The Other and Failing Human Nature
Octavia Butler's novel Dawn shows the collapse of a definite, individualized "human nature" through the coercive, hegemonic actions of an alien "other" known as the Oankali. Human identity in its present form does not survive the entire book, but instead goes through multiple genetic and behavioral transformations. These changes are the product of Oankali intervention, which involves coercion, manipulation, starvation, observation and the administration of behavior-modifying drugs, all of which hearken back to Michel Foucault's concept of the "normalizing" carceral society. The constant watch and control of the Oankali causes physical, mental, and emotional changes in their human captives. The Oankali's actions are covertly oppressive and do not always serve the humans' best interests, which creates an unreconciled ambiguity regarding their alignment as benefactors. Butler uses the ambiguity to force the reader to question the Oankali's motives and true nature. Are the Oankali truly symbiotic or are they parasitic? In contrast, the human characters of the novel react xenophobically to the Oankali and their fellow humans who have had contact with them. Curt, Tate, Leah and many...
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