kaon na > WORD > Bloodchild
KAON NA @arlduc.org > WORD

Bloody, Bloody Night:
Pregnancy, Dominance, and Devotion in "Bloodchild"

April 10, 2000 | Many readers interpret Octavia Butler’s "Bloodchild" as a story of slavery, but Butler contradicts this common view by saying that she wrote "Bloodchild" as a love story (Williams). However, in introducing a physically superior alien race to the human landscape, Butler crafts a story that satisfies the opinions of both her and her readers. In "Bloodchild," one female alien dominates each human nuclear family. The female alien, a member of the Tlic race, uses the family to obtain a human host for her spawn. Since human women are needed to give birth to more humans and human men generally have larger bodies, the Tlic usually chooses to impregnate a male child. Butler uses the science of pregnancy, the politics of dominance, and the psychology of devotion to explore preconceived notions of gender. She shows that physical heirarchy can reverse gender roles, but that love can exist in spite of slavery’s patriarchal divide.

Years ago, Terrans (Butler’s term for "humans") landed on a distant planet and found the nearly extinct Tlic (a race of large, insect-like creatures). But seeing the Terrans as an opportunity for the revival of their race, the Tlic quickly assumed dominance over the Terrans. The Tlic confined the Terrans to a small area of the planet that is forbiddingly called "The Preserve." Here, the companionable yet paternalistic relationship between the Tlic and Terrans thinly veils the fact that the Tlic use the Terrans (generally Terran males) as little more than live incubators for their young grubs. "Bloodchild" begins as Gan, a young Terran, is about to be "impregnated" by his Tlic mistress, T’Gatoi. By now, the Terran race has been so subverted by the Tlic that they have accepted their inferior roles. Indeed, Gan is complacent, even a little proud, of his status as the future host for T’Gatoi’s offspring. But one night, Gan must aid T’Gatoi in an emergency birthing–Bram Lomas, a pregnant Terran, has reached the point in gestation where the Tlic grubs are ready to emerge. If they are not removed in time, the grubs will eat Lomas from within. Witnessing the brutality of the birth process (T’Gatoi performs the equivalent of a cesarean) shocks Gan into reevaluating his relationship with T’Gatoi. Throughout his life, both Terrans and Tlics would tell Gan that the Terran role in the Tlic birth process is "a good and necessary thing" (Butler 2487). But now, Gan realizes that in some ways, he is nothing more than a convenient animal for T’Gatoi’s progeny. He also sees that if he does not surrender to T’Gatoi, she might rape him.

The science of the story is plausible: the physical ordeal that Terran hosts face is a combination of helminthiasis (parasitic worm infection) and pregnancy. Flukes, as parasitic worms are called, come in three forms: liver flukes (Frey 1197), lung flukes (Frey 1197), and blood flukes (Mawyer 2545). As Gan watches T’Gatoi extracting Tlic grubs from Lomas’s abdomen, he makes it clear that these grubs are quite close to blood flukes:

T’Gatoi found a grub still eating its egg case. The remains of the case were still wired into [Lomas’s] blood vessel by their own little tube or hook or whatever... They took only blood until they were ready to emerge. Then they ate their stretched, elastic egg cases. Then they ate their hosts (Butler 2487).

T’Gatoi finds four grubs in Lomas’s body. The Tlic grubs, at fifteen centimeters long, are larger than flukes, which are generally two centimeters long (Frey 1197). But known cases of giant flukes (Mawyer), show that the Tlic grub size is feasible, particularly since there are maximally five grubs in Lomas’s body. Since Tlic grubs usually grow in the intestinal area of male humans, a vaginal birth is not possible, so it makes sense that T’Gatoi performs a virtual cesarean on Lomas. At the point where the grubs are ready to emerge from their egg cases, they would begin excreting poisons that would alert and sicken its human host. This poison is analogous to the childbirth-inducing hormones that cause contractions and cervical dilation in women.

The science of this situation is possible, even if it does not normally occur. However, Butler includes an important "far-out" assumption–the existence of an insect-like alien race on a distant planet–in order to bridge the gap between Earthling plausibility and Terran reality. Though they are believably constructed like insects, Tlics are larger (with three-meter bodies) and stronger than humans. With their many limbs, Tlics can alternately cage and cradle a human, as T’Gatoi often does with the members of Gan’s family. With their claws, they can cut humans open, as T’Gatoi does with Lomas. With their tails, they can sting a human or knock him across the room as T’Gatoi does with Gan. Nevertheless, the Tlic are graceful in spite of their size and power. Gan describes T’Gatoi’s movements as almost aquatic, "something swimming through the air" (Butler 2484). Because of their vivid existence, it is easier for the reader to believe that fifteen-centimeter Tlic grubs are more a normality, not an anomaly. It is easier for the reader to understand how T’Gatoi uses her "ovipositor," a proboscis-like organ, to inject her eggs into Gan’s body. Finally, it is easier for the reader to believe that sterilized Tlic eggs work as a strong narcotic, as well as a "fountain-of-youth" type drug, on the human body. The Tlic use the eggs to drug humans into submission, a device that is useful when humans are unwilling to act as hosts. As a drug, sterile eggs also ease the excruciating human pain of Tlic grub birth.

