Dawn Summary and Analysis of "Nursery" Part 2


After the sexual experience between Lilith, Joseph, and Nikanj, Lilith emerges from her room to feed the others. They are disgruntled and are "radiating hostility" toward Lilith (165). Peter and Jean make aggressive comments towards Lilith. Lilith announces that she will be Awakening ten more people tomorrow and that the others will be tasked with helping those people adjust. The people settle on the floor to enjoy their meal, separating into small groups and speaking among themselves. There is some grumbling about the fact that only Lilith can access the food, and Peter suggests that the Oankali set it up that way to keep the others "'from thinking about what we ought to do to our jailer'" (166). No one speaks up to defend Lilith. Lilith warns the group that if they hurt her, they will simply be put back in suspended animation and forced to go through this exercise all over again with someone else. She goes to sit with Tate, Gabriel, and Leah: her own group. Tate tells Lilith that the warning will work, but Lilith expresses concern at the fact that the people have no ties to each other and might be willing to risk solitary again. Gabriel tells Lilith that they do care, and that this is the best living situation many of them have been in since before the war. Lilith worries that the others will continue to mistrust her. She stands to bring Joseph food.

When she enters her room, Joseph refuses to speak to her or take the food from her hands. She waits in the room for him to be ready to talk to her. She understands that he is sorting out his feelings and trying to understand the sexual experience that occurred between them and Nikanj. She explains that it was a "neurosensory illusion," knowing that Joseph will not answer her (168). Joseph sits in silence until it is almost morning. Then, he asks Lilith to repeat what she told him before—that the experience with Nikanj was just an illusion that it created by hooking into their nervous system. Joseph asks Lilith if she had done that with Nikanj before, and Lilith replies that she had done it with Nikanj as well as with its mates. Joseph asks Lilith why she lets them touch her. She tells him that she enjoys those experiences; he responds that he will never let another Oankali touch him again if he has a say in it. Joseph compares the experience with Nikanj to a drug. He urges Lilith not to let Nikanj touch her again; when he refers to Nikanj, he uses male pronouns. Lilith is frightened by Joseph's refusal to refer to Nikanj with the neuter pronoun as it reminds her of Paul Titus. She tells him to stop deceiving himself. She leaves the room without promising not to let Nikanj touch her again.

Lilith and the others Awaken ten new people. Most of them are busy getting the new humans acclimated to their new reality. We see the new humans act in ways similar to how the original humans did: a woman that Peter helps laughs in his face when he tells her that their captors might be aliens, and a man attacks Leah and tries to sexually assault her. A few days later, a group of men led by Peter seize Lilith and hold her down while they steal food from the pantry. One of the men, Derrick, climbs into the pantry before it closes fully. Curt tells Lilith that Derrick has climbed into the pantry in order to see "'what's really going on'" (172). Lilith repeats to Curt and the others that they are being held captive by an alien race called the Oankali; Curt does not want to hear it. Lilith says that Derrick will probably not be allowed to return, and she turns out to be right. Lilith opens the cabinets to prove to the others that Derrick is not stuck inside of any of them. One member of Curt's group, Jean, begins demanding to know what the Oankali did to Derrick. Lilith responds that she does not know, but that their group is to blame for whatever happened to him because they held Lilith down before she could stop him. Lilith then turns to go to her room; Joseph, Tate, and Gabriel join her. Gabriel tells her that she is losing. She responds that that means that they are all losing.

Tate, Joseph, and Gabriel encourage Lilith to speak to the Oankali and try to convince them to prove their existence to the others. They notice that the tensions among the others are rising and worry for Lilith's safety. Tate warns her that soon Van Weerden will "knock [her] around," trying to force her to lead them out of the room (174). By the time they realize that she knows only as much as she has been telling them, it will be too late. Lilith admits that she sees the reasoning behind their concerns. They scope out other humans that might want to join their group. Lilith expresses frustration at the fact that these divisions are so similar to the ones on Earth before the war: "'So stupid, isn't it. It's like 'Let's play Americans against the Russians. Again''" (173). Lilith seals herself in the room and tries to talk to the Oankali, but they refuse to answer her calls. Lilith is not surprised—she knows that beyond saving her if she is immediate danger, she is on her own. Lilith understands that she can either succeed at uniting the humans or she will be forced to act as a scapegoat for whoever does unify them. She also understands that the others see her group as ineffectual, uselessly biding their time. The people who follow Peter and Curt's leads prefer action over patience. Lilith decides to keep recruiting people to her group, including those who just want to be left alone. Soon, she Awakens ten more people, and she only uses people from her group to help the newcomers. Peter's group is forced to stand off to the side and the newcomers see them as "troublemakers" as soon as they arrive (176). One day, a woman who has not yet paired up with anyone, Alison, is grabbed by Peter and a new man, Gregory. They intend to drag her off to Gregory's room; the different groups of people surround them so that no one can move.

