Bloodchild | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Bloodchild | Plot Summary

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Summary

Background

Gan the narrator and protagonist tells a story about a single night at his family's home with his family and their alien mentor T'Gatoi. Gan's family lives in a Preserve on the alien Tlic homeworld. The Preserve is similar to an Indian reservation. The humans are protected but isolated and largely powerless. The humans pay for their safe sanctuary by playing host to the parasitic eggs of the Tlic. These eggs are laid one at a time over a short period by egg donors into egg hosts. Clutches of eggs laid together are of varied sizes. The larvae inside the eggs hatch and are delivered into dead livestock to finish the feeding process. The larvae will eat their human host if they are not transferred into a dead animal in time.

Gan's family consists of himself, his mother Lien, his elder brother Qui, his sister Xuan Hoa, and a younger sister. Their deceased father was T'Gatoi's host parent. She was born from him. She later came to know Lien and introduced Gan's father and mother to each other.

Gan, T'Gatoi, and the Sterile Eggs

T'Gatoi's arrival is the starting point of the narrative. She comes to Gan's home with "two sterile eggs." One is for Gan to eat and the other is for the rest of the family to share. The eggs appear to act similarly to an alcoholic drink or recreational drug. T'Gatoi's unstated intention is to lay her first egg in Gan that night. Her involvement with Gan is intimate and sensual. Gan lies cradled against T'Gatoi's long body and is caged in T'Gatoi's many legs.

Family Tension

Gan's mother Lien is stressed and unhappy at T'Gatoi's intimacy with Gan. T'Gatoi insists that Lien and Gan change places and that Lien finish eating the egg T'Gatoi brought for Gan. Gan is reminded that Lien and T'Gatoi have been close friends since Lien's childhood. Lien lounges in the cradle of T'Gatoi's legs. Lien announces that she will not allow her son to be "bought" from her. She has mixed feelings about the current system between the Tlic and the human refugees in which human men (and a very few women) are accepted into the families of Tlic to serve as egg hosts. When the humans are grown, they will incubate the Tlic eggs until the grub inside the eggs hatch. This system improves on a failing prior system based on slavery and helps preserve the Tlic species. Parents allow their children to be selected in infancy with the later right of refusal for the children. In exchange, humans are allowed safety on the Preserve and gain money and benefits in a dowry-like system. Lien originally agreed to this arrangement but now has second thoughts.

Lien is possessive and protective of both her friend and her son. She shows signs of jealousy toward both. This possessiveness complicates her feelings about the egg donor and egg host relationship.

T'Gatoi Hears a Noise

T'Gatoi hears something outside the house and darts out to investigate. Gan follows T'Gatoi outside. T'Gatoi has discovered an unconscious human named Bram Lomas about to deliver Tlic young and carries him into the house.

T'Gatoi hopes to save the lives of Bram Lomas and the grubs he carries. She checks the identification bracelet Bram Lomas wears as the egg host of T'Khotgif Teh. After a brief argument, she sends Gan's elder brother Qui to find an emergency call box to get help and sends Gan out to slaughter a large livestock animal. Gan returns with the animal but is reluctant to go in and see the birth of the eggs. He does go in and his mother attempts to take his place as T'Gatoi's helper. Gan convinces her to leave. He is now committed to helping. T'Gatoi prepares Bram Lomas. He regains consciousness and calls for his egg donor T'Khotgif Teh because he is afraid to be treated by anyone but her. T'Gatoi stings Bram Lomas into unconsciousness and then cuts him open with her claws. The cut reveals grubs that slowly emerge from Bram's flesh and the remains of egg cases still attached to Bram's blood vessels. T'Gatoi carefully retrieves the grubs and places each grub inside the animal Gan killed. The grubs burrow into the animal body, and Bram Lomas is saved.

Gan can't bear to watch anymore. T'Gatoi orders him out of the room, and Gan leaves the house to vomit outdoors.

