All citations are to Octavia Butler. “Bloodchild.” Bloodchild and Other Stories, 2nd ed. Toronto: Seven Stories, 2005. 1-29.
Wake-Up Call, by Paula McLean © 2015
Set in a futuristic universe, where alien-like creatures depend on humans (mostly males) to produce their young, “Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler explores hard feminist themes such as the reversal of gender roles, along with ideas of free will and choice in the face of a society that maps out the fates of human lives before they are even born.
This story has the possibility of being read through a feminist lens, since the human males are ultimately the ones chosen to be the “host” in which the immature alien fetus can grow. Females (though alien) are now in the dominant position, letting the males grow and nurture the child, while the female aliens “take care of [them]”. This reversal of roles emphasizes how progressive and fast-paced science in the modern world has become, outpacing ( as discussed in class) even the once shocking test-tube control of reproductive biology envisioned by Huxley in Brave New World. Butler is presenting her readers with an unnatural, very unlikely, grotesque way of reproductionperhaps to question and challenge our familiar take on what is natural and what is to be expected.
While Butler is cleverly defamiliarizing what is seen as normal or accepted, she is also tackling the great debate of fate and freewill, particularly in relation to Gan and his mother’s relationship with T’Gatoi, and all that she represents outside of the preserve. This world is dominated by the alien race, but not in a discriminatory, segregated way, or at least not anymore. The Terrans are seen as almost “things” of very high value for the Tlic; they have become an asset, a “status symbol” (5), and the Tlic are in “desperate” for their services. The Terrans seem idolized, and are highly useful, yet their freedom is very limited. This is why Gan’s desire for choice in his fate is so necessary, even if he made little difference in the outcome of his life, which has been, no doubt, defined interms of his relationship with T’Gatoi ( having first become friends with his mother at a young age, then introduced his mother to his father). His mere existence is indirectly because of her. They enjoy a symbiosis of host and parasite. Gan’s own mother, however, is more aware of her family’s situation, and chooses to go against the stride of the Tlic’s grip on the Terrans, silently opting out of indulging herself with the anti-aging eggs. She obstinately tries to master her own fate by slowly dying “before she [has] to”(3). Like Gan, she is defiant for a period of time in her own way, until T’Gatoi once again takes control and persuades her to try some egg and, later, sting her. It is interesting that Gan seems observant of his mother’s behaviour, (even though the readers know he is reminiscing about this point in his life from a distant moment in the future), which may have been a precursor and encouragement for himself to attempt, just for a moment, to create a reality where there is not just an inevitable fate. He highlights through memory the moment when he was first inspired to insist on acting from choice not necessity. The act of putting the gun to his head and presenting himself and T’Gatoi with a dilemma unforeseen in the system of “the way things are supposed to go”, in a sense liberated himself, if not both of them, from the constructed societal norms of this world created by Butler. Allowed to choose, Gan freely chooses to sacrifice himself as host rather than subject his sister to this fate. It must be noted however that T’Gatoi too takes a step toward equalizing relations by incurring risk to herself in allowing Gan to keep the rifle.
Thus, Butler’s story set in a distant time on an alien planet suggests lessons for the future survival of competing, warring groups led by mostly men on the planet earth. Men, who have been dominant for millennia, are in this story victimized if in a gentle loving way by their protectors/captors. By reversing roles, I think Butler points the reader toward her theme. Globalization goes beyond trade agreements to the exercise of free will and the intrusion of risk for all groups involved. She shocks her readers out of our patriarchal complacency by placing males in this uncharacteristically vulnerable position. Only respect and love among genders, nations, classes will ensure a bright future for this planet
Untitled, by Sabryna Bellemare © 2015
In “Bloodchild,” Octavia Butler depicts the relationship dynamic of two species who depend on each other for survival. The Tlic are in a position power but require the Terrans to reproduce, and the Terrans, stranded on their planet, make concessions, essentially ‘paying rent’ as Butler described it (31). T’Gatoi says, “And your ancestors, feeling from their home world, from the own kind who would have killed or enslaved them – they survived because of us” (25). While the relationship is symbiotic, and the species are interdependent, the imbalance in power is immense and the relationship clearly an exploitative one, where the Terrans pay a heavy price, clearly disproportionate to what little they receive from the Tlic.
