Dawn Study Guide

Octavia Butler published Dawn in 1987. It centers on Lilith Iyapo, who has been kidnapped by an alien race called the Oankali. The human race has nearly killed itself off in a nuclear war. The Oankali picked up the surviving humans and placed them in suspended animation aboard the ship. Lilith is the first woman to be Awakened from suspended animation, and she is tasked with Awakening the rest of the humans and teaching them how to survive back on Earth. The novel centers on themes of agency, consent, power, and ownership. The Oankali have total power over the humans' lives, doing whatever they want with their human prisoners and their bodies.

Dawn is the first book in a three-book trilogy called Lilith's Brood. The other installments are Adulthood Rites (1988) and Imago (1989). Adulthood Rites centers on Lilith's half-Oankali son, Akin, as he struggles with his identity. He is kidnapped by a group of human resisters. He eventually convinces the Oankali that the humans deserve their own place to live, and the Oankali make Mars habitable for humans. Imago tells the story of Jodahs, Lilith's first child who is ooloi, a third gender. Jodahs has unlocked the genetic potential of both the humans and the Oankali.

In an interview with Joshua Sanders, Butler said that the space race influenced the writing of Dawn: "I think of the space race as a way of having a nuclear war without having one." The idea of a nuclear war being "winnable" by either side caused her to write the trilogy. She said, "there must be something basic, something really genetically wrong if we're falling for this stuff."

In Black American Literature Forum, Adele Newson praised Dawn as "engaging" and "having a single-minded intensity." Newson continues that "Lilith's life, like that of the black woman's, is a metaphor for the quest which would resolve the problem of her being both revered and despised by those with whom she inhabits society."

Amazon Studios and MACRO Television are producing a television series adapting of Dawn. The series will be written by Victoria Mahoney and directed by Ava DuVernay.