Dawn Summary and Analysis of "The Training Floor"


In "The Training Floor," the humans are released from the original holding room and taken to a forest on an island. The forest looks so much like vegetation on Earth that many find it hard to believe that they are still aboard the Oankali ship. Here, the humans are supposed to work together to survive and become self-sustaining. They are training for when the Oankali bring them back to Earth, where they will be tasked with rebuilding civilization.

By the time "The Training Floor" begins, the humans are getting along better. Most of the humans are acclimating to their new situation, and only two people, Curt and Gabriel, were still under the influence of Oankali drugs. The Oankali release the humans to the forest without any tools, wanting them to first get used to their surroundings. Nikanj tells Lilith that the Oankali are waiting for the humans to learn that it is not "shameful" to "be together" with their mates and the ooloi (200). Lilith asks Nikanj what will happen to those who do not adapt, and Nikanj responds that they will be taken back to Earth with the others. It said that each human is precious and the Oankali don't want to "give up" on any of them (201). When the Oankali give the humans tools—including machetes—Lilith tries to persuade Curt into cooperating with everyone else. Curt's ooloi, Yahjahyi, is convinced that Curt will not lash out and is under control. Gabriel, on the other hand, thinks that Curt will react like Peter, since being with the ooloi is emasculating. Gabriel tells Lilith that he feels the same way, but he won't "take the next step" until he knows where they are (203). Curt, like others, is convinced that they are no longer aboard the Oankali ship and have actually been transported back to Earth.

Lilith teaches the others survival skills, such as how to build shelter. Soon, the humans begin planting their own crops. One day, a man and a woman disappear into the forest with weapons, and the Oankali decide not to pay any attention to their disappearance. Nikanj tells Lilith and Joseph that they are being watched and will be helped if they are in danger. The ooloi mate that the man and woman left behind begins showing signs of extreme discomfort. The ooloi's Oankali mates arrive to help the hurting ooloi. Lilith wonders how many more people will wander off into the forest on their own. She begins to wonder if the suspicions are correct and they actually are on Earth. It does not seem plausible, however, based on the Oankali plan. One day, Tate approaches Lilith and tells her that Curt and Celene are gone. She also tells Lilith that she, Gabriel, and a group of four others are planning on leaving the next morning. They want to cross the river and travel south. Lilith says that if she and Joseph do decide to join them, they will meet them beneath the breadnut tree the next morning.

Lilith does not know how many Oankali heard her exchange with Tate, but she does know that Nikanj will know in seconds. She thinks that this will give it enough time to call for Ahajas and Dichaan to help ease some of the discomfort following her and Joseph's departure. Joseph comes to talk to Lilith, and Lilith asks if he would leave without her. Joseph asks Lilith why she would stay. Lilith says that she'd stay because she knows that they are on a ship; Joseph responds that he needs to find that out for himself. She agrees to go. The next morning, Lilith and Joseph wait for a while beneath the breadnut tree and no one shows up. Lilith thinks that they are waiting to see if she is being followed by the Oankali. Eventually, Gabriel, Tate, Leah, Wray, and Allison appear, and they all head off together. They head upriver, away from camp, occasionally cutting their way through brush. The atmosphere is tense, and when Lilith steps aside to relieve herself, all eyes are on her. She asks them what is going on. Gabriel said that they are scared, and Lilith is receiving the brunt of their feelings because she is "different" (214). Joseph stands up for Lilith.

Lilith says that she thinks that wandering off into the forest are the humans' "final tests" and that the Oankali actually intend for them to do so to see how well their survival skills have developed (214). She also re-asserts that they are all aboard a ship, though she is the only person that thinks so. Leah asks why Lilith joined them if she is so sure she is aboard the ship, and Joseph says that she is there because he wants her there. Lilith says that if this is a test, she has already passed hers. As they keep walking, however, Lilith feels more and more doubt. The environment surrounding them is lifelike and complex. At a certain point, Lilith says that they should stop for the night and build shelter. She also says that they should start building a boat. Gabriel pushes back against Lilith's commands and says that she was not invited along to boss everyone around. Lilith responded that she was invited along because she has knowledge that they need to survive. She convinces the group to start building shelter and tells them how. Then she promises that she will help find the group of the other people who have already left camp, since she cannot get lost in the woods. The group builds a shelter and eats a meal of yams and corn. Leah and Wray say that they are going to try to fish the next day, and they briefly touch each other's hands but then pull away quickly. Later, Lilith tries to touch Joseph but they both recoil. They feel "wrong" and "oddly repellant" to each other (219). Lilith wonders if the ooloi caused this revulsion, since they prefer that men and women do not touch during sexual intercourse.