The humans are in a stand-off. Jean demands to know why Alison is "'saving herself'" and considers it Alison's "'duty'" to pair off with someone (177). Alison responds that she does not want to give their captors a baby to toy with. Curt shouts that "'nobody has the right to hold out'" on the pattern of breaking off in heterosexual pairs (177). Allison bites Gabriel, and he responds by hitting her. Lilith yells at them to let her go, but her voice is drowned out by the others. Lilith gets so angry that she charges towards the two men and Allison. Some people try to stop her, but she throws them off without even looking at them. She takes Peter down with a quick move and throws him to the side. Gabriel continues to hold on to Allison, and Curt joins his side. Lilith hits Curt in the stomach, and when Gregory lunges at her, she takes him down easily and he falls on the floor unconscious. The room is silent as the others stare at her in fear and awe. She declares that there will be no rape in their new civilization. She tells them that they need to get through this "'like people'" and "'stay human'" (178). Lilith returns to her room, but Joseph calls her back out. He encourages her to help Peter and Curt, who have been badly hurt. Lilith speaks to the Oankali that is watching them, who turns out to be Ahajas, and asks her to help. She responds that Gabriel and Curt are not too badly hurt and do not need their help. Peter, who has a broken arm, will be helped eventually but will be left in pain so that he can think about his actions. Then, they tell her that Derrick is in suspended animation again.

Lilith's group can tell that Lilith cares about Ahajas. They are slightly suspicious of Lilith, especially because the Oanakli have answered her this time but did not answer her before. Tate demands to know why Lilith is so strong, and Lilith tells all of them that the Oanakali have changed her so that she can succeed in this mission. Allison steps forward, and she looks like she is recovering. She asks Lilith, "'are you really human?'" (180). Lilith feels weary at this question, wondering how many times she will be asked this. Lilith responds that this would all be easier for her if she weren't human. She asks Allison to think about it—if Lilith weren't human, why would she care if Allison got raped? Then, she announces to her group that she is Awakening ten more people tomorrow, the final ten. Meanwhile, the boundaries between the two groups shift as people pick sides between Lilith and Peter, who is replaced by Curt as the leader of the group of dissenters. The Oankali leave Peter with his broken arm for two days. On the third day, he wakes up healed, but he is left emotionally vulnerable and frightened. That day, at lunch, Lilith tells the people stories from her time with the Oankali. Lilith talks to Peter, urging him to be "sane" and "thoughtful" (182). She tells him that the Oankali will come to get the humans soon, since now there are forty-three of them. Five days later, their dinner is drugged. Lilith is the only one who notices the tell-tale feeling of calmness, and she watches the people around her loosen and begin to laugh more. Lilith tells Joseph what is happening and they watch Oankali make their way into the room.

Slowly, the humans begin to respond to the new Oankali presence in the room. They are visibly afraid, but their reactions are muted. Lilith sees Kahguyaht approach Gabriel and Tate and notices that its tone of voice is similar to Nikanj's when it is speaking to her. Those who panicked or tried to fight the Oankali were immediately put to sleep. Lilith watches the Oankali approach the paired-off humans and describes the scene as "quiet, strangely gentle chaos" (184). Eventually, Nikanj approaches Lilith and Joseph. It tells them that Tate and Gabriel may not survive this process. Joseph asks if Nikanj is foretelling the future, and Nikanj responds that it simply knows enough about Gabriel to guess that he might try to kill himself. It takes Joseph's hands and heals them after Joseph has clenched them so tightly that he caused himself to bleed. Nikanj lulls Joseph's fear, encouraging him to relax his body. It is clear that Joseph does not want to be in this situation but is powerless to pull away. Meanwhile, Tate is adjusting to Kahguyaht's presence better than Gabriel is. She extends a hand out to touch Kahguyaht, but Joseph pulls it back, arguing with her. Tate reaches out again, and Kahguyaht wraps a sensory arm around her hand. Nikanj tells Lilith that she and Joseph will not have any responsibilities for the next few days while the others acclimate to the Oankali. It offers to let them out of the room and explore the ship.

