Tag: Protected Books | Octavia Butler

Loss of Control in Dawn from Octavia Butler

Octavia E. Butler is justifiably considered one of the finest American writers. Dawn was published in 1987. Dawn is the first book in the Xenogenesis or Lilith’s Brood series. This book contains the threads of Butler’s science fiction themes. Relations between genders, aliens versus humans, the future of earth as dystopia or utopia. I want to address the aspect of control and free will in this story.

The book, Dawn, can be a vehicle to discuss issues of mind control. In the book, physical restraint is used on captives to make them amenable to persuasion. Lilith, our protagonist, is held in inescapable prison rooms on an alien spaceship.  If she does not choose to cooperate with the aliens, she will be put back into suspended animation. That was the penalty for previous failures of her ability to help the aliens.

In the story, Lilith wakes in a mysterious room after humans have made the earth uninhabitable. It turns out aliens have come and rescued a number of survivors from the planet and held them in sleep states while they take hundreds of years to restore Earth to a livable state. Lilith is quick to ask the aliens what they want in return for their altruism. The aliens believe their demands are reasonable, but some humans will be unwilling to accept the request.

I see evidence, in this story, of one of the oldest and simplest forms of mind control. The aliens are in total control of all aspects of the captives’ lives. They control the rooms where Lilith and the other humans can move in. They control the access to food and other resources. And the aliens hold an overwhelming trump over each human. If the human does not measure up, they will be put back into suspended animation. To be awoken only, if ever, when the aliens decide to give them another chance to cooperate.

We see Lilith plan resistance when the story starts. Over time we see a change, as she loses her loyalty to humans and bonds more with the aliens. This is not an unfamiliar pattern.  Similar behavior can fit into a behavior labeled Stockholm Syndrome. This is said to occur when a victim develops close emotional ties to an abuser who is in control. Lilith begins the story seeking to defend herself from rape and rescue other human females who are attacked. Later in the story, she assists the aliens in raping human males.

Dawn addresses question of alienation, loneliness, masculinity, female power, racism, sexism, and difficulties in healthy group cooperation. Taken with other Octavia Butler stories, it appears that particular issues are of very high importance to the author. It is an interesting topic, how humanity could be “rescued” and reshaped by aliens. While I found the book to be an unpleasant challenge to read, I admit that some fascinating issues were introduced. One issue involves several different brands of coercion.  Lilith and the humans are physically controlled, chemically drugged, and threatened with punishment. Mind control can be enacted utilizing each of these approaches.

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