“Bloodchild” is an allegory for the relationship between male and female humans, complicated by Butler’s clever use gender-reversal. The relationship between the humans and their parasites is a metaphor for the imbalance of power between men and women. The young man, Gan, says, “She parceled us out to the desperate and sold us to the rich and powerful for their political support. Thus, we were necessities, status symbols, and an independent people” (5) illustrating that humans are nothing more than a class relegated to being property and birthing vessels for the Tlic. Historically this was common practice with human women, whose worth could be measured by how they could be used or exchanged between men for power and connections. Similar to women in history, Butler’s humans have limited rights, such as not being allowed to possess firearms, or cars. They are strategically traded and bartered and have an absolute obligation to carry Tlic young to term. While I’m not entirely comfortable equating human childbearing to the parasitical relationship between the Humans and the Tlic that incubate inside of them, the parallels are made clear. The man implants his seed and the woman carries the offspring inside of her, where it incubates and she is responsible to sustaining its life. Once the parasite, or child (if you so prefer) is ready, it painfully and sometimes quite horrifically makes its way out of the woman’s body, ideally but not necessarily leaving her alive. The offspring’s life is historically of greater importance than the vessel that carries it. Many of the behaviours and attitudes about women and their roles in relation to family, motherhood, and men confuse the social and physical functions of women to be one and the same. In “Bloodchild,” males are in the position of lesser power, as they are the preferred breeders, where the only value attributed to their being is in their physical capability to reproduce for the socially dominant class. Butler displays the disparate measures of power in male and female roles when she exposes the exploitative and parasitic nature of reproductive relationships.
“Bloodchild” encapsulates the experience of the Terrans as a social class who are valued primarily for their reproductive capacities, echoing fiercely the status of women throughout history. Woman were to deliver heirs, and in exchange were provided for, essentially paying their rent with offspring as currency. The story uses powerful language to convey a sense of oppression and ownership, shown in the way that Lien is “unwillingly obedient” (4) or the manner in which T’Gatoi “cages” or “pins” them in her arms. The line “And she opened him” (9), referring to Lomas, during his brutal cesarean, effectively dehumanizes and diminishes him to an incubator of Tlic young.
Despite witnessing the horrific delivery of Tlic spawn, plucked from innards of the aforementioned man named Lomas, and subsequently beginning to question the relationship between Humans and the Tlic, Gan is ultimately implanted with T’gatoi’s eggs. He does so only after demanding that she actually ask his permission, to which she responds by threatening to implant his willing sister instead. She would prefer it would be him, but makes it abundantly clear that she can get what she needs elsewhere. Gan is meant to feel lucky that he was chosen at all, but he is easily replaced. This less than subtle coercion and manipulation parallels historical sexual and marital interactions/transactions between men and women, where there is an illusion of choice, and all the power rests with only one party.
While presented to us as a sort of love story in which Gan comes of age and accepts the horrors of birthing as an ‘adult’ inevitability, and accepts to be the one the bear T’Gatoi’s offspring, their relationship is frighteningly imbalanced. As Gan’s brother tells him, “You’re just her property” (18). Gan comes to understand his mother’s discomfort and his brother Qui’s hostility toward T’Gatoi. T’Gatoi’ kind treatment of Gan and his family does not undo the fact that she owns them. A benevolent master is still a master, and still holds all the power. Gan’s consent, and the romantic tones of their relationship do not erase concerns over whether it is truly consensual in the shadow of such an overwhelming imbalance of power. It serves underlines the patriarchal power distribution within society, and subjugation of women. Bloodchild allows us to critically review gender roles, reproductive relationships, and inequality that they both entail from a fresh perspective, without being influenced by any preconceived ideas about social structures
Alien Relations in Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild,” by Kathleen Harney © 2015
What strikes me about Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” is the affection the Tlics have for the Terrans that grow their young. The story takes a different a view on the classic alien stories of probing and experiments: in fact, in this refreshing take there is the struggle of intimacy and vulnerability between the two races.
