The idea of human and aliens co-habiting in various literary works has been both a thrilling and disturbing topic. Accordingly, Octavia E. Butler’s short story, Bloodchild, presents a relationship between humans and aliens that are both likable and, at the same time, unpleasant. The story is that of love and harmony, but it also portrays the power struggle between two species. The relationship between humans and aliens in the story is that of interdependence; each of the party benefits in one way or another. Nonetheless, this relationship seems to benefit the aliens more. Therefore, the story, through this human-alien relationship, interrogates power dynamics. Power is defined as the ability of one individual to influence another person or persons (Anderson, John, and Keltner 315). It applies in all human relationships, whereby shared power creates satisfying interactions whereas dictatorial power creates oppression, strife, and fear. The shared power relates to that which is static and equal while tyranny conveys a dynamic authority – one where a certain individual (s) has power over others. Bloodchild does indeed dispel discrimination based on indifference by showing that humans and aliens can co-exist; nevertheless, it gives an upper hand to one species (the aliens), and this results in dynamic power.
Interdependence and Power Dynamics
Butler’s Bloodchild shows that humans and aliens can live together in an interdependence relationship. Consequently, the alien-relationship in the story is a give and take one, whereby the humans give themselves up as hosts for the aliens, the Tlic, that, in turn, provide humans with a home and food. The food is in the form of eggs containing a fluid that helps humans to live healthier and longer. As the story starts, Gan, the young boy who is T’Gatoi’s host describes how his mother is aging because she stopped taking the eggs. He goes on to say that the eggs “prolonged life, prolonged vigour” (Butler 1). Hence, in the story’s society, humans die not of diseases or accidents as it is in reality but because of old age. To avert immature death, therefore, humans must rely on the eggs the aliens provide for them and provide their bodies as hosts when the aliens want to have children. Such an idea sounds very appealing, especially in a current society where people would do just anything to look young or be immortal! However, despite the harmony in this relationship, the Tlics seem to take more than they should. For instance, T’Gatoi has Gan as her assigned host, but when she visits Gan’s family, she takes his sisters and mother too. In one of the visits, she lets Gan go and tells Lien (the mother) to warm her, and after a moment of hesitation, the latter complies. T’Gatoi says that she does so because she cannot stand seeing Lien who has been a longtime friend suffer (Butler 3). However, it is clear that T’Gatoi is doing so out of self-interest. Therefore, the relationship is beneficial for one side, the Tlic’s, and this portrays a kind of alien civilization despite the agreement with human beings.
Personal Relationship and Dynamic Power
It is difficult to conceive that a dynamic power can exist between people who know each other well. Accordingly, such power is believed to exist between dictatorial governments and oppressed citizens. Butler’s Bloodchild proves otherwise. Gan reflects how his mother, Lien, and T’Gatoi used to be friends ever since childhood. Despite their familiarity, however, Lien would always instruct Gan be formal and respectful to T’Gatoi.
On the other hand, Gan does not understand why her mother expected him to be this civil and courteous around a person who was close to the family. T’Gatoi only came for the sole purpose of having Gan keep her warm, so she needed not to be pleased (Butler 1). However, what Gan does not understand is why his mother asks so because T’Gatoi had a powerful position in the Tlic government. Her position was of utmost importance; thus, Lien considered it an honor to have T’Gatoi in their home. However, Lien’s justification only represents the impact of personal power. Personal power is described as that which one person believes he or she can influence another person(s) (Anderson, John, and Keltner 316). Therefore, the fact that T’Gatoi does not object to being treated with specialty shows she wanted her power over the family to be exerted. At this point, it remains unclear whether Lien felt this power or acted the way she did out of oblivion. To clarify Anderson, John and Keltner suggest that some people believe they are not in control of their fate because if they do not let others control them, they will be subject to bad luck (319). Lien could have used her long-term relationship with T’Gatoi to override her need and that of the children to act formally around her. Then again, she believes that the outcome of their lives depends on T’Gatoi. So, she does not use their relationship to her advantage. In the end, this proves that a dynamic relation can exist even between people with close relationships.
When the Unknown Becomes Known In a Relationship, Power Changes
The fear of the unknown is perceived as better than that of something or someone familiar. The statement brings to light what Sigmund says about the notion of something known and familiar to people turning out to be uncanny and frightening (2). People are often scared of things they have never seen or experienced and those that they have been considered as less-harmful. For example, children are often scared of the ‘boogieman’ although they have never seen this fictional character. Sigmund also gives an example of the story The Sand Man by Hoffman, whereby a little boy, Nathaniel, is told a story of a man who comes to punish children who do not sleep. The man does this by throwing sand in their eyes so that they pop out, and after this, he takes the eyes to the moon to feed his children (Sigmund 5). The story was used as a figure of speech to get children to bed, but Nathaniel takes it seriously and takes it upon himself to find out what this Sandman looks like. During one of the nights, he mischievously hides in his father’s study to wait upon a frequent visitor who Nathaniel believes is to be the Sandman. This plot backlashes on young Nathaniel as he realizes the sandman is Coppelius, a lawyer who is obsessed with carrying out alchemical experiments. Over the next years of his life, Nathaniel becomes obsessed with finding Coppelius, especially after his father dies in one of his experiments (Sigmund 6). The need for vengeance causes traumatic and fearful events for Nathaniel. Through this story, Sigmund connects the fear of losing sight through the removal of eyes by the Sandman to the word uncanny – something unfamiliar yet familiar. Hence, uncanniness is taken as something that should have been kept concealed but is discovered. The same concept is vivid in Butler’s Bloodchild when Gan witnesses for the first time the birth that takes place between humans and the aliens. Although the process was known to Gan and depicted as something important for the interdependence between humans and the Tlics, it was grotesque by all means possible. Gan says, “The whole procedure was wrong, alien” (Butler 12). It means that it was something that should not exist in the human world at all. But, it did because the aliens had power over them. At this point, Gan’s perceptions about the human-alien relationship changed because he starts recognizing that his species are taken as subjects by the aliens despite the assurance that they can live together harmoniously.
