Dawn Metaphors and Similes

Jdhaya as a rattlesnake (Simile)

"She lay down herself, wondering whether she could relax enough to sleep with him there. It would be like going to sleep knowing there was a rattlesnake in the room, knowing she could wake up and find it in her bed" (18).

This simile appears in "Womb," when Lilith is still imprisoned within her room. The Oankali have sent Jdhaya into Lilith's room so that she can become accustomed to his presence before they allow her to leave and explore the rest of the ship. Lilith is physically exhausted but has a hard time falling asleep with Jdhaya's presence in her room. He is completely alien to her and his alienness—as well as the fact that he has much power over her—frightens her. To communicate these feelings, Lilith compares Jdhaya's presence to the threat of being bitten by a rattlesnake. One would not be able to relax knowing that a rattlesnake was in their vicinity and it would be near impossible to fall asleep knowing that they could be bitten at any moment. This is how Lilith feels about Jdhaya.

Nikanj's smile (Simile)

"Its gray skin was as smooth as polished marble as it climbed into the bed beside her" (78).

This simile describes Nikanj's expression of contentment after Lilith awakes from the procedure that Nikanj did in order to improve her memory. It describes the Oankali "smile"—in order to express pleasure, they smooth their tentacles so that it looks like their bodies are flat. This simile is effective because it gives us two pieces of information about Lilith's acclimation to the Oankali world. First, she is now able to pick up on Oankali body language. Second, she can differentiate between different styles of the same expression. Here, Nikanj is extremely pleased—the human equivalent to a big, toothy smile.

Tate's breathing (Simile)

"She gasped several times, gulping air as she might have gulped water" (128).

In the passage above, Butler uses a simile to describe Tate's gasping to what it looks like when someone gulps water. This simile describes Tate's behavior immediately after she has been Awakened by Lilith, and it communicates Tate's panic and fear in this moment. Additionally, the simile's emphasis on the elements humans need to survive—air and water—highlights the artificiality of Tate's surroundings, as she is trapped on an alien spaceship, thousands of miles away from Earth.

The feeling of opening the wall (Simile)

"Lilith closed her eyes and began inching along again. She let herself lose track of time and distance, felt as though she were almost flowing along the wall. The illusion was familiar—as physically pleasing and emotionally satisfying as a drug—a needed drug at this moment" (135).

Above, Lilith uses a simile to compare the feeling she gets when she opens the nursery's wall to the feeling one gets from ingesting a drug. This simile describes two things for the reader: first, that it feels good for Lilith when she uses the powers that the Oankali gave her; second, that she does not have quite full agency in the matter. The comparison of the Oankali-given pleasure to drugs adds an element of compulsion—her body is reaching towards this experience in the same way that an addict's body might be calling out for drugs.

In the same way that the Oankali use the humans' isolation and fear to their advantage, they also use pleasure. Later in the novel, Lilith and Joseph are unable to deny Jdhaya's sexual advances because of their past experiences of extreme pleasure. This pleasure becomes "familiar" to the humans, and their bodies seek it despite whatever they might want to do in their heads.

Oankali patience (Simile)

"'How many times can you have everyone taken from you and still have the will to start again?' Tate muttered.

As many times as it took, Lilith thought wearily. As many times as human fear, suspicion, and stubbornness made necessary. The Oankali were as patient as the waiting Earth" (167).

In the simile above, Lilith likens Oankali patience to that of the "waiting Earth." In the simile, the Earth, which has been depopulated, is "waiting" for humanity to return. The Earth is very, very old and therefore can wait for thousands of years. Similarly, the Oankali have vast amounts of time at their disposal as they wait to break the humans' spirit and compel them to cooperate with their plans. The simile above is notable because it compares the Oankali—the true definition of alien, a race of beings so unlike humanity that their goal is to destroy everything that makes humans human—to the Earth, that planet that created humanity and gave the first humans life. This juxtaposition emphasizes the impossible situation Lilith and the other humans are in. It also speaks to the heartbreaking nature of their dilemma. They have been kidnapped by an alien race; meanwhile, Earth, their home, is still waiting for them.