Use the comment section for this post to engage in a discussion of Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild.”
To see your requirements and parameters for our discussion, see our Reading/Discussing Short Stories guidelines. Strive for a vigorous exchange, including debating differing interpretations, but always strive for mutual recognition of each other, working toward enhancing our collective understanding of the story.
Watch your period’s group presentation on the story and see the DQs below, if you are looking for inspiration.
- What binaries are created through the dependence of the Terrans on T’Gatoi? How are they created?
- What are some parallels you can find between the Preserve and the role of T’Gatoi in their home? What rhetoric does Octavia Butler use to portray these parallels?
- To what extension is this a story about self-sacrifice and familial bonds?
- One of the main themes of the story is the interdependence of two very different species. What is an example of a similar interdependence in your own life?
- On page 28 and 29, Gan responds to T’Gatoi’s statement about protecting terrans by saying,“‘ Not protected,’ I said. ‘Shown. Shown when we’re young kids, and shown more than once.’” To what extent do you agree with Gan’s statement? Can this same sentiment be applied to our education system and how we expose kids to the evils of the world?
- What type of planet do you think they live on? What do you think the land/environment looks like?
- What would you do if put in the same position as Gan? Would you fufill your “duty” even if you personally did not want to?
- Would you trust someone who took care of you like Qui, his brother or a someone like T’Gatoi?
- Have you had a person in your life that is as selfless as Gan and Gan’s mother?
- How important is family to you?
- How could humans come to be dominated by this species?
- Why do the aliens have such human personalities and why do some have so much empathy for the humans?
- Does the mother refusing the eggs imply that she wants to die?
- Is the preserve the only place where humans are living or do they exist in other parts of this world?
9 thoughts on “Discussing “Bloodchild””
Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild” is largely a story about self-sacrifice and familial bonds. I think that the dependence that the Tlic has for Gan is very reminiscent of the dependence that man has for women on a basic level. I think Gan´s initial willingness to sacrifice his body to carry on the Tlic´s species is very selfless. Although he did start to really question whether he wanted to really carry Tilc babies when he saw the process that Lomas had to go through when delivering the babies he still was considering sacrificing himself for the greater good of their species. However, Gan said ¨I had been told all my life that this was a good and necessary thing the Tlic and Terran did together—a kind of birth. I had believed it until now. I knew birth was painful and bloody, no matter what. But this was something else, something worse¨. So I think Gan was intimidated and mislead into thinking he should carrying the Tlic babies from the start, but in the end, it was Gan´s choice and I believe Gan was willing to carry the babies more to save the species of Tlic rather than because of the fear of the Tlic. I think familial bonds right next to love and fear is the most powerful force known to man and Gan´s and Lomas´s willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good of their future family and the Tlic species is just an example of how strong those bonds are and what those bonds can command. I thought this was an extremely weird story but on a basic level, it is very similar to natural human adaption and evolution and seeks a greater truth about self-sacrifice and familial bonds.
My first reaction to this story was one of disgust. In the afterword, Octavia Butler said how part of this story was rooted in her fear of the botflies of Peru and how they lay maggots in human wounds. As someone who is afraid of all things related to bugs, parasites, worms, etc., I can fully relate to Butler. That is why, when I read this story, I found it pretty disturbing in the beginning.
However, by the end of the story, I came to understand it. It wasn’t a story about creepy bugs, but a story about morality, love, sacrifice and familial bonds. I think that one of the most relevant points in the story that displays these themes is when Gan agrees to be the host in order to save his sister. In making this decision he had to ask himself, “Would it be easier to know that red worms were growing in her flesh instead of mine?” It seems like it would be an obvious choice for the brave hero of the story, but the inner-conflict he feels in this decision is shown through his threat to take his own life. To me that is a really powerful image, as he then has to decide between taking his own life, making the sacrifice of being a host himself, or subjecting his sister to that fate.
What interests me the most about this story is the relationship between Gan and T’Gatoi. This is because, to me, the obvious power binary in this story is the TLIC/terran one. It is so rare to see a relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed, and yet in this story you can see that T’Gatoi and Gan share a relationship of mutual recognition. It is obvious that T’Gatoi has more power than Gan, and yet she gives him a choice. When he chooses to be the host, T’Gatoi says to Gan, “You were the one making the choices tonight, Gan. I made mine long ago.”