Lilith tells Joseph that the ooloi drugs will cause the humans to want to separate from each other, so they might as well leave and explore the ship. Nikanj wraps a tentacle around Lilith's wrist and gives her an unspoken suggestion that the three of them go have sex before leaving the room. It takes Lilith and Joseph to Lilith's room before telling Joseph that this time he "'has a choice'" as to whether he wants to participate in this activity (188). At first, Joseph adamantly refuses. Nikanj tells Joseph that it can offer him a "oneness" with Lilith that humans crave but never can truly attain (189). Joseph refuses again, but does not pull away when Nikanj leads him to the bed. It tells Joseph, "'your body made a different choice'" (189). Joseph struggles against Nikanj but eventually closes his eyes at Nikanj's urging. Lilith watches as Joseph calms until he seems to fall asleep. Nikanj rouses Joseph, and Joseph again says that he cannot consent to what is going to happen. Nikanj repeats that his body tells a different story than his words. Joseph tells Nikanj that he is unable to give Nikanj permission; Nikanj finally says that it will not let go of him. Joseph resigns himself to what is coming; something which, according to Lilith, "he had wanted from the beginning" (191). Lilith joins them in the bed.

The humans stay drugged for several days. Some of them are weaned off the drugs sooner, including Tate. Peter, under the influence of the Oankali drugs, is pliable and good-natured. When they wane off, however, he is infuriated and feels as if the ooloi have taken his manhood away. He attacks his ooloi, injuring it enough that the ooloi responds by shocking him with its tentacles. Peter is killed. The ooloi responds by closing in on itself, its tentacles forming into hard bumps. The others call for the ooloi's mates, and the ooloi remains catatonic. Lilith approaches Jean, Peter's mate, in an attempt to give the other woman comfort, but Jean sends her away. Lilith realizes that Jean is experiencing the reaction from ooloi drugs that makes humans not want to be around anyone but their mate and ooloi. Lilith goes to Nikanj and encourages it to help Jean. Nikanj assures Jean that help is on the way—her ooloi's mates are coming to take care of her. Curt tries to reach out to Jean but she does not want to be near him. The ooloi's mates arrive and Jean is drawn to them because of the chemical signals they give off. Jean goes with the Oankali to the room where her ooloi is frozen. Joseph comes up to Lilith and tells her that Peter was right to fight back; at least "'he died human'" (196). Lilith tells him that on Earth they will be able to change things, but Joseph wonders if they will even want to by then. He asks Lilith, "'what will we be, I wonder? Not human. Not anymore'" (196).


In the second part of "Nursery," Lilith tries to unite the newly-Awakened humans into a cohesive group. Throughout this part of the novel, she insists that trying to escape or fight against the Oankali will lead to disaster. Instead, the humans need to collaborate and work together, so that they can make it back to Earth. Lilith knows that the others are distrustful of her because the Oankali have given her the role of Awakening and leading them. However, she also believes that she is the only person who can save them from themselves. Despite Lilith's best efforts, the humans split into two opposing groups. On one side, Lilith has amassed a small group of people who are willing to wait it out and follow her lead. On the other side, led by Peter, they are angry and restless. They want to fight back against the Oankali and are, above all, suspicious of Lilith. In the second half of "Nursery," this group of people gets labeled the "troublemakers" and they steadfastly refuse to follow Lilith's lead. For example, they send Derrick into the pantry to investigate what is happening with the Oankali, despite the fact that Lilith warns them that Derrick will not be allowed to return. Lilith understands that pushing back against the Oankali will get them nowhere. She tells Joseph, "'if they keep doing stupid stuff like this, they'll eventually manage to hurt themselves'" (173).

