Matters of Perspective in Octavia Butler’s Dawn

November 27, 2015 § Leave a comment

“We’re an adaptable species … but it’s wrong to inflict suffering just because your victim can endure it.”

Octavia Butler’s Dawn allows its reader to experience the challenges of the subjugated through an interesting point of view. The novel relies on a third person voice, but limits itself to the perspective of the human protagonist, Lilith. One of the few humans remaining, she is at the mercy of the Oankali alien race, being kept under their watch and shown around like an animal.

While reading of her experience, I began to question why it was that the Oankali felt justified in treating Lilith in such a way. Sure, their race had projected dominance over the humans — they have “sensory arms” and are able to store memories without the need for recording anything externally. But, it still didn’t sit right with me. I realize that their is a stark contrast in the very nature of the humans and Oankali, but the fact that they are both sentient beings able to demonstrate consciousness and communicate with each other leads me to believe that they are not that different. Perhaps this is a product of  being able to relate with Lilith (seeing as I’m a human) or just hearing the situation from her point of view.

I think that this phenomenon has implications that are as relevant to today’s reality, as they are to science fiction.  I believe that the interactions between the Oankali and Lilith are a microcosm of the universal struggle between the majority power and the subjugated minority of society. In nearly all situations, the majority have some sort of advantage (not tentacles, as far as I know though) that allows them to gain more power. It seems that they then use the advantage as justification to further suppress the minority. However, when we are able to view these scenarios from the minority perspective, we are able to see the harshness of these actions, and realize that they are not as justified as they may seem. Octavia Butler’s use of perspective in Dawn allows us to see this.

— Kyle Uber

(Make up blog post for absence on 9/29/15)


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