The following entry discusses the ENTIRE book, particularly Akin and Jodah who is in Imago (mostly … a more than good enough reason to read the entire book!).
After our class discussion, I was wondering why Lilith was even on the cover at all. It’s about her brood, specifically Akin, the first construct male, and Jodah, a construct oolio, the first of his kind (I STRONGLY URGE you to read Imago as it answers a lot of questions you might have.). In the end, we return to that question – what does it mean to be human? In the often quixotic quest to answer the question of human-ness, we revisit the same questions over and over. Who has agency? Who has free will? Who has free choice?
There is some contention that Lilith has agency, is somehow empowered, but I disagree. As the story progresses, she is less and less in control, less empowered, her free will biochemically robbed, and her free choice is really her only choice. While she retains her human-ness despite being a parent to several constructs it is with great limitations imposed by the Oankali and its societal familial structure. By Imago, the story shifts to Jodah; there is very little mention of her, and certainly nothing new – she is so un-empowered and disenfranchised, it’s like she’s almost not there …. and that’s why I think Akin and/or Jodah should be on the cover, not her … but then he’s turned into a hideous Oankali oolio!
Let’s first look at her realization that she is quite dis-empowered when she thinks, ” They probably had not lied about that. Maybe they had not lied about anything. Why should they bother to lie? They owned the Earth and all that was left of the human species. How was it that she had not been able to take what Jdahya offered?” (59). What choice does she really have? Not much: return to “sleep” or do what Jdahya wants. She has her human free will and limited free choice but lacks agency though she tries to exert it. In her interaction with Titus, he says, “Don’t do what they expect – just for once. Don’t let them play you like a puppet” (93). Yet in the end, it is Titus who behaves exactly how the Oankali expect a dangerous human male to act. After Peter dies, the survivors note, “He died human!” (196), yet Lilith replies, “So what? What’s changed? On Earth we can change things. Not here” (196). The respondent, who is purposely ambiguous, responds, “Will we want to by then? What will we be, I wonder? Not human. Not anymore” (196). While Lilith and the newly Awakened have free will and limited choice, their ability to act on their world, have agency, is severely hampered by the constraints of the Oankali and the environment. Later, Nikanj impregnates Lilith with Joseph’s seed to make a daughter companion for her (246); this revelation is shocking to Lilith as she’s had the illusion she’s had some power to act in her world, when in fact she has none, the Oankali watch and act according to their plans. Much later in the book, Akin, Lilith’s construct male child, is kidnapped to be sold to no other than Tate and Gabe! Yet at that point, instead of going immediately to search for her lost 3 year old Akin, she attends to the birth of the construct child of her Oankali female mate, Akin’s Oankali sibling that he never properly bonds to. Lo is far more evolved than any of the resister towns, yet has the least amount of free will, free choice and agency. The Lo daily routine is dictated by Oankali societal norms, which in turn is pretty much dictated by oolios (so much for them not being hierarchical). The resisters are no better off, though the have a lot of free will and, seemingly a lot of free choice, they in fact have been robbed of their most important choice, reproduction; their agency is but an illusion. The only resister camp that remotely has any agency is Jesusa and Tomas’ village. While their village has fertile humans, it is plagued by inbreeding and neurofibromatosis, they start out with some measure of agency, but they soon realize they are dying and only the oolio intervention will prevent them from going extinct thus limiting their free will, choices, and greatly diminishing their agency because there is a price to pay to have an oolio (mated human pair). So as the story goes on, it seems that the Oankali have agency, but that too is an illusion, a form of denial, omission; they are in fact very hive minded (borg-like to me).
Lilith later contemplates, “How could she Awaken people and tell them that unless they could escape the Oankali, their children would not be human?” (117), but she awakens them nonetheless (how terrible to have to decide who to wake up in what order!). Yet later in the book, she regards all her construct offspring as her children (human endearment). When Akin is kidnapped, Kaliq says about Akin, “He looks okay [human0, that’s what’s important” (341). Neci is severely misguided thinking by chopping off the girls tentacles, exclaiming to Tate, “Why should I? They would be better off without them [tentacles] – more Human!” (400); she later tries to kill the oolios by fire yet fails. The sense of agency hinges upon the respective species ability to be and appear as themselves – Oankali and Human; to each, it’s black or white, a sum of the whole which Tino and Dichaan examine:
The resisters haven’t betrayed themselves or their Humanity. They haven’t helped you do what you’re doing. They may not be able to stop you, but they haven’t helped you (425). [Tino]
If all Humans were like them, our construct children would be much less Human, no matter how they looked. They would know only what we could teach them of Humans. Would that be better” (425)? [Dichaan]
I tell myself it wouldn’t, […] And to get what I wanted, I’ve betrayed everything I once was (425). [Tino]
It never occurs to them that there is some middle ground. This is further explored when Akin and Dichaan talk about Akin’s metamorphosis:
Then it will be an Oankali species. It will grow and divide as Oankali always have, and it will call itself Oankali” (443). [Akin]
It will be Oankali (443). [Dichaan]
And Humans will be extinct, just as they believe (443). [Akin]
But we will be Oankali. They will only be … something we consumed 9443) [Dichaan]
It seems like Dichaan has agency, but he doesn’t. He is under the illusion he has agency, free will, free choice, but he really doesn’t. It’s Akin (and later Jodah) who starts to have agency. Keep in mind until his metamorphosis, Akin looked entirely human except for his tongue (easily hidden); he even enjoys a lot of sex with resister women (they find him irresistible …). In the mean time, some of the humans believe Mars will offer humans a chance to start over, to have and exert free will and choice. Yori wonders, “Why did the Oankali cause this? Why didn’t they offer us Mars years ago” (501)? Clearly, agency is not only tied to identity but location – or is it? Or is it a self-awareness clean of denial and illusions that grants agency? Is it Jodah’s thought that, “I’m Human enough to understand what they’re trying to do” 637)? Or is it his realization of his duality when he says he wants to try to get Mars, “for the Humans and for the Human part of me. Not for the Oankali” (459)? [Akin talking to Akjai] Or is it Akin’s willingness as a sub-adult to advocate for Mars for the humans ? Or is when he finally succeeds in getting Akjai to speak for him to the Oankali and get Mars? Do the humans on Mars have agency? If so, how? (There is very little mention of Mars so, of course, it’s pure speculation.)
I am left wondering why I spent much of the book seeing the illusion of agency, never really being able to say any one particular character has agency, and the only character that ever truly has agency is Akin and Jodah. Does Butler toy with, challenge our notion of agency and its multi-faceted and multi-perspective aspects? I think if you look carefully at Akin and Jodah, you will see in it, the embodiment of agency – Human and Oankali.