The story presents an aspect of emotional (as well as physical) vulnerability, not only between humans and the Tlics, but also just amongst humans, leaving a tension between our protagonist, Gan, his family, his family friend T’Gatoi, and the life he believes he desires. It is notable that Gan’s father carried Tlic young three times in his lifetime, loved the narcotic eggs and “never refused one in his life” (3). Gan’s mother, however, no longer enjoys the eggs, and – despite promising one of her children to T’Gatoi in place of being a host herself , is fiercely protective of her children but is not a strong or particularly defiant character. When T’Gatoi is in her house, and vocalizes his concern when the Tlic insists she have some of Gan’s egg. This is a perfect example of the effect of the Tlic-Terran relationship on the Terrans, and two opposite ends of the spectrum, the eggs drug them and calm them, lulling them into a false state of happiness, which some of the Terrans love, and is also the reason some Terrans do not consume in the eggs. What’s interesting here is that Gan comes from two opposing outlooks and levels of comfort in his intersections with the alien race, the ideals having left his father dead, and his mother, graying and worn.
In the end, to save his sister from the horror of birth he’s witnessed, Gan agrees to be impregnated by T’Gatoi, an act that grotesquely resembles sex and reverses the stereotypical role of the man and woman. Curiously despite Gan’s terror of childbirth and disgust with the Tlics, he still seems to love T’Gatoi: “I leaned my forehead against her, she was cool velvet, deceptively soft. ‘And to keep you for myself,” I said. It was so. I didn’t understand it, but it was so.’ (28). In this passage we see a significant shift of power in Gan and T’Gatoi’s relationship. While the Tlics have an ownership of the humans, throughout the story we see possessiveness in Gan’s quote, showing that while he may want to belong to T’Gatoi, he desperately wants her to belong to him, too. In the end, we are left questioning the two main characters broader relationship, and the relationship between the species: Is this love, or possession? Can they go hand in hand?
Butler, Octavia E. “Bloodchild.” Bloodchild and Other Stories. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1995. 3-29. Print.
The struggle between Terrans and the Tlics, by Chi Hung Ng © 2015
“Bloodchild” is a coming-of-age story in which the male narrator, Gan, is expected to act as a host for the young of a Tlic, an insect-like alien species. The implantation of Gan with the eggs of the female Tlic T’Gatoi reflects his and his family’s dependence on her for their safety, and the price for them to stay in the Preserve of the Alien World. This is because Terrans, such as Gan and his family, all of whom are refugees from Earth, are not safe outside this asylum. The story centers around what Gan has to do in order for his family to survive, and in the end, despite arming himself with the family’s rifle, he must accept being implanted because he is left with no other option.
Prior to his own implantation procedure, Gan recalls the very same procedure that his father had to experience, too. He “misses his father” (14) and is reminded of his father’s pain during three deliveries of Tlic young. “How had [his father] done it? How did anyone do it?” shows his father’s great sacrifice for the Terrans, and sets him as a model for Gan to follow during his own implantation procedure.
Gan loads the rifle to show that he wants to make a deal with T’Gatoi with regard to the severity of the implantation. “Did you use the rifle to shoot the achti?” (15) T’Gatoi challenges Gan. Even though he used the rifle to shoot the achti, he would not use “the rifle to shoot [her]” (15), suggests that Gan is reliant on T’Gatoi for his survival. Gan doesn’t want to be like Lomas, who is the object of T’Gatoi, who plays a dominant role over man. The structure of the simple sentence “she opened him” (9) shows that the violent action of T’Gatoi (she) is sharp and direct toward her object (him). Since Gan knows Lomas’ suffering, he feels threatened, and so insists on keeping the rifle to protect himself. “What are the Terrans to Tlics?” (15) asks Gan, suggesting that he is only a slave and has no option to refuse the implantation. However, at this point, he asks to be treated as “a partner” (17) instead. The fact is that Gan asks T’Gatoi to allow him to keep the rifle because “one of his family members might use it to save Gan’s life someday” (17) shows his insecurity. Even though T’Gatoi knows that it is against the law to allow Gan to keep a rifle, in order to show her sincerity to him, she takes a risk and goes against the law.