The next morning, Curt and the others find the newcomers' shelter. When Lilith makes eye contact with Curt, he hits her on the side of her head with the flat of his machete. She loses consciousness, and when she wakes up, she sees that they have abandoned her. She tries to track their footprints, but she eventually gets stuck. Lilith is extremely worried about Joseph, knowing that he wouldn't have let them desert her if he were OK. Lilith decides to turn back to the camp and ask for help from the Oankali. Before she gets there, however, several ooloi emerge from the river, including Nikanj and Kahguyaht. She follows the ooloi and they come upon a fallen tree. On the other side of the tree is Joseph's dead body. He has been killed by an axe. Lilith asked who did it, and Nikanj responded that it was their fault. They had carried an injured Joseph away from Lilith, but his injuries healed very quickly. Curt thought that he was not human and attacked him.

Lilith sits for a while, caught up in her despair. Eventually, Nikanj tries to get Lilith to move, but she wants to give Joseph a proper burial. Nikanj offers to have Joseph's body transported to Earth so that he can be buried there, and Lilith agrees. Nikanj touches Lilith, and at first Lilith pulls away. It tells her that it wants to feel what Lilith feels. Lilith says that she wants the same, but Nikanj says that its feelings are too complex for her to understand. She asks it to try to make her understand. Nikanj places a sensory arm on her and gives her a "new color"—a completely new experience unlike anything she's felt before, a "sensuous promise" (225). Suddenly, Nikanj cuts the feeling off, leaving nothing but deadness behind. It tells her that that's how it feels. She understands and gives it a hug. The ooloi and Lilith arrive at Curt's camp, where the humans were waiting angrily, with weapons in their hands. Curt told them that they were trespassing a "human place," looking pointedly at Lilith (227). Lilith feels intense hatred towards Curt, and Nikanj consoles her that he will not be returning to Earth. Meanwhile, Tate is talking to Kahguyaht and telling it to leave. Kahguyaht tells the group that if they use their machete on anyone, they will never see Earth. Instead, they will be placed with Toaht families and live the rest of their lives aboard the ship. Allison's ooloi is able to convince her to join the other side.

Fighting breaks out between the ooloi and the humans. A man cuts an ooloi with his machete, causing the ooloi to sting the man and the woman with him. Lilith talks to the injured ooloi, offering help. The ooloi says that it is surprised that humans would be willing to go this far; Lilith responds that it should have known. The ooloi tells Lilith that she's the only human that could actually kill an ooloi. Lilith responds that she does not want to. Nikanj falls to the ground, and Kahguyaht takes down Curt—the last human to fall. Once the fighting is over, Lilith runs to Nikanj and sees that its left sensory arm has almost been completely cut off. Kahguyaht tells Lilith to get completely undressed and hold Nikanj's arm in place in order to help it heal. Nikanj inserts tentacles into her body and for the first time it hurts, like needles poking into her skin. Ahajas and Dichaan take care of Lilith as she tries to heal Nikanj, feeding her food and water. Lilith holds on to Nikanj's arm until clear liquid stops seeping from the wound.

Nikanj's arm is not completely healed but it looks mostly like a flesh wound now. Nikanj tells Lilith that the others have been shown the wall and will be taken down to Earth soon. Lilith tells Nikanj that the Oankali should show the humans proof they are on a ship as soon as they are Awakened. She and Nikanj walk back towards the main settlement. Nikanj tells Lilith that no one has ever healed an ooloi as quickly or completely as Lilith has healed Nikanj. Nikanj tells Lilith that her cells knew how to cause new growths due to her family's genetic history of cancer. In this case, Lilith's cells told Nikanj's cells how to regenerate his arm. Nikanj tells Lilith that Curt's cells have the same properties and the Oankali will use his body for research. Ahajas says that if Nikanj had lost its arm, it wouldn't have gone to Earth because he would no longer be able to produce children.

