Dawn, Octavia E. Butler

February 17, 2010 scitina
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  I think there are many similarities that can be made when comparing Octavia Butler’s novel Dawn and Marge Piercy’s novel Woman on the Edge of Time. Elements of gender and language are repeated themes between the two novels. The main character in Dawn, Lilith, is confused of her whereabouts and the time period she is now in. She is held captive by these alien figures that repeatedly ask her questions without ever uncovering their motives. When she is removed from isolation and a “man” enters her room to begin explaining her situation we, the reader, start to see the parallels of language and gender standards between the two novels.

In Woman on the Edge of Time language can either be oppressive or freeing. Words are made up or eliminated all together and replaced with an all-encompassing word. For example any pronouns such as his/her was replaced with “per” eventually understood as person. In Dawn when Lilith meets Jdahya she asks him, “What his people call themselves?” On page 23 he answers, “We are Oankali.” She replies, “Sounds like a word in some Earth language.” He responds, “It may be, but with different meaning.” Finally she says, “What does it mean in your language.” This dialogue portrays the differences in language developed by the author between Lilith and Jdahya, yet they can understand each other. In both novels the language between the two different worlds are different but communication is still achievable.

Along with language, gender norms are also similar between the novels. “Lilith states I glanced at the humanoid body, wondering how human like it really was. I don’t mean any offense, but are you male or female.” (page 13) Jdahya responds that it is wrong for her to assume that he is a sex that she would be familiar with. It happens that he is make, but a character discussed later in the story is never given a specific gender and is referred to as “it”. The same assumptions are made by Connie when she comes into contact with Luciente from Mattapoisett. The gender norms of their society are completely different from anything the human population is used to. In both Dawn and Woman on the Edge of Time gender is varied between present and future societies as well as language.


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  • 1. gamble.81  |  February 23, 2010 at 11:06 pm

    I enjoyed your blog and I too compared this novel with other works we read in class. When reading Dawn, I kept thinking about its similarities with Butler’s other work “The Evening and the Morning and the Night”. Both the main characters are strong females. These main characters are both trapped in the beginning of these stories. Lilith is trapped in her cage like cell where the Oankali put her. Lynn is trapped with a disease that she can not escape and defines her as a person. Both characters link out to other humans in similar situations in order to feel fully human.

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