The Foreign in 'Lilith's Brood': When Xenophobia Takes on an Intergalactic Scope College

The trope of the grotesque in science fiction can serve various purposes: to repulse or shock the audience, to introduce the intent to frighten the audience, or to defamiliarize or alienate the audience, thus enforcing the element of the unknown. Painting a species or character as “grotesque” – wrapping it in tentacles or fur and sticking a few off-putting protuberances on it – is typically a method of basic characterization or developing the novel’s aesthetics but in Octavia E. Butler’s Lilith’s Brood it is used to introduce one of the novel’s essential themes. In Butler’s novel the Oankali, the alien race which has saved humanity from itself, is portrayed as “grotesque”, decried as eerie to look upon, its attributes disturbing to any human. When Lilith, the protagonist, first looks upon an Oankali she notes with horror that what she originally mistook for hair “writhes independently, a nest of snakes startled” thus denoting the species’ grotesque mystique to the reader (Butler 13). The purpose of the Oankali’s unmistakeable “otherness”, however, is not to disgust the audience; rather, it is to highlight humanity’s xenophobic tendency as the humans in the novel react with fear and disgust to their benevolent saviours due...

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