Relationships in their variety and complexity are the most favored staples in literature. Different writers focus on some particular dimensions brining up crucial and controversial issues that push the readers forward toward a new horizon of understanding. Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild revolves around the uneasy relationships between the Tlic and the Terrans. Butler is more interested in posing questions than positing answers, generously leaving the meaning-making to the readers. Whether the nature of those relationships between humans and aliens is symbiotic or parasitic seems more like a matter of opinion and interpretation. The line between them is so blurred as to be indistinguishable, and that is a real preponderance of the story.
Nature of Relationships Between Humans and Aliens
First of all, it should be mentioned that there are no easy or ready-made answers, because Butler, in all probability, is more interested in the reader’s ability to look for covert meanings and link them to their own experience or knowledge. Like any story, Bloodchild can be read either on the superficial or deep level. From the human perspective, the possibility of intimate and harmonious relationships between people and extraterrestrial creatures seems implausible, because either one of the two races will try to prove its superiority. That is the case with Terrans and the Tlic. The latter need the former more for survival and progeny. The Tlic are described as the powerful and intelligent beings that excel humans in many ways. However, they are also vulnerable to death and can be killed with firearms. “There had been incidents right after the Preserve was established – Terrans shooting Tlic, shooting N’Tlic”. The Tlic keep Terrans in the Preserve treating them as friends, but denying them the right to choose where and how to live. The humans feel like pawns, even though they are safe within the limits of the Preserve. Gan’s brother Qui is the one who cherishes no illusions about his predicament: “he began running away – until he realized there was no “away”. Not in the Preserve. Certainly not outside. After that he concentrated on getting his share of every egg that came into the house”. Terrans are lulled into thinking that they accomplish a grave mission and have to be proud of their roles of “host animals”. As a matter of fact, the Tlic benefit more from the relationships with humans getting what they want and leaving people scarred and traumatized. Definitely, the aliens’ attitudes can be defined as parasitic despite the fact that they try to establish rapport with humans, taking into account their worries, fears, and doubts.
Terrans are described as dependent on their hosts: “and your ancestors, fleeing from their home world, from their own kind who would have killed or enslaved them – they survived because of us”. Humans are provided with dwelling and food. They are protected from the outside danger. They are reared like animals, but treated like human beings. They have to live according to the rules established by the Tlic and, if they disobey or violate those rules, they will be punished. Terrans are easy to manipulate, because they cling to empty promises and they rarely question the motifs of their hosts. What is expected of them is loyalty and obedience. They do not benefit from the association with the Tlic and are often harmed by it, as the example with Bram Loams vividly demonstrates.
The relationships between humans and aliens become even more tangled, when personal factors are involved. Gan and Gatoi are pretty close as they spend a lot of time together. Despite the understanding what respect is like, their relationship is devoid of equality. Gan tries to reach it by keeping a rifle: “if we’re not your animals, if these are adult things, accept the risk. There is risk, Gatoi, in dealing with a partner” (Butler, 132). It is difficult for Gan to realize his inferior position and the fact that he has no say in the matter of implantation. Probably, he feels affection for Gatoi, who nurtured him from childhood, and he cannot accept her selfish ambitions. Whatever feelings the alien female may have for Gan, she is ready to ignore them in order to reproduce and have her own progeny. What seems like the cornerstone of Gan’s and Gatoi’s relationship is the desire to survive that prevails over affection, love, and respect.
Metaphoric Representation of the Relationship
While reading the story, one cannot but notice a metaphoric representation of the relationship between the master and the slave: “she parceled us out to the desperate and sold us to the rich for their political support. Thus, we were necessities, status symbols, and an independent people”. Throughout the narration, it is easy to trace the master-slave parallel. Butler wants her readers to consider various dimensions of those complex relationships. Masters are not necessarily villains, and they are capable of treating their slaves with dignity. They want to instill in their slaves the desire to serve them not because they demand so, but because the slaves feel gratitude and respect for their masters. The bondage that is based on affection and obligation has more benefits for masters, who do not need to resort to violence and antagonize the slaves. The latter may feel split between the sense of duty and the desire to make their own decisions and choices. The slaves’ inner dilemmas, represented through the characters of Terrans, engage and sustain the reader’s interest most fully.
We tend to see things in black and white, attaching our labels to good or bad, right and wrong, easy and difficult. Olivia Butler challenges this habit, directing the reader’s attention to the versatility of “hues” that she uses to portray the relationships between the Terrans and the Tlic. Symbiotic, on the one hand, and parasitic, on the other, the human-alien and slave-master connection transcends the boundaries of traditional one-sided perspective. The human beings and extraterrestrial creatures as well as their metaphoric counterparts are united through the threads of dependence, exploitation, violence, admiration, affection, respect, and closeness that are intricately woven into the tapestry of Bloodchild.