As observed in Octavia Butler’s Fledgling, sometimes the reasons that people stay together are fairly complicated. Sometimes, people stay together for bad reasons. Sometimes, in staying together, people ultimately detriment themselves, but for some reason they remain together all the same. There is a good deal of speculation that surrounds abusive relationships. Too often when people hear of a bad relationship, they wonder why the individual being abused didn’t just leave. Shori’s relationship with her symbionts, while physically beneficial (as she improves their health substantially and the physical act of taking their blood feels good) is emotionally parasitic, though this may not be her intent.
Although Shori wakes up with amnesia and doesn’t remember who or what she is, she still instinctivelyy knows how to find humans from whom to take blood, and she also innately understands that having multiple symbionts is crucial to her survival and wellbeing. But, it is not that Shori takes blood from her symbionts that makes the relationship parasitic, as Shori needs this blood to survive. The symbionts are put into a difficult situation, as they are tied to Shori in a way that they would have never before experienced, and they are thrust into this experience without having a say in the matter. In fact, with the exception of Celia and Brook, Shori does not ask consent before biting her symbionts. She understands that her bite has the power to make those bitten do whatever she wishes, and so she bites first, and asks for consent later when her humans are already under her spell. Thus, they are left without a choice, and their bodies develop a physical dependence on the way Shori feels and what she does for them. Even when they might want to resist, forces outside of their control connect them to Shori, and she even acknowledges that they could not turn her down even if they truly wanted to. After learning more about what it means to be a symbiont, Wright admits that “[he] never really had a chance to figure it out… I didn’t know then that I was agreeing to be a part of a harem” (Butler 83). He understands that he is now bound to Shori, and that he will grow to play an important role in her future, and she in his. This raises the question of whether or not any of the feelings of affections these symbionts feel for Shori are actually real, or if they are instead artificially created by a need for something that only Shori could provide. In biting Wright and Theodora without first asking for explicit consent, Shori denies them of their free will. She also denies them of a life without her, as once they become dependent on her venom, they will die without it. They are a family, but what binds them is not genuine and not healthy.
The symbiont’s dependency on Shori is reflective of many unbalanced and unhealthy relationships. The closest thing I can compare this dependency to is unhealthy romantic relationships, and these relationships can be unhealthy despite the best interest of both members involved. However, I in no way wish to generalize all unhealthy relationships, or the people that make them up. Rather, this interpretation is just based on my own personal experiences and observations. Fledgling depicts the Ina symbionts as being a certain kind of personality. The Ina’s symbionts, as described in Fledgling, are lonely, insecure, and generally not in a good place. Wright has a strained relationship with his aunt and uncle, Theodora lives alone, as her husband is dead and her children are grown, and this deeply saddens her, and Brook was running away from home when Iosif found her. These individuals are vulnerable and have been taken advantage of. When one feels so vulnerable, the potential for intimacy (and this includes but is not limited to physical intimacy), even intimacy that may be harmful, is better than nothing at all, and this results in unhealthy relationships and difficulties between couples. Sometimes, couples stay together out of fear of being alone, or even because of convenience. Sometimes the responsibilities that govern life outside of the public sphere are just as stressful, and so economic necessity and family pressures become another force that keeps people together. Sometimes people stay with partners who are unkind to them because they are afraid of life being any other way. Sometimes, when someone is in a bad relationship, they simply feel like there is no way out, despite what their wishes might truly be. It is quite possible that Wright would want another option for his life, but preexisting forces have determined that he will remain in his relationship with Shori. Situations like these do not eliminate free will as explicitly as Ina venom, but they certainly demonstrate that the forces that bind people and keep them together are both complex and delicate.