Themes and Meanings

In Xenogenesis, the author’s ideas are stated explicitly, in the form of instruction to the uninformed, either by Oankali characters or by informed humans such as Lilith who agree with the Oankali point of view. The central theme of the trilogy is the existence of a flaw in human nature. This flaw is defined as possession of two irreconcilable characteristics, intelligence and a passion for hierarchy. Because they are hierarchical by nature, humans always try to exert their authority. Because they are intelligent, they are capable of doing great damage.

This drive for domination makes humans a violent people. Butler illustrates this human habit throughout the trilogy, for example in Paul Titus’s physical attack on Lilith; in the raids, vandalism, and shootings; even in the sounds of threats and blows that are always heard in human villages. Despite the fact that violence destroyed Earth, humans do not seem to have changed. In sharp contrast is the Oankali’s reverence for all living things.

The aggressiveness of humans also explains their dislike of anyone or anything that looks or acts different from them. Their answer to difference is either to destroy it or, like the would-be mother who wishes to cut off girls’ tentacles, to force it into conformity. In Adulthood Rites, Akin recalls Lilith’s explanation of a basic difference between humans and Oankali. Humans, she told him, fear difference, while Oankali search...

(The entire section is 498 words.)