With the unique combination of obstetric realism and alien-planet fantasy, Butler reverses the gender politics that surround pregnancy. In most literature, men are traditionally placed in the dominant roles of relationships and society. However, in the society of "Bloodchild," traditional gender roles are not possible. In the Tlic race, the males develop so quickly that their life is not long enough for them to play any significant societal role. When T’Gatoi discovers a male grub in Lomas’s abdomen, Gan notes, "He [the male grub] would be dead before I would. He would be through his metamorphosis and screwing everything that would hold still before his sisters even had limbs" (Butler 2487). Because of the tiny life spans of Tlic males, it is the Tlic females that run the planet. For instance, T’Gatoi is the political head of the Preserve. In the family setting, females also dominate. Each Terran family has a female Tlic as its head. Each female Tlic citizen controls a male Terran in the process of Tlic reproduction. As a stoic, competent, sometimes brutal, and always physically domineering character, T’Gatoi possesses traits that are usually reserved for men (Williams). Even though she is a female, T’Gatoi is still part of a race that advocates many of the negative ideologies of patriarchalism: "compulsory heterosexuality, reproductive colonization, marital rape, and the oppression of the childbearing race" (Green 171).

The first-person narrative style of "Bloodchild" allows the reader to understand the psychological aspects of Gan’s ordeal. As the "more feminine" character, Gan is squeamish and sentimental, but he is the only one who faces difficult decisions and emotional subtleties (Williams). After witnessing the Tlic birth, Gan’s devotion to T’Gatoi almost crumbles, but his final decision–to allow T’Gatoi to impregnate him–is based on love for his family, both Terran and Tlic. When T’Gatoi says that she will impregnate Gan’s sister if Gan refuses to cooperate, Gan sacrifices his body to save his sister. But as T’Gatoi injects Gan with her eggs, Gan reveals that his decision was not completely altruistic. His devotion to T’Gatoi is so ingrained that even though he is horrified at the physical aspects of his pending pregnancy, he would be jealous if T’Gatoi chose anyone over him. This final interchange between T’Gatoi and Gan shows that both see their mating as biological destiny; neither one sees that there might be a more humane alternative to the systematic raping of Terran males (Green 172). However, despite their problems, their devotion is strong enough that T’Gatoi is willing to compromise with Gan on several issues of his pregnancy. Most importantly, T’Gatoi listens to Gan when he stresses that education is necessary to erase the stigma surrounding Tlic birth.

In her depiction of male pregnancy, Butler underscores that the birth process is a brutal one for both Tlics and humans alike. Likewise, by placing Gan in a position where he must make choices that are usually in the sole domain of women, Butler reminds the reader that the emotional weight and physical danger that Terran hosts face is not too different from the burdens carried by human mothers. All choices that they make will not only affect them, but also their children and the survival of their children’s race. Butler wrote "Bloodchild" when abortion and other controversial gender topics were at the forefront of the media (Green 175). Since then, new biological and obstetric issues have become the center of media debate. With the increasing public acknowledgement that we are entering a new age of biotechnical breakthroughs, Butler’s message is even more timely: only by choosing understanding and cooperation over hierarchy and paternalism do we stand the chance of finding ethical solutions to emerging biological problems.








Butler, Octavia. "Bloodchild." IN Gates, Henry; McKay, Nellie Y. The Norton

Anthology of African American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton and

Company, 1997. 2480-2494.


Frey, Rebecca. "Fluke Infections." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine [Medical

Journal]. January 1, 1999: p 1197.


Green, Michelle Erica. "There Goes the Neighborhood." 166-89 IN Donaworth,

Jane L.(ed. & introd.); Kolmerten, Carol A.(ed. Introd.); Guber, Susan (fwd). Utopian and Science Fiction by Women: Worlds of Difference. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 1994. 169-175.


Mawyer, Ellen. "Schistosomiasis." Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine [Medical

Journal]. January 1, 1999: p 2545.


Williams, Scott. "Some College Essays On Butler’s Works."


KAON NA @arlduc.org > WORD