Power, Politics, and Domestic Desire in Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood

Aparajita Nanda, Santa Clara University

Copyright © 2013 A. Nanda. Reprinted with permission of the author.


Octavia Butler’s works, from her short stories and novellas to her science fiction novels, focus on themes of power, control, bondage, and a desired freedom from servitude. Power structures inevitably center on the master/slave or the captor/captive trope. Her handling of this issue takes on complex manifestations in her works, where enslavement and genetic evolution often form the core of the narrative. Within this framework, hostile and repressive regimes enforce a controlled society. Butler brings race, gender, and sexuality to the foreground of speculative fiction as she deals with complex social and political issues in all their ambiguity. Her handling of these issues defiantly explores taboo topics of incest, bisexuality, genetic mutations, and complicated male and female relational dynamics in the throes of oppressive power politics. In the trilogy Lilith’s Brood, Butler deconstructs the simple binary of oppressor/oppressed through an interaction between the two, apparently on mutually beneficial terms, that may lead to the survival of both.1 The story becomes far more complicated as it embraces insidious forms of force, compulsion, subtle mental conditioning, and human choice, where compulsion, attraction, and repulsion between the oppressor and the oppressed take on fascinatingly interlinked forms of desire.