Revelations

Outside the family home, Gan encounters Qui who has arrived in a car with T'Khotgif Teh and her driver. T'Khotgif Teh hurries in to join her bonded surrogate and her new children. The driver waits in the car. Qui remains behind and goads Gan. His taunts provoke Gan's fear of accepting the role of egg host as well as fear of Gan's affection for T'Gatoi. Gan and Qui's boyhood rivalry flares. Qui tries to make Gan feel even worse about his relationship with T'Gatoi than he already does.

The two young men demonstrate their core differences as the exchange continues. Qui confesses he has seen a failed delivery of an egg surrogacy. In his boyhood he saw a reluctant Tlic mate kill her bonded egg host to save the lives of their shared grubs. Qui is tormented by the memory. Gan is afraid but has spent years learning about the bond. He knows that what he has seen and what Qui has seen are not normal deliveries. Qui witnessed a tragic egg birth without preparation, and the event scarred him emotionally. Gan is also shocked but was better prepared, and he saw a happy outcome. He is less damaged.

Resolutions

Gan returns to the family home feeling severely conflicted. He starts to clean the gun he used earlier to kill the livestock animal but instead reloads it. T'Gatoi comes into the kitchen and finds him with the illegal gun. The two converse in a tense tone. T'Gatoi tries to undo the damage she knows was done when Gan witnessed the birth. The gun then becomes the focus of the conversation. T'Gatoi asks if he's going to kill her with it. Gan deflects rather than answering. He eventually threatens to kill himself by placing the gun to his chin. He prompts T'Gatoi to ask him to be her egg host. She asks if she must beg for her children.

T'Gatoi is not surprised to find that Gan is now unwilling to be used as a surrogate or that Qui has witnessed a failed surrogacy that ended in the death of the host. She is reluctantly willing to use Gan's elder sister Xuan Hoa in Gan's place.

Gan refuses to let Xuan Hoa take his role. Gan allows T'Gatoi to implant her egg in him through an act that is much like sexual love-making. Gan assures T'Gatoi he would never have killed her with the gun. She promises him that she will take care of him and his family.

Analysis

In the essay included after "Bloodchild" in her collection Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), Butler writes that the story "Bloodchild" is "my pregnant man story." She focuses heavily on the elements of the situation that would motivate Gan to commit to implantation. That was an outcome she found improbable and interesting. The story offers strong reasons to reject serving as an egg host but also provides positive motivation.

Puzzle-Like Structure

"Bloodchild" is structured like a puzzle. Evidence builds slowly as readers proceed through the plot. The first-person narrative justifies the slow build of information. Butler uses the device of an alien and human lying together surrounded by family to introduce readers to the core conflict of the story. It is slowly revealed that Gan is male and that his relationship with T'Gatoi is that of a likely host surrogate for the Tlic's parasitic eggs. Readers must put details together to fully understand the situation in which Gan must make his choice.

The development of information reveals that Tlic body fluids have sedative and pain-killing effects. Butler depicts Gan and his family's mild inebriation from the sterile eggs. T'Gatoi later stings Lien to sedate her. Bram Lomas's arrival suggests that he needs specific help from his own egg donor because T'Gatoi's body fluids will not work as well on Bram Lomas as T'Khotgif Teh's would.

Each added puzzle piece of information builds up to the climactic scene of egg implantation. The blended pain and pleasure of penetration with T'Gatoi's egg-laying organs reads more like sexual response than like predation. Gan's reaction is due to the effect of the Tlic body fluids in humans. Butler writes, "The small amount of fluid that came into me with her egg relaxed me as completely as a sterile egg would have" in the final pages of the story. Butler uses this passage to lay out the conflict between T'Gatoi and Lien as well as the conflict between T'Gatoi and Gan.

