Dawn Literary Elements


Science fiction

Setting and Context

Near future, aboard an alien spaceship after a nuclear war destroys almost all life on Earth

Narrator and Point of View

The story is told by an anonymous third-person narrator whose scope of knowledge is limited to Lilith’s perspective.

Tone and Mood

Fear of the unknown, Violent, Distrustful, Sensual

Protagonist and Antagonist

Lilith is the main protagonist. The antagonists alternate between the Oankali and other humans, specifically Curt Loehr, Peter Van Weerden, and Gabriel Rinaldi.

Major Conflict

The main conflict in the novel is the struggle to preserve what remains of humanity, either with or without the involvement of the Oankali and their genetic manipulation.


The climax of the novel is when Curt Loehr kills Joseph, prompting the ultimate battle between the humans and the Oankali that determines which humans will be sent back to Earth.


The aggression between Lilith’s followers and Curt’s followers in the nursery foreshadows the more brutal violence that is to occur in the artificial jungle at the novel's conclusion.


The Oankali view Lilith’s lethal cancer as beautiful. They admire the cancer’s ability to regenerate and affect so many cells, despite being deadly to humans if left untreated.


The catastrophic nuclear war on Earth that the novel depicts as the result of fighting between the United States and the USSR is an allusion to the real-world Cold War and the looming threat of mutually assured nuclear destruction.

"Medusa" (12)


The physical appearance of the Oankali, slightly humanistic but distinctly non-human, represents the internal struggle that Lilith faces: whether to ally with the alien Oankali or with her own people.


Lilith’s initial struggle to escape from the Oankali transforms into a desire to be with them despite the fact that they are alien. She is driven away from human society and into the welcoming tentacles of the Oankali by her own people's viciousness and brutality.


Parallel sentence structure can be found in chapter 8 of section 3 when Lilith talks about the Oankali: “That’s what I know. That’s what I’ve told you all.”

Metonymy and Synecdoche

During her Awakenings, Lilith finds herself held captive in a bare room. From overhead she hears the Oankali speak to her but is unable to see her captors. Their eerily human-like voices are the only sensory inputs she can associate with them. Thus, the voices she hears begin the represent her captors which is an example of synecdoche.


Throughout the novel, the Oankali and their ship are represented as having human emotions and attributes.