Dawn Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What two characteristics of humanity led to its total destruction in the novel?

    Jdahya remarks that the two characteristics present in humans that led to the war are intelligence and hierarchy. When properly orchestrated, the two can come together to provide the order necessary to achieve success. But when the two are not synchronized, they oppose each other. On pre-war Earth, humans did not know how to use these characteristics to their benefit. Instead they ignored the increasing tensions rampant in human society, eventually leading to humanity’s ultimate destruction. Jdahya uses cancer as a metaphor to describe what happened on Earth. With proper attention and treatment, the malady could have been easily remedied if caught early. If left to its own devices, however, it will always lead to annihilation. The Oankali are able to escape the same fate because genetically they are predisposed to intelligence but not hierarchy, whereas humans are genetically inclined toward both.

  2. 2

    How does Lilith’s previous experience on Earth limit her ability to understand the Oankali and their society?

    Lilith is limited in understanding the Oankali because of her inclination to compare their society with human society. At first, she finds it difficult to grasp the concept of having three sexes: males, females, and ooloi. To an even greater extent, Paul Titus also cannot comprehend this foreign anomaly, despite having lived among the Oankali for most of his life. He asks Lilith whether Nikanj is most like a male or female when it is truly neither. Additionally, Lilith constantly compares the Oankali’s appearance to animals she has seen on Earth. Their overall physiology reminds her of a nudibranch and their many-fingered hands reminding her of a starfish. Lilith is also shocked to find out that the Oankali do not depend on tools for their survival and technical prowess. Instead they have genetically and chemically manipulated living matter, plants and animals, and hybrids of the two, to benefit their needs. What Lilith initially views as transport carts are actually animals similar to terrestrial slugs. As Lilith spends more time living among the Oankali and learning about their society, her prejudices fade and her understanding of them deepens.

  3. 3

    What is involved in the trade between the Oankali and humans?

    The trade that is set to occur between the Oankali and humans is a genetic trade intended to benefit both species. The Oankali can only survive through these planned genetic trades, so they are constantly searching for life on other planets whose DNA may prove beneficial. When the Oankali encounter Earth, it is caught in a nuclear war that not only kills most humans but also destroys much of the natural world as well. After the war, the Oankali rescue all the surviving humans, viewing them as potential trading partners. They admire human intelligence, but recognize its toxic combination with hierarchy that led humanity to destroy itself. In making the trade, the Oankali hope to remedy humanity’s fatal flaw while also benefiting from the trade themselves. Following the trade, the new human population will be released back to Earth where human society will be allowed to begin again. After the trade is complete, however, neither species will be the same, effectively altering human life as Lilith and the others know it as. This forced genetic alteration fosters aggression towards the Oankali and their supporters among the humans.

  4. 4

    What trait makes Lilith unique from other humans?

    Unlike many of the other rescued humans, Lilith presents a strong will to survive. Despite having lost her entire family and any remnants of her previous life, she is committed to not taking her own life. The Oankali recognize her deeply rooted will to survive and admire it greatly. It is this trait that makes her the most perfect candidate to guide the first group of Awakened humans. Throughout the novel, Lilith’s strength is repeatedly tested. In one instance, when Jdahya first releases her from her prison and brings her to his home, he asks Lilith if she wants him to sting her, instantly but painlessly killing her. Lilith denies Jdahya and accepts her role as the first guide despite being deeply disturbed by the Oankali and their planned destiny for humanity. Again while in the nursery, Lilith is tested when many of the Awakened humans distrust her and try to undermine her authority. Instead of succumbing to their resentment, Lilith tries her hardest to lead them in beginning the next human society on Earth because she knows that this is the only way for humanity to survive.

  5. 5

    How has Paul Titus’s choice to live among the Oankali affected his behavior, prompting him to attack Lilith?

    Paul Titus’s choice to live among the Oankali instead of to return to Earth has permanently affected his behavior. At the outbreak of nuclear war on Earth, Paul Titus was only fourteen. Centuries later aboard the Oankali ship, Paul Titus is in many ways that same fourteen-year-old boy despite the fact that he is now a middle-aged man. Paul Titus was denied the opportunity to mature and become a man. He had no human father figure aboard the ship that might teach him what it means to be an adult. Because of this, Paul Titus lacks the emotional control and responsibility that adults should have. When Paul Titus is presented with Lilith and told that he can mate with her, he loses control over his actions. Like a child, Paul Titus becomes very upset and aggressive when Lilith makes it clear that she is unwilling to have sex with him. The only way he knows how to react to get what he wants, Lilith, is through violence, beating her until she is left with several broken bones and many bruises.

  6. 6

    What separates Joseph from the other Awakened humans, and how does this spark the attraction between him and Lilith?

    Like Lilith, Joseph is practical, intelligent, and possesses a strong will to live. At first he is skeptical of the reality that they are held captive by aliens aboard a ship in outer space, but he accepts his role as a prisoner. Like Lilith, Joseph realizes that the best chance of escape he and the other humans have is to comply with the Oankali’s requests until they are in a position to escape. Joseph and Lilith both share the “learn-and-run philosophy.” When first reading his dossier, Lilith perceives similar characteristics in her and Joseph. As soon as he is awakened, the two recognize their similarities which leads to them forming a relationship despite harsh criticism from Tate. Joseph is the first of the Awakened group to see an Oankali when Nikanj presents himself to the couple. Although repulsed by the alien, Joseph is the first human ever to willingly touch an Oankali so soon after first encountering one, reconfirming Lilith’s faith in and feelings for the man.

  7. 7

    Do the Awakened humans believe what Lilith tells them about their captors? How do they handle this information?

    Many of the Awakened humans are skeptical of Lilith’s claims about the Oankali. Some even blatantly reject the stories she shares with them. Others, like Joseph, unsure of what to trust, comply with Lilith’s orders until they have learned enough to make their own judgments about where they are. The ones who are unwilling to accept the possibility that their captors may be aliens form their own league while in the nursery. Their leaders, initially Peter then Curt, display violent tendencies such as fighting Lilith on multiple occasions and capturing and nearly raping a woman named Allison. Instead of acting out of reason, this group acts out of fear, reverting to primitive human behavior that is counterproductive to the Oankali’s goal of reestablishing a human population on Earth. The other Awakened humans, the ones siding with Lilith, tend to act more rationally. They acknowledge that they are being held prisoner by unknown captors. Their actions are more deliberate in trying to preserve their lives and learn more about the Oankali through Lilith’s instruction. From time to time they question her judgment and leadership, but usually trust what she tells them.

  8. 8

    Explain why human couples are so emotionally and physically attached to their ooloi.

    While in the nursery, most of the Awakened humans couple up. When the Oankali drug the humans and show themselves to the humans for the first time, each couple is joined by an ooloi. Over the next few days the ooloi imprint themselves on the human couple, or individual, through altering the biological chemistry of the humans. This is accomplished through three-way sex between the ooloi and the couple. The ooloi acts as an intermediate between the couple during intercourse, making the sex more pleasurable for the humans and providing the ooloi with pleasure too. The bond between the three becomes so overwhelming, that when the humans abandon their ooloi, it shuts down and cannot be helped by anything except its Oankali mates. The abandonment, however, affects the humans as well. When many of the human couples leave their ooloi in the artificial forest, they become repulsed by the touch of their significant other because of their altered biochemistry. The purpose of these chemically induced bonds is to prepare the humans to parent the first generation of the human-Oankali hybrids.