Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Ryan Cooley
October 29, 2014
Seminar in Composition
Adam Johns

Oankali Trade
              Trade has been a foundation of human civilization since the origin of the word. It is everywhere trade is what keeps all societies and economies in our world bonded together. In the first story of Lilith’s Brood, “Dawn,” by Olivia E. Butler, the Oankali race, like humanity, lives around a trading system. Though as an advanced alien race with no home world they take part in a much different trade and money for food, to name an example. The Oankali live to seek out new species, like humans, who need help to give and in return for rebooting said civilization the Oankali take knowledge. In the case of humanity, the Oankali are interested in our genetic makeup and forms of cancer.
              Both, we and the Oankali have the same basic application of trade down, give up something to gain another, whether we deem it equal or not. It seems as long as the Oankali can even remember they have been world hopping in hopes to find things that provide use to them. Clearly, they are quite the gentlemanly race because they are willing to spend hundreds of years just on Earth to restore some population and life back onto the planet. In fact, it seems that what they can find may have no limits and be quite fascinating all at the same time, as Jdahya claims “[Cancer] suggest abilities we have never been able to trade for” and “the ooloi see great potential in it” (40, Butler).  In all of their time traveling the stars the idea that something like cancer is so unique and valuable is extravagant. Jdahya explains that the ooloi can use cancer as a regeneration tool, quite frankly harnessing power like that is worth quite a bit.  I find the Oankali movement to be a noble and most interesting of one. Traveling the cosmos and collecting vast knowledge is always a fascinating dream that is shared by humans too.
              How should we react as humans to what the Oankali are offering us? It seems almost irresistible – give us back our planet and take away such a horrible disease. That is a winning outcome to such a terrible scenario (what the war did to the earth). This offer is so much so a win for humanity on the surface that Lilith straight up says “you’re welcome to [cancer]” (40, Butler). But, throughout our own history, we have been taught that most are not to be trusted because contracts are never this simple. This is where I feel connections with Lilith because in situations where she discovers her purpose among the Oankali like reproduction and teaching, her reactions are the same as ones I would have in that situation. Her goal is to get home but she has to be a lab rat to the ooloi. I would go as far as to compare the book to a contract because the more I read, the more I figure out what the Oankali really want and sometimes I just do not agree but at the same time, they are restoring a planet, so…how does one choose?

               Trade seems to be the only thing that unifies humanity as a whole and for scientific purposes trade like the Oankali embark on may spark the minds of our scientists too. But, should we aspire to do it? Trading genetics for genetics or in other words life for life seems very far away from where we are today and on the surface it seems like a logical idea to pursue in the interest of survival, becoming the fittest race. But there is two sides to every coin, life for life may turn out to be a deal with the devil. But, that may just be another piece of science fiction for another day. 

Works Cited:
Butler, Octavia E. Lilith's Brood. New York: Aspect/Warner, 2000. Print.

1 comment:

  1. “Trade has been a foundation of human civilization since the origin of the word.” -- this is the sort of easy generalization that gets people in trouble. What do you know, for instance, about how trade worked in ancient Sumer and Egypt, for instance? I think your “fact” is actually something that we don’t know terribly much about. (There *was* trade - in that you’re right. But what role did it have? That’s far less clear.)

    The Oankali, of course, aren’t just interested in knowledge. They’re also interested in reproducing *with* humans.

    “Clearly, they are quite the gentlemanly race because they are willing to spend hundreds of years just on Earth to restore some population and life back onto the planet. “ -- you don’t need to read very far to know that this is a drastic oversimplification. Early on, Lilith begins to ask what the price is, and the high, difficult price for their “services” is important almost from the start.

    Regardless of how far you actually read, it *seems* like you didn’t read very much past page 40, and that you even missed some important things before that point. What does it mean to understand the Oankali as traders, when “trade” includes reproduction? Why don’t you say anything about the complex price they demand? What about the role of coercion? None of the relevant complexities of the novel show up on the page here.


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