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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 821

Coming of Age ‘‘Bloodchild’’ opens with the line, ‘‘My last night of childhood began with a visit home.’’ This clearly signals that it is a coming of age story, concerning the protagonist’s loss of innocence and his accession to an adult role of knowledge and responsibility. In the science-fiction fantasy...

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Coming of Age
‘‘Bloodchild’’ opens with the line, ‘‘My last night of childhood began with a visit home.’’ This clearly signals that it is a coming of age story, concerning the protagonist’s loss of innocence and his accession to an adult role of knowledge and responsibility. In the science-fiction fantasy world that Butler has created, Gan’s rite of passage entails witnessing flesh-eating grubs hatch from a man’s abdomen and then agreeing to be implanted with the eggs of a powerful, insect-like alien. Bizarre as these events may seem, the story’s plot shares many elements that are common to coming of age stories.

At the beginning of the story Gan is innocent, not understanding his mother’s or Qui’s hostility toward T’Gatoi. At the end of the story, he is in a position of knowledge, agreeing to be implanted with T’Gatoi’s eggs despite his new understanding of the fearsome risks involved. Gan undergoes a physical transformation that is also an emotional and social one. His implantation with T’Gatoi’s eggs can be understood as a kind of loss of virginity. He agrees to the implantation for complicated reasons that suggest his new maturity. While T’Gatoi initially has a somewhat maternal relationship to Gan, this relationship changes when he challenges her with the gun, asserting his new status as her equal. When he chooses—despite his fear and disgust— to accept T’Gatoi’s eggs, he not only protects his innocent sister from what he knows to be a terrifying experience, but he also assumes responsibility for maintaining the tenuous social order established between the human and Tlic species.

Morals and Morality
In her afterword to ‘‘Bloodchild’’ Butler asks, ‘‘Who knows what we humans have that others might be willing to take in trade for a livable space on a world not our own?’’ In the story she explores one such possibility, according to which a human society agrees to join into familial relations with an alien species and to offer some of their own members to carry alien eggs. Some complex moral questions are creatively posited by this situation— for instance, is it acceptable for one species to require another to help it survive and is such a relationship necessarily exploitative, or might it be possible for interdependence between two completely different kinds of beings to be mutually beneficial? Qui sees the relationship as exploitative, arguing that humans are nothing but host animals to the Tlic, and Gan struggles with this perspective. However, the story concludes with a strange kind of love scene in which T’Gatoi shows how much Gan means to her. Butler suggests that the power relations between humans and Tlic are complex, encompassing both fear and love.

Sex Roles
Butler is known as a feminist writer and many of her novels and stories have strong female protagonists who challenge traditional gender roles. In ‘‘Bloodchild,’’ T’Gatoi does serve as a strong and powerful female character, but the story’s innovative exploration of sex roles goes even further. Rather than just presenting female characters in traditionally male roles, she creates drama by placing a male protagonist in what would normally be considered a quintessentially female dilemma. Gan is challenged with a sacrifice and a responsibility that is usually consigned to women: pregnancy. The story is not merely a reversal of masculine and feminine roles, however. T’Gatoi is powerful but is also both nurturing and dependent. And Gan’s struggle requires traditionally masculine traits of courage and self-assertion as well as feminine ones of selflessness and empathy. In a sense, in the world of ‘‘Bloodchild,’’ to allow oneself to be impregnated is to become a man.

The word alien signifies not only fantastic extra-terrestrials, but also anything that is extremely strange, foreign, or different from oneself. In ‘‘Bloodchild,’’ Butler has imaginatively created a society in which two species that are alien to each other live as intimates and depend upon one another for their very survival. At the beginning of the story Gan sees T’Gatoi as a member of his family. He finds it normal to lounge in the embrace of a giant insect and to get drunk on her species’ eggs. The conflict of the story arises when Gan witnesses an emergency ‘‘delivery’’ of Tlic grubs from the abdomen of a human man. The process disgusts him in part because it highlights the differences between the two species. Gan can no longer see T’Gatoi as familiar and trusted after he witnesses her licking the man’s blood and pulling the flesh eating grubs from his body. However, by the end of the story, Gan’s relationship with T’Gatoi is reestablished on a more mature and equal level. He confronts his fear and accepts physical intimacy with her both out of duty to his family and in the interest of harmony between the two societies.

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