There is even evidence that their relationship is one that goes past just mutual recognition, perhaps delving into love between species. When T’Gatoi asked Gan why he came to her, he said it was to save his sister, “And to keep you for myself.” Butler touches on the theme of inter-species love in her afterward, and whether it is romantic love, the love of friends, or the love of family I could not say, but it’s importance should not be lost, as it is perhaps the reason for the mutual recognition between the two characters.
I love this short story’s commentary on childbirth. After considering the question, “Have you ever had a person in your life that is as selfless as Gan and Gan’s mother?” I realized that Octavia Butler wrote this story to show how selfless ALL mothers are. Just like men in the story, women bear a parasite for a long while until it unpleasantly (somewhat horrifically) comes out of them. When reading the story, every reader thinks that this is a lofty expectation of Terrans, but I assume most people think of childbirth as common place. When it is put this way, however, it make me reappreciate what women go through for the sake of family. If Butler’s world was real, men would understand this incredibly selfless act that keeps life going.
“They say women have more body fat to protect the grubs. But they usually take men to leave the women free to bear their own young” (173).
The statement “ignorance is bliss” could never be more true than in Butler’s short story. Once Gan vividly saw the T’lics’ process of birth, he was never the same. Yet, he still argued that Terrans should be shown this process when they are young. It seems that Gan was more bothered that he didn’t know the terms of his interspecies relationship than anything else. I agree with him. In order for these two species to trust one another, the Terrans need to know the specifics. Without knowing, it seems like the T’lic are using the humans as breeding animals.
“‘Terrans should be protected from seeing.’
I didn’t like the sound of that – and I doubted that is was possible” (177).
Are the Terrans really being protected, if they aren’t aware of how violently their bodies are being used? I feel like their humanity is protected by telling them. Otherwise, I can’t help but think about the Terrans as some achti that is all happy and content as it is being led to the slaughter.
Butler portrays the aliens in this story in an atypical way. They are disgusting parasites that are physically far superior to humans and could probably dominate them on Earth, and yet they share homes with the humans on their own planet. They have many limbs and claws and a stingy tail, which are traits of a predator. And yet, T’Gatoi uses all of them in a way that soothes her surrounding humans. She cages her roommates in her arms, and her eggs and tail stings act as nutrition and a sort of hypnotic. Theoretically, the aliens could imprison the humans in a self-sufficient breeding prison which might just allow their population to thrive.
Except they’re not evil. Butler uses really disgusting imagery when describing the biology of the aliens and their means of reproduction, but at the end of the day they have morals similar to those of humans. The point of the story isn’t “What if the aliens were good”, but the story is set up in a unique way, putting parties of different power levels together, to explore themes between two parties in conflict.
In response to the question, “Does the mother refusing the eggs imply that she wants to die?”: I think that her refusal of the eggs is more of a protest against the familial system in place. The eggs are more of life-prolongers rather than a means of survival, and refusing them is more just refusing help from T’Gatoi. However, as T’Gatoi still asks her why she refuses the eggs it is clear that she has suffered quietly and disconnected from her family as if she has already lost them.
T’Gatoi broke the norm of the Preserve community in that she decided the bearer of her children to be a newborn, Gan, Lien’s son. When I read this story for the first time, I thought that Gan was a girl, and it was only until I read the afterword where Butler describes the story as a pregnant man story that I realized my mistake. And so while I wasn’t catching the gender-swapping themes of the story, I did catch Lien’s abstaining from a situation featuring an abuse of power. The last time she’s in the story is when Gan asks her to leave in the surgery scene. She at some point might have had some sway to be able to free Gan but she chose to wallow and slowly die distantly and quietly, but she has to feel that she’s not in her own territory.
Also, with the man-pregnant themes happening in the story, it is clear that the parasitic infection of the aliens is allegorical for women getting pregnant, and the aliens are the men. So I guess my question is… who are the women in this story?