith at the time I read it. I wonder what more to Joseph’s back story there was to it. Perhaps she knew as well but she wanted to forget about what might have happened in the past and try to mold him into a better more suited person than what he was in that community with the others. She did get info on the guy, but how much necessary? The whole point is to gather the best kind of people in order to survive on earth, Not everyone liked Joseph and Lilith when the rest was awakened, that sometimes they got into fights and no one was trusted that easily. Perhaps the unusual part of Joseph is that even though he’s scared of the Oankali at first, he automatically accepts what’s needed to be done, and gets it done quick.