Lilith Iyapo is the protagonist of Dawn. She is a twenty-six-year-old woman who Awakens aboard an alien spaceship 250 years after a nuclear war has killed off most of the human race and rendered Earth uninhabitable. Lilith is chosen by her alien captors, the Oankali, to lead a group of 40 other humans to return to Earth. She is chosen because she is intelligent, tolerant, and rational. Initially, she is repulsed by the appearance of the Oankali but she eventually learns to live among them. Throughout the novel, Lilith's humanity is repeatedly tested, but she always clings to the hope that one day humans will repopulate the Earth and be free from the Oankali.
The Oankali is an alien species that survives through gene trading, meaning that they must mix their DNA with another species’ DNA in order to continue evolving. The Oankali reside on a living, self-sustaining spaceship. They have three genders: male, female, and ooloi. One Oankali from each gender comes together to form a mating group. The Oankali have hard, gray skin covered in hundreds of anemone-like sensory tentacles that are more perceptive than human sensory organs. The ooloi have special sensory organs that allow that to manipulate the genes of other species. Oankali society is non-hierarchical which results in them hardly ever having any conflicts. The Oankali are incapable of brutality or lying, but they are known to lie through omission.
Jdahya is the first Oankali to reveal itself to Lilith. Jdahya is a male Oankali whose job is to help acclimate Lilith to the Oankali way of life. He speaks English and is very understanding and patient, and Lilith quickly becomes attached to him. Jdahya take Lilith into his family so that she will learn to live among the Oankali.
Nikanj is Jdahya’s ooloi child. Nikanj is supposed to bond with Lilith so that when it reaches maturity it can combine its Oankali mates’ DNA with Lilith's DNA. Initially, Lilith resents being treated as Nikanj’s pet, but eventually the two bond. Lilith must help Nikanj through the maturation process, which can be painful to ooloi. After Nikanj is mature, it grants Lilith special abilities such as increased strength, memory, and healing. Nikanj and Lilith become dependent on each other, but their bond is misunderstood by the other Awakened humans who view it as traitorous.
Kahguyaht is Jdahya’s ooloi mate and one of the three parents of Nikanj. Kahguyaht is viewed as removed and condescending by Lilith but nonetheless intelligent.
Paul Titus is a human that has grown up among the Oankali but has chose to remain on their ship instead of return to Earth with the other humans. He is also the first human that Lilith interacts with since her Awakening. Nikanj arranges a meeting for the two during which the two are supposed to mate. Lilith is unwilling to have sex with Paul Titus, so he then beats and attempts to rape her.
Tate Marah is the first human to be Awakened by Lilith in the nursery. Tate is extremely strong-willed, intelligent, and manipulative. Although Tate is skeptical of the stories that Lilith tells her about the Oankali, Tate chooses to follow Lilith. The two even become good friends. Tate’s intelligence and understanding of human nature are very helpful to Lilith as conflicts begin to arise among the awakened humans and her authority is challenged.
Joseph Li-Chin Shing
Joseph is one of the 40 humans awakened by Lilith in the nursery. Soon after his Awakening, Joseph and Lilith become romantically involved and fall in love. Like Lilith, Joseph is also very intelligent and rational. Nikanj also grants Joseph special healing abilities; however, these abilities cause him to be brutally murdered because he is no longer seen as human by the group of human rebels.
Peter Van Weerden
Peter is the first human to openly question Lilith’s authority and her stories of the Oankali. He gains a following among the 40 Awakened humans and turns them against Lilith and the Oankali. On the day that the Oankali reveal themselves to the group of humans, he acts out violently and is killed by them.
Curt, whose real name is Conrad Loehr, was a New York City cop before the nuclear war. Curt has violent tendencies yet is very protective of the people that are close to him. After he is first Awakened, he and Lilith get along. Lilith matches him with a weaker-willed woman named Celene which seems to help Curt adjust to his new life aboard the ship. After Peter’s death, however, Curt takes his place as the leader of the opposition against Lilith and the Oankali. At the end of the novel, Curt attacks Lilith and kills Joseph because he is scared by their special abilities. Curt and Peter represent the negative aspects of humanity that led to the nuclear war in the first place.
Ahajas and Dichaan
Ahajas and Dichaan are Nikanj’s female and male mates respectively. They are loyal to Nikanj and Lilith. At the end of the novel, Nikanj impregnates both Lilith and Ahajas with children that will be Oankali-human hybrids.
Dawn Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Dawn is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.