Monday, June 30, 2014

The Human Contradiction in Octavia Butler’s Adulthood Rites

By Briana Whiteside

In the second book of the Xenogenesis series, Adulthood Rites (1988), Butler continues to question and critique social hierarchies. In this text, she focuses on what she calls “The Human Contradiction”-- a belief that intelligence and hierarchical behavior cannot coexist.

Adulthood Rites is the sequel to Dawn and follows Lilith’s construct son—a boy born of a human mother but fathered by an Ooloi creature and a human father—Akin and his quest to restore an independent human race on Mars. However, “the Human Contradiction held them. Intelligence at the service of hierarchical behavior.”

Ultimately, the contradiction hindered humans from being free. The Oankali aliens prevented humans from having children amongst themselves for fear that they would destroy themselves again. Butler writes, to give humans another chance at procreation “would be like breeding intelligent beings for the sole purpose of having them kill one another…Human purpose isn’t what you say it is, it’s what your biology says it is—what your genes say it is.”

Adulthood Rites displays possible outcomes for humans once intelligence and hierarchy are out of balance. Butler writes, that “intelligence and hierarchical behavior” is “fascinating, seductive, and lethal.” It can wipe out an entire race of people if we aren’t careful.

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student  at the University of Alabama and a contributing writer for the Cultural Front.  

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