The delivery of the alien young is the price that Gan pays, and in return, he gains T’Gatoi’s trust, as well as her protection for him and his family. Gan agrees to the implantation because he thinks of Hoa, his children and his clans, and he thinks he can gain T’Gatoi’s respect and protection, which are all-important for him and his people. Having produced the Tlic’s young before gave Hoa the opportunity to escape from the responsibility of having to go through the procedure again, now Gan can have his own children just as T’Gatoi arranged for his mother to inseminate his father in order to continue his family line. Otherwise, he would be killed like his ancestor who refused the implantation.
Gan is allowed to keep a gun in the house where T’Gatoi’s young and Gan cohabit under the same roof, suggesting that Gan has authority in the house as well as the desire to protect his children. However, so has T’Gatoi, too, after all she is the one who allows the gun to be kept in the house. In other words, she is the one wearing the pants in their relationship.
In true fairy-tale fashion, the story closes with not only Gan surviving, but also with the idea that T’Gatoi “would take care of [him]” (21) for life, thus ensuring his safety in the Alien World.
Untitled, by Babsie Chalifoux-Reis © 2015
Gan’s opening statement, “my last night of childhood began with a visit home” (3), sets “Bloodchild” up as a coming of age narrative. A necessary part of growing up is rebellion. This entails learning to assert one’s will against the ruling authority and in the process forming a new and individual identity. Initially, Gan’s perception of his relationship with T’Gatoi, “we had always been a unit, she and I” (7), reflects that of an early mother-child bond. Before adolescence, children have a tendency to adhere to their parents’ point of view. However, as the story progresses and Gan matures, his relationship with T’Gatoi shifts from nurturing to sexual. This transformation is palpable in the description of T’Gatoi’s touch, “the probing changed subtly, became a series of caresses” (4). While probing can have a playful connotation, caresses are usually perceived as a mode of seduction. As the nature of Gan’s relationship with T’Gatoi changes, so does his blind acceptance of his role in her life.
Gan ultimately confronts T’Gatoi. He demands, “what are you…what are we to you”, inquiring about his position in relation to hers for the first time. By questioning the status quo, Gan begins to assert his independence. His admission, “Qui goaded me into deciding to do something. It didn’t turn out very well…at least it was a decision I made” (24), reveals a turning point. Gan takes action through his decision-making. It is not the act of hitting Qui that is momentous but his decision to hit him. Up until then his actions were to fulfill T’Gatoi’s wishes. Gan’s future was decided before he ever left the womb. By demanding of T’Gatoi to be given a choice, Gan is essentially requesting to be recognized as mature individual.
While it can be said that Gan reaches maturity once T’Gatoi implants him, I would argue that his true moment of insight is when he becomes aware of his own power to revolt. His refusal to surrender the weapon and his decleration that “there is risk…in dealing with a partner” (26), finally reveals his agency. In that moment Gan becomes T’Gatoi’s equal. However, I would also argue that Gan reverts back to his childlike self. In spite of the fact that he asserts his power and reaches sexual maturity, he ultimately returns back to the safety of his cage and T’Gatoi resumes her role as his protector. Her last words make this explicit as she vows, “I’ll take care of you” (29). By failing to utilize his authority, Gan surrenders it back to T’Gatoi. The belief that he still retains it, lulls him into a false sense of security, which will ultimately allow the Tlic to dominate him completely.
