Growing Up Alone

One encounter from Dawn that I think did not get enough attention during our discussion in class is Paul Titus’s attempted rape of Lilith. Nikanj explains that while it did not believe that Lilith would mate with Paul Titus, none of the Oankali expected him to react as he did. Nikanj goes on to claim that “he was content with his Oankali family until he met you” (97). Lilith echoed my thoughts during the scene on the following page: “in some ways you kept him fourteen for all those years.” The fact that neither Lilith as the victim nor myself as the reader seemed to really blame Paul Titus very much for this violent action forced me to stop and consider what it means to grow up, and whether one can do this without other members of one’s species.

As a fourteen-year-old, Paul Titus’s identity was nowhere near fully formed when he was taken in by the Oankali. Those years are typically rife with peer pressure and parental guidance: there is a whole range of social indoctrination experiences that Paul Titus has missed out on. Not yet even fully pubescent, when he was taken Paul Titus had just barely completed early adolescence, which is described as “letting go of childhood.” In this stage of development, kids wish to stop being defined as children and start to act out with passive and active resistance to their parents. When he was taken, Paul Titus was in Stage 2 of adolescence: growing a family of friends. This period is defined by a strong need for social belonging with friends, a strong drive towards immediate gratification, and a conflict over the independence required to be with friends and temporarily away from the parents. This means that Paul Titus was only barely past the point of defining himself as a complete child when he was swept up into an alien culture and forced to make his way among them. Contrast that with Lilith, who was towards the end of the emerging adult phase of development when she was taken. She was in the stage of life where most people determine their identity with finality, and the stage where most people experience a lot of instability. When they face each other, Paul Titus is biologically older, but not long into their interaction it becomes apparent that on some level, Paul Titus is still struggling with his identity, still yearning for fulfilling relationships with peers, and still intent on having his desires gratified.

Lilith declares of Paul Titus, “He has nothing! He has no one to teach him to be a man, and he damn sure can’t be an Oankali!” This seemed fair to me, and when I started to research role models, I found that sociological theory states that “the suitability of a role model depends, in part, on the admirer’s perceived commonality with the model, who should provide an image of an ambitious yet realistic goal.” Obviously, there is no one among the Oankali who provides any sort of “realistic goal” for Paul Titus to strive for. He may have memories of strong role models from before the war, but significantly he has no model for how to respond to the kind of situation in which he finds himself. The Oankali have cut him off from the other humans who share his experiences and might have been able to guide him. The Oankali themselves probably became role models for him on some level, but he was always aware that these people kept him in captivity, and he must have always resented them. He was in a stage of life in which peer relationships are extremely important, but he was cut off from having relations with anyone who might be considered a valid peer for him.

I think it is instructive to compare Paul to Teray, another character Octavia Butler describes in an interview as “still learning how to be a man.” Teray begins Patternmaster as an impulsive, aggressive boy, attacking Corransee when they first meet in-book. Over the course of the novel, he learns to be more prudent: first we see him learn to treat the mutes well, then we see him form a relationship with Amber from which he learns to kill efficiently and to work well with others. When Teray faces Corransee again at the end of the novel, he uses what he has learned to win the conflict. He becomes a more shrewd and prudent character, and even Rayal declares that Teray is ready to take the Pattern. Amber can be viewed as a peer in this relationship who has helped Teray to grow into more of an adult. Amber, as well, learned to be who she was in part because of the memories and advice of the Housemaster she was formerly involved with. These are examples of healthy comings-of-age – Paul Titus was without any relationship resembling this for fifteen years.

Given Paul Titus’s behavior and comparing it to Teray’s, I have come to the conclusion that without strong relationships with peers and role models, growing up cannot healthfully occur in the ways we usually define it. The Oankali are far too alien and their purposes are too much at odd’s with the humans’ to serve the purposes of either peer or role model in human development. The pent-up confusion and resentment of fifteen years is what Lilith encountered in the Toaht pseudo-tree, not a fully actualized human being, causing her to declare that “he did what you [Nikanj] and his so-called family set him up to do,” and causing a whole new list of concerns over what the Oankali are taking from the humans by depriving them of family.

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