Emotional Developments

The emotional elements that might make forced impregnation emotionally acceptable are delivered slowly throughout the story. Butler's personal revulsion toward bott flies implanting eggs in her body is reflected in Gan and Qui's reaction to Tlic implantation. The timing and placement of these elements create suspense and develop the characters. The reasons Gan might not wish to be implanted are revealed jarringly after Bram Lomas's delivery. Butler presents T'Gatoi as an indulgent family mentor who has been valued by Gan's family for at least two generations. Gan is initially depicted as emotionally younger and more subservient than he is by the end. T'Gatoi is the elder and more commanding character. Gan demands more and more trust and interaction as the story progresses. These demands include the critical choice to see the emergency birth. Gan calls his egg donor by her private, informal name Gatoi near the end of the story. They speak as peers instead of as an adult talking to a child.

Jealousy

Butler illustrates the characters' possessive jealousy over T'Gatoi early in the story. Gan's mother Lien and elder sister Xuan Hoa love T'Gatoi and are envious of Gan's relationship with her because they are denied the role of egg host. Lien is also protective of Gan. She resents T'Gatoi's role in "purchasing" her son with favors to the family and to the human settlers. Butler cultivates a suspicion that the political choices which have given humans land and security may have been a result of T'Gatoi's close friendship with Lien in their earlier years. Butler writes, "Years passed ... by the time she came ... to claim what she probably saw as her just reward." Lien owes Gan to T'Gatoi at least from the Tlics' perspective, but she still feels as if she needs to defend her son for a little longer.

Gan is proud and possessive of T'Gatoi from the beginning. He enjoys her body, embrace, power, speed, and elegance. He resents Xuan Hoa's desire for T'Gatoi and is cautious of his mother's longer relationship with T'Gatoi. Gan's final choice to become an egg host is rooted in his inability to give T'Gatoi up to his sister. He wants to be closer to T'Gatoi than anyone else in his family.

Revulsion versus Appeal

Butler uses her own aversion to the idea of contracting a parasite from a bott fly to provide a strong, graphic basis for Gan's revulsion. Bott flies reproduce by injecting their eggs into other animals. The resulting larvae consume the host animal's flesh from within. Butler's disgust at bott flies recasts present-day taboos against male penetration as the basis for Gan's uncertainty.

Gan's views toward being an egg host change throughout the story. As he observes the events of the evening he also integrates a lifetime of experiences of T'Gatoi and the Tlic. His understanding of T'Gatoi's role as Gan's father's blood child is added to his knowledge of his mother's friendship with T'Gatoi. He considers the Tlics' need for healthy reproductive partners. He understands T'Gatoi's efforts to bring him up in full awareness of what is ahead. Butler reveals Gan's affection for and possessive feelings about T'Gatoi. Butler has demonstrated much of the appeal of the relationship between a donor and host by the time she concludes with the final quiet, tender exchanges between the newly consummate partners.

Gan's reaction to T'Gatoi's penetration changes the meaning of pregnancy and love-making. Butler portrays the event from a new angle to give readers an alternate perspective. Butler offers a new metaphor for sex and love. She also provides a new view through Gan's male perspective of why anyone might choose to marry and become a mother. The shift allows both Butler's fictional pairing of Gan and T'Gatoi and the real-world matching of women and men to create children in new ways.

Bloodchild Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction

Introduction

1 Gan comes home and shares eggs with his family.

Rising Action

2 Gan is held in the "cage" of T'Gatoi's legs.

3 Lien changes places with Gan, finishes an egg, and is stung.

4 Bram Lomas arrives and has to be saved from grubs.

5 Gan and Qui meet outdoors, argue, and then have a fistfight.

6 Gan asks whether there's a choice to be an egg host.

Climax

7 Gan asks T'Gatoi to take Xuan Hoa as her egg host.

Falling Action

8 Gan asks T'Gatoi to take him and T'Gatoi implants her egg.

Resolution

9 Gan and T'Gatoi talk with each other as peers and lovers.

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