The most perplexing aspect of the story in Lilith’s Brood is the understanding/images formulated of the Oankali and their motives. The images portrayed by Octavia Butler are so, obviously, alien that the reader maintains an ever-shifting opinion upon the appearance of these “people” and their ship. However, it is more perplexing to consider the manner of “Why?”
Jdahya states that “I can only say that your people have something we value. You may begin to know how much we value it when I tell you that by your way of measuring time, it has been several million years since we dared to interfere in another people’s act of self-destruction” (p. 16). The fact that the Oankali would override years of precedence in order to save the human race implies that this thing of value is extremely important to their people. This confounds Jdahya’s actions later when Lilith displays her revulsion to the task the Oankali set before her.
He presents the “trade” in the most brusque manner possible; he emphasizes that they will “control conception” and that their children will be “Different, as I said. Not quite like you. A little like us” and that the change will take place in “One generation” (p. 42). The likelihood of Lilith accepting the terms of this arrangement is naturally slim. Which calls the reader to question the manner that Jdahya does lay it out for her. Could he possibly want her not to accept her future? Understandably, Lilith cannot conceive this as a possibility and he offers her a gift of swift, painless death. She cannot bring herself to accept it however and questions whether he would have truly granted it.
His affirmation is questionable in that earlier he admitted that “‘Your [Lilith’s] desire to live is stronger than you realize.’ She sighed. ‘You’re going to test that aren’t you? That’s why you haven’t told me yet what your people want of us.’ ‘Yes'” (p. 26). Due to this, it would seem that the harsh portrayal of her future, the promise that they would test her desire for life, and the offering of deliverance were a ruse to qualify her ability as a parent-subject. Due to her inability to catch them in a true lie, to this point in the novel, we must believe that he would have followed through with his promise. Therefore, what does his mercy towards Lilith say about the Oankali’s necessity to trade for new life, mainly that they are “overdue” for it, and that he would continue the 250 years of searching for and English parent-subject?