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“Your ship is alive?”

In Dawn by Octavia Butler, I find the living ship to be the most alien aspect.  In the new world in which Lilith is Awakened to we are slowly given pieces of information about the qualities of the ship from the Oankali, the first being that it’s alive.  Strangely, we are introduced to the ship’s “skin” before we realize it.   Once Lilith Awakes, she has a routine of trying to escape from her cubicle in which she recalls,

She had beaten it, kicked it, clawed it, tried to bite it.  It had been smooth, tough, impenetrable, but slightly giving like the bed and table.  It had felt like plastic, cool beneath her hands. (30)

Only then it is discovered that the plastic in which she was battling, the walls and furniture, are all created from the ship’s flesh.  As soon as Lilith leaves this room, she discovers that the “tree” which housed her cubicle was also bearing fruit in which they eat.  So not only is this vehicle alive, but we discover its abilities to be grown, grow, feed, respond to touch, process / decompose waste, and it is compared to the size of a small planet.  Lilith inquires about the living ship’s intelligence in which Jdahya explains,

It can be.  That part of it is dormant now.  But even so, the ship can be chemically induced to perform more functions than you would have the patience to listen to.  It does a great deal on it’s own without monitoring…The human doctor used to say it loved us.  There is an affinity, but it’s biological- a strong, symbiotic relationship.  We serve the ship’s needs and it serves ours.  It would die without us and we would be planetbound without it.  For us, that would eventually mean death.” (35)

With this description of the Oankali’s living ship, I first assumed that it is artificially intelligent.  But then I realized it was a responsive thing by being able to react positively with chemicals, proper treatment, and homeostasis.  Instantly, it did not feel as foreign to me because I  felt as if this could be humans talking about their relationship to Earth.  Our soil decomposes and eats waste, our trees feed us, and we can create things from it’s “flesh”.  Also, if we aren’t good to the Earth, then it will fail us in return.  Without a planet, the human race would most likely would end, much like the Oankali’s without their ship.  Therefore, I decided that although we cannot grow a planet, we can re-grow ours, which appears to be a major plot theme within the novel.


One Response to ““Your ship is alive?””

  1. Clayborne says:

    Thanks for sharing…

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