Bloodchild | Study Guide

Octavia Butler

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Bloodchild | Themes



Butler's primary characters in "Bloodchild" are painfully interdependent. They are trapped in relationships with each other even when they appear to dislike each other. Gan's family is filled with mutual envy and resentment. Gan's mother Lien competes for T'Gatoi's attention with her sons Gan and Qui and daughter Xuan Hoa. In spite of the difficulties, they continue their relationship with their alien mentor T'Gatoi. The main characters need each other so much that they can't choose any simple way to proceed in their needs without taking great risks.

Gan observes his brother Qui and thinks that his brother could "have gone smoothly into one of their families if he had been adopted young enough." Instead, Qui has remained in the family on the Preserve in intimate contact with the Tlic egg donor who is supposed to take Gan. Gan explains, "No matter what he felt toward the Tlic, he always demanded his share of egg." Qui dislikes the Tlic but still wants to be considered part of the family with its privileges.

Lien hovers between defending Gan, resentment toward T'Gatoi claiming Gan, and a desire that Gan take care of T'Gatoi. Lien loves her old friend but remains angry with her over the issue of egg donors. However, she still attempts to be friends with her benefactor.

Free Choice and Need

The characters' interdependency with each other raises questions of free will. Are Gan and T'Gatoi making their choices freely? T'Gatoi must have a host for her offspring. She can't choose one of the old host animals because they could damage the grubs. She wants to choose an intelligent, willing human host who will not "hate her children." She has worked hard to arrange independence and security for humans in exchange for this option. She has chosen Gan and hopes to give him and herself the best chance at a free choice that still gives her a human egg host.

Gan has grown up seeing the positive side of being an egg host. He admires and likes T'Gatoi. He understands that her species are desperate for hosts to carry grubs to the first term. However, his visceral response to the reality of Tlic birth and his resentment at what is very nearly a child marriage almost undo every advantage he brings to this match.

Both humans and aliens are in a state of desperate need. Humans need a secure homeland. The Tlic need hosts to give them healthy children. Neither race can easily choose anything but this pairing.

Paying the Rent

Butler states in her essay on "Bloodchild" that she sees it as a story about "paying the rent." Rather than writing about an imperial human force arriving as colonists and conquerors, she depicts a small and helpless group. The human refugees are not sufficiently powerful or technologically ahead of the Tlic to impose their will. To stay they must pay the rent by offering some service the Tlic need enough to justify letting the humans in. The relationship T'Gatoi has negotiated is very mature. It's the sort of sacrifice a moral being is willing to make to play fair. T'Gatoi believes the service the humans pay the Tlic justifies allowing a new species entry to the Tlic homeland.

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