Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Wild Seed follows the lives of two immortal beings, from 1690 to 1840: Doro, who can shift his “life essence” into the bodies of other people by will, causing their souls or essences to die; and Anyanwu, an Onitsha-Ibo (African) woman who possesses powerful healing skills and the ability to shape-shift, to take any human or animal shape. The story centers on Doro’s struggle to create a race of immortals with extraordinary powers and Anyanwu’s resistance to the cruelty of his methods.

The novel is divided into three books: “Covenant,” which begins in Africa in 1690; “Lot’s Children,” centered in New England in 1741; and “Canaan,” set in Louisiana in 1840. Each book depicts a stage in the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu. Early in book 1, Doro senses Anyanwu’s presence while collecting breeding stock in West Africa. She is “wild seed,” a powerful individual whose unique genes Doro has not bred into her. Anyanwu is drawn to him, for his promise of immortal children and compelling charm. She has been married numerous times during her three-hundred-year life span; Doro offers the first promise in ages of a worthy husband. Doro encourages her to leave Africa for one of his breeding settlements in America.

Aboard ship, Anyanwu learns that Doro’s promises include veiled threats against her children and forced marriage to his son Isaac. Though resistant, she eventually agrees to marry Isaac. Only this woman,...

(The entire section is 584 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The primary contribution of Wild Seed to women’s literature and feminist thought is its discussion of the inseparable links between gender and racial oppression for women of color, within the specific boundaries of the fantasy genre. By setting her novel in a realistic Africa and America of the past, she shows her readers the strength, the struggles, and the survival of black women through the slave years of United States history. By granting her primary characters immortality and superhuman abilities, she makes the battles against gender and racial oppression eternal, the physical and emotional violence more devastating.

Although the novel can be termed a “dystopia,” Butler seems to be less interested in such abstract labels than in showing how her doubly oppressed black female protagonists can and will survive, against all odds and despite enormous sacrifices and compromises. The world of Wild Seed is bleak, offering little promise of true freedom or happiness for any of her characters, but it is identifiable as a period in the world that her readers inhabit. Envisioning a more idyllic future or alternate universe will not help women of color (or the human race as a whole) to survive and evolve. Categorically overthrowing one’s oppressors is a very rare option, and it is never one that Butler cares to depict. Understanding how the system works and how to win each small battle for survival is the primary goal of her always-disempowered protagonists. The enemy cannot be avoided by separatism; confrontation and continuous contact are the only options she offers her characters. This, Butler has noted in interviews, often makes her heroines unlikable, but congeniality does not help people to survive. This can only be accomplished through vigilance and eternal struggle.

For Butler, the concerns of women are part of a larger cultural whole on which she comments from a doubly oppressed position: that of a woman and an African American. One of her primary reasons for writing literature is to depict the survival of African American culture throughout history and into the future, no matter what the cost to any individual. Butler is the only African American woman writing solely in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, and her socially conscious and emotionally compelling prose has earned for her a unique place in women’s literature.

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

As are virtually all of Butler's writing, Wild Seed is narrated in the first person. It goes on to spin its tale on an outline and...

(The entire section is 303 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Wild Seed can raise great interest in the history of slavery in Africa, as well as in the New World. It focuses upon the West African...

(The entire section is 391 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

In Wild Seed Butler presents an interpretation of the colonization of the Americas that indicts the nations and leaders that conducted...

(The entire section is 98 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Wild Seed is founded on the existing histories of the West African slave trade, the Middle Passage, and slavery in the Americas....

(The entire section is 266 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Four other novels by Butler are directly related to Wild Seed. They are her Patternmaster series, and include in the order of their...

(The entire section is 186 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Govan, Sandra Y. “Homage to Tradition: Octavia Butler Renovates the Historical Novel.” MELUS 13, nos. 1-2 (Spring/Summer, 1986): 79-96. Govan examines the links between Butler’s novels, specifically Kindred and Wild Seed, and the tradition of African American autobiography and the slave narrative. She emphasizes Butler’s reliance on these forms to create fictional worlds that are historically grounded rather than completely speculative.

Salvaggio, Ruth. “Octavia E. Butler.” In Suzy McKee Charnas, Octavia E. Butler, Joan Vinge, edited by Marleen Barr. 1986. Reprint. San Bernardino, Calif.: Borgo Press, 1987. This collection of three texts in one volume on individual feminist science fiction and fantasy writers contains the most complete overview of Butler’s early work, including a chronology of her life and works, a biocritical introduction, analysis of her fiction (novels and stories published up to 1987), and a bibliography.

Slavaggio, Ruth. “Octavia Butler and the Black Science-Fiction Heroine.” Black American Literature Forum 18, no. 2 (Summer, 1984): 78-81. A study of Butler’s methods of creating her black female protagonists, emphasizing all the heroines of the “Patternist” series.

Shinn, Thelma J. “The Wise Witches: Black Women Mentors in the Fiction of Octavia E. Butler.” In Conjuring: Black Women, Fiction, and Literary Tradition, edited by Marjorie Pryse and Hortense E. Spillers. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1985. An examination of the “wise witches,” or black women with extraordinary powers, who populate Butler’s fiction, emphasizing what she terms “archetypal” frameworks for portraying the preservation of female knowledge within patriarchal cultures.

Weixlmann, Joe. “An Octavia E. Butler Bibliography.” Black American Literature Forum 18, no. 2 (Summer, 1984): 88-89. A chronologically arranged list of Butler’s novels, short fiction, interviews, book reviews, and criticism. Very inclusive up to 1984, but contains many references to small press publications that may be difficult to find.

Zaki, Hoda M. “Utopia, Dystopia, and Ideology in the Science Fiction of Octavia Butler.” Science-Fiction Studies 17 (July, 1990): 239-251. A study of Butler’s politicized literary strategies through the concepts of utopia and dystopia, emphasizing how Butler reflects and challenges 1970’s (white) liberal feminist uses of utopia.