All posts by Hanna Richman

Lilith’s Brood, Bible Style

I know by this time in the semester, I probably should have moved onto another book in Butler’s cannon, but after reading Mary Papke’s article, “Necessary interventions in the Face of Very Curious Compulsions: Octavia Butler’s Naturlism Science Fiction” for our annotated bibliography, I feel as though I had to revisit Lilith on the living space ship one last time. The article touched on Lilith’s name, and it’s undeniable relationship to the Lilith as Adam’s first wife. Although she is not mentioned in the Torah, apparently she is referenced to help explain the two dichotomous creation stories in Genesis. I related this second version of the creation story to the human’s second chance to survive, and possibly thrive, with the Oankali. It is also believed that Lilith’s biblical character could have descended from a Sumerian myth that focuses on female vampires. Lilith’s beginning is routed in sentiments that perfectly relate to another one of Butler’s novels, Fledgling. Just from searching Lilith’s name, I have found that many of Butler’s choices are linked to religion. Lauren starts her own religion, and as I reflected upon in an early blog post, many of the names choosen for Fledgling summon ideals of morals, and possibly a religious tone, such as Wright and Joseph (what we assume to be the English translation of Shori’s father’s name).

While researching the origin of Lilith’s name, I found many connections to the novel and to varying explanations of the genesis story that connect to Lilith. The discrepancies found in the two Genesis stories had an explanation I had never heard of. There is a story about the creation of an “androgyne”, a creature that was both male and female. This creature immediately reminds me of the Oankali, and their gender duality. This emphasis on religion makes me view Lilith’s Brood in a slightly different way. Although I had always imagined because of the imaginative settings and characters, these choices had been coming straight from Butler’s brain. After doing just a little bit of research, I find myself questioning some of her originality; maybe she has been borrowing from myth and fact more than I had previously thought, and weaves these aspects into creations from her mind. This is not a bad thing, obviously, but just not something I had previously thought about. I wonder if I went back though the texts we read for this class, and if I did a little research, I could find well documented myths, legends and maybe facts that would have colored my readings, if I had thought earlier to search for them.




Classifying the gains and losses of the alternate universe in Lilith’s Brood was more difficult than I might have assumed, even with the help of a group to bounce ideas off of. Yesterday, we spent some time talking about the plants/flowers, which induce the suspended animation our characters have become some accustomed to. We spoke about this suspended animation, and whether it was a loss or a gain, a positive or a negative, for the characters who are suspended in time. The superficial aspects are clearly positive. Waking up years later, looking completely the same. Being healthier and stronger seems like an obvious gain. Waking up loosing decades of one’s life, however, makes the suspended animation much harder to classify. I imagine that people would hold onto their years and their memories possessively, I know I would be horrified to know that a chunk of my life had been lost without my realization. I don’t think I could ever fully trust my memory or my awareness again. I would always feel slightly tampered with. I associate age with wisdom, with learning from the past. For me, the most difficult aspect to understand about suspended animation is waking up older, but certainly not wiser. The complete removal of maturity and growth is scary. In an article in The Feminist Wire, “Photography Feature: On Beauty and Age”, Sheri Wright comments on inherent beauty in photographs and art forms, it also touches on the importance of age. This reminded me of the confusing reality Lilith and other saved human’s experience when Awakening, and discovering that significant time has passed although their physical bodies do not show this. Their beauty remains the same, despite the age. In her article, Wright insists, “Age does not mean the end of beauty”. Although she surely means to comment on the beauty that can be found in aging, it is also relevant to acknowledge how confusing this beauty is when nothing changes at all, as is the reality for Lilith and other humans while in suspended animation.

A Hypochondriac’s Response

As a self proclaimed (and fairly vocal) hypochondriac, Clay’s Ark was alarming to me from the first mention of infection. While taking breaks from reading, I found myself washing my hands excessively and feeling strangely uneasy while shaking hands. I can’t imagine that I am the only reader who has this anxiety surface while reading Butler’s work. As I continued reading, however, I found myself moving past my own irrational fears regarding my own health to the “irresponsible” way I truly believed this community lived. I couldn’t help but judge and be angry with the people who have the disease. I connected with Blake right away, wanting to support his every effort to save his daughters and get away from the infected people, find a hospital, and allow science to do its job and stop the infection. Although I know this was an unrealistic hope, thinking that just by sharing the knowledge of ClayArk disease with authorities and medical personnel that the world would be saved, those infected would be cured, their children might have the chance of having a normal life and the world would stay blissfully safe from this brewing epidemic.

Clearly my strong, and overwhelmingly negative reaction was not as tolerant as I would hope I could be. Apparently, threat overtakes tolerance in a way I could not have imagined. Because I imagined the world being transformed completely by these infected people, I never gave myself the opportunity to accept their differences (and realistically, calm myself about the dangers and give the infected people some credit about how hard they work to contain their disease). I found an audio interview and short essay outlining Butler’s views on what scares us, as humans. Although she does not specifically bring up Clay’s Ark, she does talk about all of the things that get in the way of tolerance. Her laundry list includes, “ignorance, fear, disease, hunger, suspicion, hatred, war” (NPR). My fear of the spreading disease, my initial ignorance about how it was being responsibly dealt with, and my hunger for Blake to succeed in eliminating this disease in the most traditional way makes me, the reader realize how I stood in the way of my own tolerance of Butler’s world, by allowing these fears and premonitions cloud my judgment. Although Clay’s Ark is not necessarily a novel about tolerance, my initial foreboding left me no choice but to recognize my own intolerance. Thankfully, in her comments to NPR, Butler allows us, as humans to accept these faults as long as we work to repair them. Butler explains that, “tolerance, like any aspect of peace, is forever a work in progress, never completed, and, if we’re as intelligent as we like to think we are, never abandoned” (NPR).

