"She took a step backward, away from all the alien vastness. The isolation room that she had hated for so long suddenly seemed safe and comforting.
'Back into your cage, Lilith?' Jdhaya asked softly" (29).
This passage appears moments before Lilith steps out of her solitary confinement chamber, where she has spent about 250 years in an induced sleep and about two full years of time awake. Outside of her chamber is the alien spaceship, which looks like an environment of its own, replete with vegetation, animals, and more Oankali. Outside of the isolation room, Lilith faces the complete unknown.
In order to encourage her to take the first step out of her room, Jdhaya taunts her. He asks her if she prefers to return to her "cage." This is a moment of verbal irony because Jdhaya is saying something that he does not entirely mean. Himself, and the rest of the Oankali, would be hesitant to call Lilith's room a "cage," because it would suggest that the way the Oankali are treating the humans is unethical. Additionally, Jdhaya's personality until this moment is characterized by patience and serenity. The text makes it seem like he would not push Lilith beyond what she can feasibly do and is going at her pace. He merely says these words to push her to take the terrifying step, using language that she might use herself. His tactic works, and she makes the decision to leave her room right after.
Humans Being Treated Like Animals (Situational Irony)
"This was one more thing they had done to her body without her consent and supposedly for her own good. 'We used to treat animals that way,' she muttered bitterly.
'What?' he said.
'We did things to them—inoculations, surgery, isolation—all for their own good. We wanted them healthy and protected—sometimes so we could eat them later'" (31).
In this passage, Lilith compares the way that Oankali treat humans to the way that humans used to treat animals on Earth. This moment highlights the irony of both Oankali and human attitudes towards beings with less power than them. Humans used to do whatever they wanted to animals "for their own good," even if it was simply because they wanted to eat those animals later. Similarly, the Oankali are changing human genetic structure for humantiy's "own good" despite the fact that many of the humans on the ship do not consent to these interventions. The fact that there is a parallel between humans and animals constitutes situational irony on two levels: first, because these interventions are clearly not solely for the animals nor the humans' "own good" and are instead motivated by selfish desires on the part of the humans and the Oankali, respectively. Second, it suggests an equivalence between the Oankali and humanity and how they treat beings with less power. This difference goes against the Oankali assertion that they are morally superior to humans because they are not hierarchical. Despite the fact that they are not hierarchical within the Oankali species does not mean that they do not cause harm in other contexts.
Lilith's Clone (Verbal Irony)
"After a while, Nikanj said, 'Your print may never be used. And if it is, the reconstruction will be as much at home aboard the ship as you were on Earth. She'll grow up here and the people she grows up among will be here people. You know they won't hurt her.'
She sighed. 'I don't know any such thing. I suspect they'll do whatever is best for her. Heaven help her'" (98).
In this passage, Lilith discovers that the Oankali are keeping a memory of her DNA that they might use to create a clone of Lilith at some future date. Nikanj tries to convince her that that version of Lilith will feel completely comfortable in her Oankali environment. Lilith is not fully convinced. She uses verbal irony to communicate her displeasure. She says that she is sure the Oankali will do "whatever is best for her." Her follow up—"heaven help her"—communicates that "whatever is best" for the Oankali is not what might actually be best for this clone.
Nikanj's Sexual Innuendo (Verbal Irony)
"'Did you do that?' she demanded. 'Did you . . . inject something.'
'Nothing.' It wrapped its free sensory arm around her neck. 'Oh, but I will 'inject something.' We can go out later.' It stood up, bringing them both up with it" (188).
In this scene, Nikanj is convincing Lilith and Joseph to have sexual intercourse with it. Because it has already done this with Lilith, all it has to do is coil "the end of one sensory arm around her wrist," which causes an intense feeling of eagerness in Lilith (188). Above, Lilith asks Nikanj if it did something to her to make her feel so eager. Nikanj says that it did not do anything, but that it will "inject something" into Lilith soon. This is a sexual innuendo of both the human phallus and the Oankali tentacle, which Nikanj will insert into Lilith and Joseph's nervous systems.
Dawn Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Dawn is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.