Back at the settlement, Lilith finds Leah, Wray, Gabriel, and Tate. They give her food to eat, including fish that Wray had caught earlier that day. Gabriel accuses Lilith of standing with the Oankali during the fight, and Lilith accuses Gabriel and the others of just standing there while Curt killed Joseph. Gabriel asks Lilith why she didn't just let Nikanj die from its injuries. Lilith responds that she would be placed with another ooloi who she does not know as well. Gabriel says that Lilith's responses never quite ring true, and Tate and Gabriel try to hold hands but are too repulsed. Lilith suggests that Gabriel ask Kahguyaht about the repulsion, but Gabriel says that he doesn't want to see it ever again. Lilith accuses Gabriel of lying, saying that isn't true—Gabriel has a soft spot for Kahguyaht, the same way Lilith has a soft spot for Nikanj. Gabriel gets angry and calls Lilith Nikanj's "whore" (240). Kahguyaht tells Lilith that the disagreement was avoidable, but Lilith tells it that she is tired and will no longer be a scapegoat for the Oankali. People avoid Lilith, and she spends her time working on her survival skills.

Lilith spends most of her time with Nikanj. She sleeps with it and its mates every night and Nikanj pleasures her. One day, she realizes that she can touch a man's hand without feeling repulsed. She asks Nikanj if it is trying to get her to mate with someone else. Nikanj tells her that it is her choice whether or not she chooses another mate, but it wanted her to have the choice. Lilith spends the day by herself in the forest. She returns to the settlement when it is already dark and sees that there is only one fire. Nikanj is alone in front of it. Nikanj tells Lilith that the other humans have been sent to Earth, but it kept her back "'to save her life'" (243). The ooloi heard threats against Lilith and were worried that she would end up like Joseph. Lilith asks if she will ever be allowed to return to Earth. Nikanj responds that the others will escape the Oankali as soon as they arrive on Earth. The Oankali will allow them to escape and tell them that they will be allowed to return whenever they like. Nikanj says that all of the humans "must" eventually come back (245). Nikanj tells her that the humans are now infertile: "'They need us now. They won't have children without us. Human sperm and egg will not unite without us'" (245). Lilith tells Nikanj that the Oankali should not tell the humans that they are allowed to return, as those who do will be seen as betraying humanity. Nikanj then reveals to Lilith that she is pregnant with Joseph's child. Lilith is shocked and sickened at the thought of an alien growing inside of her. Nikanj tells Lilith that their children will be better than either humanity or the Oankali race. Lilith says they won't be human. Nikanj tells her that they have work to do aboard the ship; they will make it to Earth with their children in tow. Lilith prepares herself to Awaken a new group of humans and knows that she will never be one of them. However, she will give them the most important lesson: "Learn and run!" (248). She hopes that maybe a few fertile people will break through and humanity will have a fighting chance.


In "The Training Floor," Lilith and the other humans prepare to return to Earth in a training room that simulates a forest on Earth aboard the Oankali ship. The opening paragraph of "The Training Floor" offers vivid descriptions of this environment: "The training room was brown and green and blue. . . The water was too laden with sediment to appear blue, though above it, the ceiling—the sky—was a deep, intense blue. There was no smoke, no smog, only a few clouds—remnants of a recent rain" (199). The description of the training room ceiling in this passage describes the complexity of the illusion the Oankali have created. The lines between the Oankali-created environment and an environment on Earth are blurred, particularly when it comes to the sky, which does not seem artificial in this scene or in later ones. It is vast, colorful, and always changing like it is on Earth. In fact, it is the sky that makes Joseph want to join the group of people who leave the settlement. Lilith tries to convince him that they are still aboard the ship. She tells him, "'And in spite of what we see on what seems to be the other side, I believe we'll find a wall over there.'" Joseph responds, '"In spite of the sun, the moon and the stars? In spite of the rain and the trees that have obviously been here for hundreds of years?'" (209). The elements around Joseph are so complex and large that it is incomprehensible to him that the Oankali would be able to artificially engineer them.

Throughout "The Training Floor," every human other than Lilith—including Lilith's allies in "Nursery"—believes that they are on Earth. They do not trust the Oankali—or Lilith—to tell the truth. Instead, they prefer to listen to their senses. Joseph calls upon the sensory experience of being in the training room when trying to convince her to leave with the others. He tells Lilith, "'this feels like home. Even though I've never been in a tropical forest before in my life, but this smells and tastes and looks like home'" (211). Joseph's focus on what he "feels," "smells," "tastes," and sees demonstrates why it would be so hard for the humans to believe what Lilith is telling them. The very receptors that we use to take in information about the world—our senses—are being played within this Oankali illusion.