Does “Shori’s First” Give Consent?

While reading Butler’s novel, Fledgling, there were multiple references to Wright as “Shori’s First” (72). I was confused by the intense level of devotion and feeling that seemed to be attached to this label. As Shori slowly starts her journey of discovery, taking in bits and pieces of the Ina culture to which she is connected, she also learns about what will happen to her symbiants. Iosif clarifies the connection Wright feels to Shori by explaining, “Wright smells of you- unmistakably. The scent won’t wash away or wear way. It’s part of him now. That should give you some idea of how we hold them” (73). As her father shares information regarding the feelings that have already begun to overwhelm Wright, Butler’s readers are drawn, once again, to the issue of consent.

Neither Shori nor Wright had the prior knowledge of the bond they would share to be able to fully consent to the formidable, unbreakable type of relationship symbiants and their Ina share. Neither understood the commitment they would have to make to the other in the first bite that would eventually bind them. In that moment, Shori just bit Wright because it felt good. Shori’s lack of understand of what she is even influences the first bit. She first notes his smell, pondering, “I didn’t have the words to say how good he smelled. Breaking his bones would be wrong” (10). In this surge of emotion, she does not understand her attraction and her quick reaction.

It could be argued that Shori does take Wright’s feelings into account. Although she does bite him, and her continued bites bind him to her, Shori was never fully aware of the uncontrollable connection this would foster when she first bite him. Despite the title afforded to him as “Shori’s First”, Wright is not her first priority (72). The lack of consent and conscious choice to bind them together causes Shori to feel slightly unconcerned attitude toward Wright’s emotions.

Shori does not feel overly bound to Wright, despite what his title as “Shori’s first” suggests (72). Clarissa touches on their relationship in her post, “Yes Means Yes”. In this blog post, Clarissa asks readers to question Wright’s intent, and his right to be sexually involved with Shori, who appears to be a young girl. Iosif brings Shori’s true immaturity into account by explaining, “She has at least one more important growth stage to go through before she is old enough to bare children” (64). The issue of consent is weaved throughout more than one aspect of their relationship. Clarissa touches on the physical nature of how they look… the right that a grown man has to be with a child, who clearly needs assistance. From this view, Shori is the one who is unable to give consent. This issue is turned upside down when it is revealed that Shori’s venom, is actually addictive, and Wright will die without it. From this viewpoint, Wright is unable to fully give consent. He had no idea that Shori’s bit would eventually take away his freedoms and ability to live a normal life. Butler asks readers to question this relationship and how both players’ consent comes into play, Wright’s consent is later stripped from him. Clarissa reflects that “what we feel like is an inappropriate relationship between Shori and Wright” can easily be argued that neither of them had enough knowledge to fully consent to each other.

The Relationship Between Names and Dominance in Fledgling

Naming has often been linked to power structure, in works and cultures as broad as epics, history, and religious traditions. In Octavia Butler’s novel, Fledgling, the names of influential characters tend to do more than simply identify the figure. The characters who identifies both as Rene, and eventually, Shori, have names that, if studied, have the power to tell the readers how this character changes, simply by interpreting their name changes.

The power of naming and labels has been studied as an integral structure of dominance. Lauren Graham touches on the power names hold on the blog, The Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination. Graham insists, “the persistence and historical continuity of the linking of naming and power are unmistakable.” This sentiment can be reflected in feminist theory, as the reason women are asked to take the name of their husband, and this act is one of the first submissions a marriage brings about. Even in the bible, naming is acquainted with dominance. God tells Adam to name all the things in the Garden of Eden like plants, trees, and fruits, and then man suddenly has dominance over these things.

The thread of dominance with naming is weaved throughout Butler’s work. Wright decides to give Shori a name when they first decide to stay together. Although naming her might have been a kind act, his decision to name her is more a benefit to him than it is to her. By naming her, Wright feels as though he has a better hold on what she is, and by having a name, he has played a part in creating and shaping her identity. When Wright brings up this need for her identity in the car, he talks about her name in terms of what he needs. He pushes, “I’ll need to call you something” (13), noting his own desire of a label, all the while ignoring her own need for a name. After he decides on a fitting name, one that emphasizes rebirth, and essentially a new life (the new life Wright speaks up undoubtedly includes the two being together), he insists, “ You’ll probably remember your old life pretty soon, but for now, you’re Renee” (13).

With the short amount of time before the couple discovers Renee’s true name, and consequentially, her identity, Renee is “reborn” into a life that differs greatly from her past. The name her father gives her, Shori, gives way to a change in personality from the timid and unsure Renee. Even the phonetic speech sounds her Ina name produces sounds like the word “sure”. With the transition of Wright’s given name to the name associated with her strong heritage as a young, powerful Ina female, Shori becomes more firm and knowing about her past and what she and Wright must do to survive. Her language and attitude changes with her name. She is no longer uncertain. When she was Renee, she had inklings of what she wanted and needed, but was more hesitant about sharing these inklings and fear of seeming very different from the man who sustained her, even though he quickly recognized her uniqueness. When Shori adapts to her Ina name, her confidence suddenly emerges. She still has the same instincts, small inklings from her past that gently guide her actions and choices, but after she adopts her Ina name, she no longer feels shame about them. Shori is sure of herself and her people, and her new name highlights this fact.