Thursday, October 27th, 2011...2:56 am

Pets, slaves… they’re all human

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In Lilith’s Brood, there is a large divide between how much freedom the humans have and how much free will they can actually exert. They are treated like slaves or pets, although the Oankali let them believe that they still have choices.

Often this is expressed through the Oankali anticipating human actions, and allowing them to happen. “’We won’t try to stop it,’” Nikanj says, when a group tries to escape the training room. “’Let them row their boats to the walls and back’” (200).  This allows the humans to remain ‘unbroken,’ and also keeps them from rebelling more intensely against the Oankali rule. If they believe they still have some freedoms, they may be satisfied temporarily; animals backed into a corner are generally considered to be more dangerous. Humans are no different.

Still, when it suits them the Oankali make no pretense of giving their captives freedoms. Human will is often overridden, sometimes shockingly so. When Lilith begs Nikanj to make Joseph stronger, Joseph says “I don’t know. Maybe I don’t want you to change me” (158). Despite this lack of consent, Nikanj then proceeds to drug and genetically alter him. Even worse, Nikanj then invites Lilith to join them on the bed, without Joseph having been so much as asked for his consent. Given that he had recently been struggling to so much as touch Nikanj for the first time, this is an incredible broach of comfort and trust.

Honestly, I’m surprised that it took Joseph so long to turn against the Oankali and leave the training camp, regardless of his relationship with Lilith. He had been extremely abused. One only has to remember that Nikanj gave him no choice in a second ‘mating,’ either: “He struggled violently for several seconds, then stopped. ‘Why are you doing this?’ he demanded” (189). There was clearly no consent, but to Nikanj, the fact that Joseph would enjoy it was reason enough to continue. This was one of the things that made humans seem almost like pets rather than slaves: the Oankali seem to want the best for them; they want them to live and be happy. But they want to choose what that means. They have put themselves in a position of superiority over the human characters, meaning that they are able to overrule all desires, fears, and wants. I was almost surprised that the humans didn’t have to be drugged for longer than they were. Any illusions of freedom they had were either gestures of kindness from their keepers, or simply that: illusions.

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