Lilith is in an impossible situation. She wants to help the humans through allegiance with them as another human. However, she has also been modified by the Oankali, and she is working in the Oankalis' interests. Her wants are aligned with the Oankali in that she wants the humans to work together. Lilith believes that if she loses in this mission, then "'everyone loses,'" because the Oankali will place them back into suspended animation and they will be stuck for even longer aboard the ship (173). Lilith tries to express this to Peter after she breaks his arm. She tells Peter, "they want—and I want—you to be bright enough to survive" (182). Here, the "they" is the Oankali. Lilith is explicitly aligning her interests with theirs, and doing so by back-handedly calling Peter and his group less "bright" than herself and her followers. Peter's response speaks to the divide between Lilith and the other humans: "he stared at her with contempt so great that it made his face almost unrecognizable" (182). In Peter's eyes, Lilith is an enemy. The inter-species, human-to-human "recognition" that one would expect between humans thousands of miles away from Earth is completely gone.

While Lilith is the protagonist of Dawn, we should be careful not to completely trust her and her motivations at this point in the novel. Remember that she has been genetically modified by the Oankali. They have changed her brain chemistry, so that she can understand Oankali language, and have also changed her physical strength and skin chemistry, so that she can manipulate the ship. She has also mated with Nikanj and now feels eager to experience that sensation again. On top of that, two years have passed since the novel's opening. Lilith has had time to get to know the Oankali, begin to understand the way that they think, and adopt those thought processes as her own. Notably, some of Lilith's behavior in the second half of "Nursery" models how the Oankali have behaved earlier in the novel. For example, when Joseph is upset about having sexual intercourse with Nikanj, Lilith silently waits in his room for him to come around—just how Jdhaya waited for Lilith to grow accustomed to his presence in her cell in "Womb." Later, Lilith notes that she "matched" Celene and Curt together "as well as Nikanj had matched her with Joseph" (172).

Lilith's behaviors and abilities cause her to stand apart from her peers. While they cannot find their bearings in the featureless arena they are all living in, Lilith effortlessly remembers where the pantry is hiding: "Lilith had at first been surprised by her own ability to locate each one easily and exactly. Once she found them the first time she remembered their distance from floor and ceiling, from right and left walls" (173). Lilith's peers are not excited about her ability to do this: "Some people, since they could not do this themselves, found the ability suspicious" (173). Throughout "Nursery," as Lilith fields off violent attacks and intervenes when others are physically fighting or trying to cause each other harm, her strength often gets away from her. She does not intend to bruise up Jean's face or break Peter's arm. Along with being shocking to Lilith herself, her strength is so shocking to the other humans that even her allies are wary of her after: "Lilith looked at each of Peter's people, daring them to attack, almost wanting them to attack. But now five of them were injured, and Lilith was untouched. Even her own people stood back from her" (178). This passage underscores a central conflict throughout the second part of "Nursery": the humans seem to have an innate impulse to organize into "us" vs "them," and Lilith has become one of the "them." The others' emotional response to Lilith comes from their primal fear of difference. It is this same fear that causes Joseph to be repulsed by Nikanj. Joseph muses, "'I don't understand why the sight of you should scare me so. . . You don't look threatening. Just . . . very different'" (186). Nikanj responds, "difference is threatening to most species. . . Different is dangerous. It might kill you. That was true to your nearest animal relatives. And it's true for you'" (186). According to Nikanj, the humans' distrust of Lilith is instinctive—an evolutionary adaption meant to keep the species safe from threat.

It is clear to everyone that Lilith holds inordinate power over the group. She is stronger than anyone else and she has valuable knowledge about the Oankali. Without Lilith, the other humans are helpless. They distrust her and are unsure which side she is on. It doesn't help that Lilith's message is one of cooperation—if the Oankali were sending someone to work on their behalf, that person might say the same things that Lilith does. Lilith is met with constant hostility because of her position throughout the second part of "Nursery." For example, Peter suggests that the humans cannot access the food in order to keep them from hurting Lilith: "'If you ask me, the walls are fixed that way to keep us from thinking about what we ought to do to our jailor'" (166). Lilith notices that no one stands up for her in this moment: "Lilith waited, wondering whether anyone would defend her. No one did, though silence spread to other groups" (166). Lilith has become the mouthpiece of the Oankali, even if she is also a prisoner herself. For many, she is the enemy. Her position and safety within the group are at risk. As a result, she sees herself as having only two choices: "she would organize the humans into a coherent unit or she would serve as a scapegoat for whoever else organized them" (175).