Butler, Octavia. “Bloodchild.” Bloodchild and Others, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Seven Stories, 2005): 1-29
Blood and Habit: Family Bonds in Butler’s “Bloodchild,” by Julianna Felmann-Lazlo © 2015
In “Bloodchild” T’Gatoi’s insider-outsider status, a member of the family, yet an alien, appears to reinforce her power over Gan’s family. The unique role she enjoys with them allows for Gan to temporarily forget the discrepancy between Terrans and Tlic, until he witnesses a physiological demonstration of their difference. At the culmination of the story’s tension, opposing concepts of family bonds seem irreconcilable. However, in the world created by Butler, it is self-sacrifice for the sake of family which unites both species.
T’Gatoi’s status is liminal in multiple respects: a member of Gan’s family, yet of another species; working with Terrans, but for Tlic interests. Indeed, T’Gatoi is tied by multiple relationships to Gan’s family. Gan’s father carried her (49) which makes her, in a sense, Gan’s half-sister. She is also a close childhood friend of Lien as “they developed at the same rate and had no better friends than each other” (39). Despite these relationships, she is never referred to as a full family member. Rather, she is said to “g[o] into her family’s business” (39, emphasis mine), one which places her in tension between Tlic and Terrans; as Gan explains, “only she stood between us and [Tlic] desperation that could so easily swallow us” (37). T’Gatoi’s control over the floodgates renders her essential to the Terrans’ survival, but she also takes part in the use of Terrans for Tlic reproduction thus supporting the system in place.
Initially, Gan seems only aware of T’Gatoi as an extension of his family; he considers her to stand alongside Terrans until he is forced to face their physiological differences. He values her presence in his home, insists that “it was an honor” (37), but perceives it as ordinary, saying “it was hardly a novelty” (37). Indeed, what could be more mundane than a family member who comments on a child’s growth as T’Gatoi “complains as usual that I was too skinny” (37)? There is a sense of comfort, a relaxed atmosphere associated with T’Gatoi’s presence as most of the family drinks from the eggs. While Gan acknowledges that T’Gatoi fulfils a political role which demands her participation in “[selling] us to the rich and powerful for their political support” (37), he insists that Terrans profit from this. He seems to believe that T’Gatoi’s motive is to help Terrans. It is only when confronted with their different biology that Gan realizes what it means for T’Gatoi to be Tlic: “The whole procedure was wrong, alien. I wouldn’t have thought anything about her could seem alien to me” (43). Immediately following his realization, Gan confronts T’Gatoi and asks, “What are you?” and “What are we to you?” (47). This confrontation in which Gan holds a loaded rifle to his own head is the height of the story’s tension; it is the turning point at which biology shocks Gan pass his habits. For the first time, he brings into question the relationship that unites him to T’Gatoi.
Despite his realization, Gan is unable to either reject or harm T’Gatoi in order to save himself from the ordeal of becoming N’Tlic. By going along with his mother’s promise, Gan simultaneously chooses his family and T’Gatoi. In fact, both concerns, seem to weigh equally in his decision. In the last scene, Gan admits that his motivation in accepting T’Gatoi was to save his sister, Xuan Hoa (49) who “had had almost as much to do with raising [him] as [his] mother” (47). It was also a way for Gan “to keep [T’Gatoi] for [him]self” (49), a desire which he does not fully comprehend. Here, the family he creates with T’gatoi, and the one he has with his sibling are placed on the same level of importance; Gan manages to reconcile T’Gatoi as a family member. However, Gan’s actions never remove the threat of harm to himself. The narrative draws a parallel between the prospect of suicide, and the role of N’Tlic; Gan lowers the gun from his head after he requests, “Don’t do it to Hoa. […] Do it to me” (48). Once he accepts the burden of the role, the gun is no longer necessary. Indeed, if Gan wishes to have T’Gatoi to himself, it is not because he is eager to take on the role of bearer, but because of his feelings for her. As such, the danger hovers him is never eliminated. The resolution offered by Butler doesn’t move beyond Gan’s self-sacrifice, but through it reconciles family of blood and of choice.