Bloodchild and Moral Relativism

“Bloodchild” by Octavia Butler starts out as a very… usual work of science fiction. When I first started reading this story, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen this all before. An alien race enslaves humanity (or rarely, vice versa) and indoctrinates them into accepting their subservient role in society, but one day, some brave, righteous humans find out the truth and begin to strike against their masters in the name of rebellion. The body horror aspects of Tlic reproduction help reinforce the unease they create.

However, that idea is purposeful misdirection. “Bloodchild” isn’t about slavery, brainwashing, or aliens versus humans. It’s a complicated tale of Terrans and Tlic both trying their best to maintain their people and freedom in an uneasy and uncomfortable arrangement for both parties. It’s that complexity that makes “Bloodchild” so interesting.

As an outside reader, it’s easy to bring our own morals and norms into a story without realizing it. The reader is tempted to assume that Terrans are forced into a horrible relationship where they have to give horrifying birth to aliens against their will just to advance the Tlic’s society. It’s important to remember, however, that the Tlic race was dying out before the start of the story. T’Gatoi informs Gan that the host animals the Tlic used to use for implantation had been killing most of their young for generations. Humanity represents the Tlic’s only hope for survival.

Additionally, the humans in the story were not captured as breeding slaves. According to the story, they first came to the Tlic’s world as refugees, escaping oppression and violence in their own society on Earth or elsewhere. While the Tlic did treat the humans badly initially, putting them in pens like animals, the story also indicates that the humans did much the same, treating the Tlic like overgrown worms to be detested. T’Gatoi was one of the first Tlic to advocate for the (limited) rights of Terrans, and although that issue is still not perfect, the arrangement the Terrans have is clearly superior to the one they had beforehand.

Finally, it’s important to remember that the mindset and morals of the Tlic are not exactly the same as ours. T’Gatoi sees nothing inherently wrong with implantation because it’s normal in Tlic culture. Likewise, pregnancy is perfectly normal in our culture, despite it being incredibly painful, and before the 20th century, often lethal. Consuming infertile eggs to lengthen one’s lifespan is also normal for the Tlic, even if it might seem artificial or dubious to humans. Mutual recognition is a key idea here — recognizing each other as subjects, not objects. Recognizing that morals and cultural traditions, while often similar, are not universal, is important to understanding the mindsets of other people.

Indeed, that is what the Tlic are — people. The story refers to them as such. Even though they might look like gross, giant centipede-things with the gift of speech and technology, they are still individuals with their own desires, fears, and personalities. On the third page of the story, Gan’s mother implies in a flashback that T’Gatoi herself was somewhat ostracized among her own people for some time. These are living, breathing people with their own society, and we should not reject it just because it isn’t “human”. Love can take many forms, and whether it’s familiar or not, unless it’s actively hurting someone against their will, we should accept it.

5 thoughts on “Bloodchild and Moral Relativism

  1. ASTA SIMONOVIC

    Hi!
    Bloodchild was personally one of my favorite short stories that we read, and I love how you analyzed it. The de-humanization of the Tlic’s is something that even I did upon my first reading of the story. It truly is far more complex than a simple ALIEN-human power dynamic. I love that you emphasized the Tlic’s present “human” nature; because although they are “alien” to the reader upon a first read, to the Terrans in the society, they are people.

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  2. madelstein07

    Your analysis of “Bloodchild” opened me up to make other ideas and ways of looking at the story. I think it is easy for us to judge their society from the glimpse we get at it from the story. Like you said though, their society was much worse before and the Terrans were once treated much worse than now. We as humans make many judgments and assumptions about other cultures, and I noticed myself doing this very much while reading the story. You ended your blog post with a very powerful line and I think that it was very well said connecting to the themes and story in “Bloodchild”. Thank you for a well said and insightful post.

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  3. IRIS JUNKER

    This is a great analysis of Bloodchild; it acknowledges a lot of points and facts that I think I failed to recognize the first time I read it. For instance, I didn’t realize that the Terrans and Tlics treated each other badly at first, or that what the Tlics were doing to the Terrans was mutual. Your post really opened my eyes to a lot of things that I think I missed, thanks for that.

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  4. Josephine D

    Wow! What a great post. It really made me question the beliefs I had in about “Bloodchild” and made me more conscious of my own biases. However, even after thinking more deeply about these biases that I might be carrying, I still don’t agree with you about all of your points.
    First, you mention that “the humans in the story were not captured as breeding slaves. According to the story, they first came to the Tlic’s world as refugees, escaping oppression and violence in their own society on Earth or elsewhere.” I read this as a justification for the Tlic implanting the Terrans. I may be wrong, but it seems that what you are trying to say is that the Tlic should be able to implant the Terrans as a sort of payment for allowing the Terrans to live on their planet. However, I feel that just because the humans were fleeing oppression and received sanctuary from the Tlic, it does not mean that they should be forced to be implanted by them. Imagine if the United States was willing to accept refugees from a worn-torn country only under the condition that those refugees do the work the government wanted them to do, and that work was extremely physically dangerous–for instance, working with toxic chemicals or dangerous manufacturing equipment. To me, that seems incredibly immoral, and is essentially what the Tlic have done to the Terrans.
    I understand your point about how the Tlic needed to use Terran hosts in order for their species to survive. It is clear that Tlic were dying out before using human hosts to bear their young. However, I think it is very possible that the Tlic, as a technologically advanced society, would be able to develop sufficient alternatives to using Terran hosts if they tried. I think it is simply more convenient for them to use Terrans. I really liked your point about how the reader may initially dehumanize the Tlic because of their differences from Terrans, and how the reader should have empathy for the Tlic and how they feel it is necessary to implant Terrans. And I do understand why the Tlic feel the need to use Terrans, but I still don’t think that makes it right, and it certainly does not make it a form of “love.” At best, it is a necessary evil.
    Hope I didn’t come off as too critical; I totally thought this was a really insightful and well-written post, even if I didn’t completely agree with your perspective!

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  5. Connor D

    I think that’s a really interesting point about the role of pregnancy in our society. It’s definitely true that for something we view as very normal, it does come with a lot of danger. Pregnancy isn’t as prone to complications as it used to be, but things still often can go wrong and people do die in the process. Not saying that the Tlic are right in their actions, just that we as readers are somewhat hypocritical about it. An intriguing read of Bloodchild would be seeing it as a story about reproductive rights, eliminating the ability to choose whether or not to be pregnant and have a child.

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