"The tentacles were elastic. At her shout, some of them lengthened, stretching toward her. She imagined big, slowly writing, dying night crawlers stretched along the sidewalk after a rain. She imagined small, tentacled sea slugs—nudibranchs—grown impossibly to human size and shape, and, obscenely, sounding more like a human being than some humans. Yet she needed to hear him speak. Silent, he was utterly alien" (12).
In this passage, Lilith describes Jdhaya's tentacles when he first appears in his room. This moment of imagery is effective because it describes something that is completely alien in terms that a human could visualize. Lilith does not simply describe Jdhaya's tentacles but she also takes note of how they move and the associations they cause her to think of. She uses sensory language that is full of movement, such as "elastic" and "slowly writhing." By comparing Jdhaya to animals we can see on earth—night crawlers and nudibranchs—Lilith makes Jdhaya seem even more alien, since his tentacles move in response to outside stimuli and he can speak English.
Oankali Vehicles and Objects
"Some of the vehicles were loaded with unrecognizable freight—transparent beachball-sized blue spheres filled with some liquid, two-foot-long centipede-like animals stacked in rectangular cages, great trays of oblong, green shapes about six feet long and three feet thick. These last writhed slowly, blindly" (49-50).
This moment of imagery appears in "Family," while Kahguyaht brings Lilith to see Sharad. The imagery in this moment is powerful because it highlights the alienness of the Oankali ship. As Lilith walked around with Jdhaya before, she noticed all the ways in which the ship was similar to Earth: the trees, the grass, the grazing animals, and more. Now, however, we are completely separate from Earth. The very objects aboard these vehicles are like things that humans have never seen. Close your eyes and think of the word "freight." What images pop to mind? Probably they contain cubes and boxes: individual boxes containing items and huge, rectangular shipping containers transporting cargo. In this world, however, the freight is characterized by circular shapes: "beachball-sized blue spheres," "centipede-like animals," and "oblong, green shapes." The colors and the movements in this scene bring this otherworldly image to life and underline the fact that Lilith is very far away from her own world.
"Her destination turned out to be a kind of observation bubble through which she could see not only stars, but the disk of the Earth, gleaming like a full moon in the black sky" (116).
This image appears in an emotional moment for Lilith. Before the Oankali take her to the large room where she is to Awaken the humans, Nikanj brings Lilith to an observation deck where she can see the stars. Not only does she see the stars, she can also see the Earth, which gleams far away from her. This image demonstrates the huge distance separating Lilith and the other humans from Earth. Rather than look like a planet, the Earth resembles a full moon. The use of "moon" in this simile also connects to the motif of maternity that stretches throughout the novel. Lilith is about to embark on a daunting task—Awaken a group of forty humans, teach them about their new existence, and try to unify them so that they can work together to survive on Earth. The Oankali believe that she is taking on the role of their "mother;" however, as Lilith predicts, her relationship with the other humans is far from easy.
"For a moment, she saw Nikanj as she had once seen Jdhaya—as a totally alien being, grotesque, repellant beyond mere ugliness with its night crawler tentacles, its snake head tentacles, and its tendency to keep both moving, signaling attention and emotion" (191).
This image describes Lilith's perception of Nikanj near the end of "Nursery," after Lilith has supposedly grown accustomed to and bonded with Nikanj. Despite the fact that she has had sexual contact with Nikanj and considers herself its mate, she is "for a moment" caught off guard by Nikanj's alien-ness. This image, like the image from page 12 above, compares the Oankali tentacles to animals from Earth: nightcrawlers and snakes. This allows the reader to visualize what Nikanj looks like at this moment and see how Lilith would find it "repellant beyond mere ugliness." This image appears at a time when Lilith is trying to cajole all of the humans—including Joseph, her lover—to cooperate with the Oankali. Throughout "Nursery," Lilith works on behalf of the Oankali to get the humans to grow accustomed to their new reality. However, as this image suggests, Lilith is herself not fully accustomed to the alien beings that surround her. Despite the fact that she bonds with them, they are still "totally alien" to her. She and the rest of the humans are fundamentally separate from Nikanj and the other Oankali.
Dawn Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Dawn is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.