Another reason that the humans do not want to believe that they are still on the ship is because they do not trust Lilith. In "Nursery," Lilith received hostility from the others because of her special abilities and privileged knowledge about the Oankali. In the training room, this hostility becomes even more aggressive as they become more and more convinced that Lilith is one of "them." After Lilith joins the group of defectors and tries to convince them, again, that they are still aboard the ship, Allison suggests that Lilith has been brainwashed by the Oankali. She says, "'Lilith knows this is a ship no matter what the truth is. So what's she doing here?" (215). In this passage, Allison is suggesting that Lilith's "knowledge" is not true knowledge of the truth and instead is just a regurgitation of whatever the Oankali feed her. The tension surrounding Lilith is palpable. She acts alone as an individual while the humans form a collective around her, pushing back against her presence among them. For example, she can read from the group's body language that they have been talking about her after she returns from going to the bathroom: "Lilith went aside to relieve herself and when she stepped clear of the tree that had concealed her, every eye was on her. Then abruptly everyone found something else to notice—one another, a tree, a piece of food, their fingernails" (214).

Lilith does not see herself as necessarily in conflict with the others. She is still just trying to teach them the survival skills they will need on Earth and smooth their interactions with the Oankali so that everyone survives. However, the humans see it differently. They see her as a mouthpiece for the Oankali, someone who is trying to lead them into destruction. Lilith picks up on this while talking to Gabe. She notes, "[p]robably in his mind he was in some kind of struggle with her. He wanted to lead and she did not—yet she had to" (217). Lilith "has to" lead the other humans because the Oankali gave her much-needed knowledge on how to survive in the forest. She tells Gabe, "'[y]ou brought me along because I have knowledge you didn't have'" (217). Part of the reason Lilith has this knowledge is because the Oankali improved her memory, which means she can't get lost in the forest. However, she knows that she cannot reveal to them that this is an Oankali-given skill: "She had never told them why she had an eidetic memory. Every Oankali change she had told them about diminished her credibility with them" (218). Throughout this final part of the novel, Lilith is in an impossible situation. She feels allied with and wants to help a group of humans who hate her. She has bonded with a group of aliens which causes her to be even more separate from those she wants to help.

Part of the reason why the humans are aggressive towards Lilith is because she is different. As Nikanj argues in "Nursery," humans instinctively react against difference in an evolutionary drive to protect themselves from threats (see "Summary and Analysis of 'Nursery' Part 2" and page 186 of the novel). People see her as too close to the aliens, making her seem alien herself. Gabe recognizes that this is not completely fair. He tells Lilith, "'[y]ou shouldn't have to take the brunt of our feelings, but . . . but you're the different one. Nobody knows how different'" (214). Ultimately, the humans' fear of Lilith's difference leads to violence. Curt hits Lilith on the side of the head with a machete, leaving her unconscious. When she wakes up, Joseph has been killed because they saw his body heal more quickly than should be possible. Nikanj tells Lilith that Joseph's death ia their fault: "'We wanted to keep him safe, you and I. He was slightly injured and unconscious when they took him away. . . But his injuries healed. Curt saw the flesh healing. He believed Joe wasn't human'" (223). Lilith finds this last act of violence incomprehensible: "'I'm more different than he was,' she whispered. 'Why didn't Curt kill me?'" (223). In this passage, Lilith draws a direct link between difference and violence. She does not think it is fair that Joseph would at the receiving end of such violence since he is "less different" than she.

The humans were brought to the training room in order to adapt to the new Earth that they soon will encounter. This is an Earth that suffered a nuclear war and has been without human beings on its surface in 250 years. The humans will likely find dense vegetation and a climate that is much different than the one they left. Nikanj tells Lilith that this is the purpose of the training room: "'There's no way out for them except the way we offer: to learn to feed and shelter themselves in this environment—to become self-sustaining. When they've done that, we'll take them to Earth and let them go'" (200). In fact, the humans' departure from the settlement is a test of their survival skills. The Oankali know that they will escape and are waiting to see how they fare. Under this understanding, some humans adapt to their new circumstances better than others. Nikanj assures Lilith that every human—including those who "can't adapt"—will be brought back to Earth as long as they are not violent (201).

