Re-writing the Bhabhian “Mimic Man”:Akin, the Posthuman Other in Octavia Butler’s Adulthood Rites

Aparajita Nanda, Santa Clara University

Copyright © 2010 University of Calgary, Department of English. This article was first published in ARIEL 41:3-4 (2010), 115+. Reprinted with permission by Johns Hopkins University Press.


Cultural critics have sought to define the term posthuman1 as primarily a condition that does away with hierarchical forms of power and control. It recognizes a transformation of the human species into a subject position that moves from an oppositional politics of segregating the human “self” from the “other” to one of acknowledging the “other” as part of the human “self.” 2 With the advent of the posthuman condition comes the need to re-define human rights in a posthuman context. Octavia Butler’s science fiction novel Adulthood Rites3 introduces us to Oankali, gene-trading aliens who travel through space. They intercept and save the human species that is dying in a world ravaged by nuclear war. The Oankali mission of salvation has a hidden agenda,4 though: whoever opts to be saved needs to forgo the right to reproduce. Reproduction, in this new world where human beings are a salvaged species and not the predominant one, is on the terms laid out by the Oankali aliens. The terms of Oankali reproduction that start off with genetic modifications of the human Lilith, the Oankali nominated progenitor of the posthuman in Dawn, enforces the birth of a hybrid—a human-alien construct, Akin, who is related to both humans and aliens, the posthuman other. Built on a “postcolonial” definition of a “mimic man,”5 a product of what Bart Simon and Jill Didur call “critical posthumanism,”6 who sees the other in the self, Akin modulates and modifies his sense of agency and choice as he contends with complex political and ethical issues. Deployed as an Oankali informer among humans, Akin ultimately emerges as the savior, a spokesperson for the human species who adroitly balances contradictory roles in a culture seemingly “colonial” in its intent.