Feminism and Power Relations
Science fiction, especially one involving alien construction, has increasingly been used to advance feminist discourse. As a result, the most alluring theme, from a feminist perspective, in Butler’s Bloodchild, is that of breaking gender boundaries. According to Melzer, for over thirty years, feminist science fiction has been used to challenge the current gender roles that create conflict (15). The most common aspect with fictional feminist works is the ability to represent gender roles in different ways or in a manner that deviates from the norm. In Butler’s short story, this deviation is seen when the hosts are surprisingly also men. For instance, the first time Gan sees the birth process in action is through Loma, a man. In another case, Gan’s brother, Qui, narrates to him about how he once saw an alien once kill a man bearing a Tlic’s offspring (Butler 15).
Furthermore, when Gan tries to assure his brother that T’Gatoi would take their sister Xuan Hoa and not him if anything happened, Qui disagrees. He says that “they do not take women” (Butler 16). Gan also remembers that his father had also been a host of alien offsprings and given birth three times (Butler 17). Hence, it is so far evident that men are taking the role of bearing children in the short story, something not possible in reality. Butler even considered Blood child her “pregnant man story” (Holloway 33). As hilarious as it may appear, Butler effectively uses this aspect to break the gender stereotyping that women only must bear and nurture children. As Melzer notes, Bulter’s works give insights into the construction of gender in line with sexual difference and the desire to own one’s experiences from those of the master (68). Henceforth, Butler reverses the roles of men and women in Blood child to show that power based on sexual difference is bad for society. Women should not be seen as inferior to men because of their sex; rather, both genders should have equal opportunity in society. Also, it shows that those feeling oppressed like Gan have the right to own their experience of life rather than be controlled by their masters. This is portrayed when Gan says he does not want to bear T’Gatoi’s children (Butler 20). Although he reconsiders his decision later, Gan had at least accomplished to turn the power dynamics from his master to himself.
Bodily Autonomy and Power
Bodily autonomy is considered a fundamental human right. Subsequently, people have the right to control their bodies without coercion. The concept of bodily autonomy has for long raised concerns in US history, and this drew many to study the connection between identity and intimate topics of sexuality (Holloway 25). Bodily autonomy may range from issues like choosing to engage in a sexual encounter to using family planning methods or any other medical treatment and opting for abortion (Holloway 31). In Bloodchild, the concept of bodily autonomy is realized regarding the right all humans have in choosing to carry the aliens’ offspring. Gan does not want to be T’Gatoi’s host anymore after realizing the grotesqueness of the birth process. However, he does not want to see his beloved sister go through that process. Although T’Gatoi says Hoa was born to carry other lives, Gan believes those of human not aliens who instead of drinking at her breasts would at her veins (Butler 21). Hence, driven by the love for her sister, Gan accepts to be T’Gatoi’s host. But, this is out of coercion rather than mutual consent, and this shows another aspect of dynamic power. The argument is feasible as seen by how the aliens drug their hosts with their talons. With the injection, humans are taken into a state of unawareness, whereby consenting is easier than when conscious. Moreover, the process of birth, which is a disturbing bloody event, is controlled by the aliens (Holloway 33). Therefore, this also shows that there exists a dynamic power that undermines bodily autonomy.
Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild brings about the concept of power dynamics more than it does of love and harmony. Whereas it is evidence that humans can co-exist with the aliens in interdependence, this relationship is damaged by the fact that one party benefits more than the other. Humans do indeed get the food necessary for their survival in their new environment, but the aliens use them more than they are supposed. It is apparent in how T’Gatoi takes not only her assigned host (Gan) but also his mother and sister. Another aspect depicting that one person has more power than the other is the relationship between T’Gatoi and Lien. The two are familiar with each other since their childhood, but from Lien’s mannerisms and attitudes, she lets T’Gatoi’s power in government override their relationship. Dynamic power is also manifested when Gan learns the true nature of the birth process of the aliens’ children. The realization creates a shift in Gan’s perception of the aliens as having more power over humans. Butler takes the feministic approach also by portraying the dynamic power among sexes. For long, women have been seen as men’s subject, but by changing gender roles, Bloodchild changes this traditional perception. Lastly, dynamic power is evidenced by the overbearing nature of the aliens with their hosts. In it, the hosts have no right over their bodies, and this hinders bodily analogy, a right for all people. Therefore, from these points, it is undoubtedly evident that Bloodchild brings into question the nature of power among the alien and human co-habitation.
Anderson, Cameron, Oliver P. John, and Dacher Keltner. “The personal sense of power.” Journal of Personality 80.2 (2012): 313-344.
Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild: and other stories. Open Road Media, 2012.
Holloway, Karla FC. Private bodies, public texts: Race, gender, and cultural bioethics. Duke University Press, 2011.
Melzer, Patricia. Alien Constructions: Science fiction and feminist thought. University of Texas Press, 2010.
Sigmund, Freud. The “Uncanny’ (1919)” trans. Alix Strachey.” (2014