Curt throws a wrench in this plan. He is simply unable to submit to Oankali demands, especially when it comes to mating with the ooloi. He feels angry and trapped; this causes him to lash out violently against Lilith and Joseph. Before the violence, Gabe explains how Curt is feeling to Lilith: "'Look at things from Curt's point of view. . . He's not in control even of what his own body does and feels. He's taken like a woman and . . . Someone else is pushing his buttons. He can't let them get away with that'" (203). Curt's anger at being "taken like a woman" by the Oankali suggests that the Oankali treat the humans the way that men treat women on Earth. Certainly, this is true within the novel—throughout Dawn, the women have to fight back against attempted sexual assaults. Meanwhile, the Oankali mate with the humans with little regard for the notion of consent. And, in the same way that sexual activity comes with stigma for women in our society, sex with the Oankali also cause stigma aboard the ship. Gabe fights with Lilith near the end of the novel, insulting her for her sexual relations with Nikanj: "'Strip and screw your Nikanj right here for everyone to see, why don't you. We know you're their whore! Everybody here knows!'" (240). Gabe's characterization of Lilith as the Oankali's "whore" does not account for the fact that, like every other human, she is powerless to refuse them.

In "The Training Floor," the Oankali's power becomes even more salient. Lilith knows that they are watching the humans' every move and she is almost paranoid about how much they hear and see. Nikanj tells Lilith that the escaped humans are "'being watched,'" and Lilith knows that the Oankali will intervene if violence breaks out but not before then (205). Lilith is also the only human that knows the extent of the Oankali powers of observation. She notes that they see her hiding in a tree from several feet away: "From the tree, she saw two Oankali come out of the water. . . Both focused on her for a moment, then headed inland toward the settlement. She had watched them in utter silence, but they had known she was there" (206). When Lilith talks to the others about leaving the camp, she does not bother to hide her plans from the Oankali, knowing that it is impossible: "How many Oankali had heard the exchange? One? A few? All of them? No matter. Nikanj would know in minutes" (210). The wide-reaching surveillance of the Oankali on the humans is an extension of their incredible power aboard the ship. They have subjugated the humans completely, and the humans play directly into their plan. Part of this subjugation is psychological, as Lilith learns that there is no true escape from the Oankali as long as they can hear her every word and see her every move.

At this point in the novel, Lilith's relationship with Nikanj has deepened, having experienced the "threefold unity" between herself, Joseph, and the ooloi (230). Nikanj's attitude toward Lilith also changes. Whereas in "Family," Lilith was more one of Nikanj's peers and was given a choice in many decisions (Nikanj waited for Lilith to choose, for example, to allow it to operate on her brain), Nikanj sees itself as "owning" Lilith and her body at this point in the novel. For Nikanj, Lilith's body is "its business," and it seems to know more about what is going on with her she does herself (202). Lilith now carries Nikanj's particular scent, its "chemical marker" that marks her as Nikanj's mate for the rest of the world (206). The other humans carry their ooloi's scent as well. Because Nikanj feels as if it owns Lilith, it uses her body to its own discretion. When it is injured, it uses her to heal. Lilith describes the sensation: "It was like being abruptly used as a pincushion" (232). She later tells Gabe, "'I let it use my body to heal itself'" (239). Most notably, Nikanj impregnates Lilith without her consent or knowledge. Lilith is distraught and disgusted. She feels alienated from her body and "stare[s] down at her own body in horror" (246). Her choice has been completely taken out of the equation. Many scholars believe that, because of the Oankali's use of the humans' bodies for their own needs with little regard to consent, Dawn is an allegory for slavery. Through this lens, Lilith's pregnancy is an allegory for coerced miscegenation, in which slave owners sexually assaulted their female slaves and forced them to carry their offspring. In the novel, Lilith likens the Oankali "ownership" of the humans to slavery: "Now it was time for them to begin planting their own crops. And, perhaps, now it was time for the Oankali to begin to see what they could harvest in their human crop" (205). Her use of "human crop" in this language evokes the antebellum period in the United States, in which slaves were forced to work on plantations and to endure brutal violence.

"The Training Floor" ends with a bleak picture of the future. Lilith now understands that the Oankali are intending to create a new race of half-human, half-Oankali beings that will kill off the human race for good. Nikanj reveals to Lilith in the last pages that humans do not have the chance to reproduce without the Oankali: "'They won't have children without us. Human sperm and egg will not unite without us'" (245). Even if they could reproduce, they likely would not want to, since human lovers are unable to touch each other without feeling repulsion after mating with the ooloi. The humans will be taken to Earth, where they will likely try to escape. However, the Oankali will believe that many will return because of the biological drive to further the species. Lilith knows that this means the final extinction of the human race. Nikanj also tells her that she will not be allowed to return to Earth with this group of humans and instead must stay on the ship to Awaken a new group. She resolves herself to do all she can to fight back: teach the Awakened humans how to survive in their new world and encourage them to run.