Luckily for Lilith, she has her own group of allies, including Tate, Gabriel, and Joseph. Lilith finds joy and solidarity in these people, especially as she develops a romantic connection with Joseph. Lilith is frustrated by the separation into two different clans, comparing it to the global discord on Earth before the nuclear war: "'So stupid, isn't it. It's like 'Let's play Americans against the Russians. Again'" (175). Nevertheless, these groupings are not arbitrary. They are miniature governments, concentrations of power. Each group has a different opinion as to what should be done about the Oankali problem: "People who favored action sided with Peter. People like Leah and Wray, Tate and Gabriel who were biding their time, waiting for more information or a real chance to escape sided with Lilith" (176). Lilith begins suppressing Peter's group's power wherever she can. She allows only her group to Awaken new people, so that the newly-Awakened people are more likely to side with her: "when she Awakened ten more people, she used only her recruits to help them. Peter's people were reduced to heckling and jeering. The new people saw them first as troublemakers" (176).

By the end of "Nursery," it is clear that Lilith has changed. What remains to be seen is whether the others will change as well. Already, the Oankali have entered the room and begun to mate with the humans. Peter cannot handle that kind of experience and lashes out against his ooloi, causing the ooloi to sting and kill him. Jean, who is distraught, rejects the humans who offer her comfort. Lilith watches as she finds comfort in her ooloi's mates instead: "Lilith watched sadly, knowing that the first signals Jean received were olfactory. The male and female smelled good, smelled like family, all brought together by the same ooloi. When they took her hands, they felt right. There was a real chemical affinity" (196). This "chemical affinity" suggests that Jean has already been fundamentally altered: something about her body chemistry has caused her peers now to smell like "other" and the Oankali to smell like home. The humans watch this unfold in stunned silence: "No words had been spoken. Strangers of a different species had been accepted as family. A human friend and ally had been rejected" (196). Joseph understands the implications of this encounter. The humans aboard the ship will not be returning to Earth the same beings that left it. Instead, they will be "not human," and their wants and needs will change (196).

The theme of consent also appears in the second half of "Nursery." There are several instances of violence in these pages. Notably, there are three instances of gender-based violence that mirror the scene with Paul Titus in "Family." First, a man that Leah Awakens attempts to assault her: "Leah's charge, a small blond man, grabbed her, hung on, and might have raped her if he had been bigger or she smaller" (171). Later, a newly-Awakened woman, Allison, is almost sexually assaulted by Peter and another man, Gregory: "She screamed Lilith's name when Peter and the new man, Gregory Sebastes, stopped arguing with her and decided to drag her off to Gregory's room" (176). Lilith is extremely angry and ends up breaking Peter's arm. She sets some ground rules for how the humans will treat each other: "'There'll be no rape here. . . Nobody here is property. Nobody here has the right to the use of anybody else's body. . . We stay human. We treat each other like people, we get through this like people'" (178). This passage is significant for two reasons. First, this is the first rule that humanity has established since the nuclear war. As they try to rebuild their society, however small that may be, they need to come up with alternative ways of being that will not lead them down the same path that led to mass death and destruction in the first place. Second, Lilith encourages everyone to "stay human," unaware or blind to the genetic changes that are occurring within her. Whatever she is, she is no longer the same human that existed on Earth. And neither are any of the others.

For the first time in the novel, we see the humans—notably, Lilith and Joseph—have sex with the Oankali. To have intercourse with humans, the Oankali insert their tentacles into the humans' nervous system and cause a "neural simulation" (169). This experience is highly pleasurable to humans. It is compared to a drug multiple times in these pages, first by Joseph: "'If a thing like that could be bottled, it would have out sold any illegal drug on the market'" (170). Despite the pleasure that Joseph experiences, however, he is adamant that he does not want to have sex with Nikanj again. He protests when Nikanj makes sexual advances. While Nikanj assures Joseph that he has a choice in the matter, it continues with the sexual intercourse despite the fact that Joseph says no. It tells Joseph, "'Your body has made a different choice'" (189). Again, Joseph asserts that he has chosen and does not want to do this with Nikanj. Nikanj reiterates, "'Your body said one thing. Your words said another'" (190). This is a clear example of sexual assault, as Joseph never consents to have sex with Nikanj. Nikanj proceeds to do whatever it wants with Joseph's body, telling Joseph to "'be grateful'" all the while (190). Even Lilith is complicit in this assault. She muses, as Nikanj convinces Joseph to relax, that Joseph "was ready to accept what he had wanted from the beginning"—ignoring her declarations from just a few pages earlier that there would be no rape in their new society.