After nuclear warfare destroyed Earth and its inhabitants, Lilith Iyapo woke up in a room on a platform bed again for the fourth time. After this awakening though, she meets one of her captors-rescuers-for the first time. Lilith describes it as a large sea slug and goes by the name Jdahya[will be referred to as JD]. After meeting JD and when she is able to talk and touch it without being repulsed to intently Lilith is able to finally leave the room she stayed in and go outside on the ‘ship’ where she had been staying for 250 years since the end of the war. From there, she meets JD’s family and learns how to live among them. After time has passed and she has grown accustom to them, she is sent to teach other humans who had been kept-saved-on the ship so that they may be returned to the newly healed Earth. Dawn by Octavia E. Butler looks at the new life and revelations of Lilith as she meets the extraterrestrial and humans she is meant to teach.
Lilith’s strong and innate fear of JD, an Oankali, is unexplained but it is like a true an intense form of xenophobia. She is unable to look at him for most of the time they are in the cell together. When she is able to finally do so and is let out, Lilith is dependent of JD because she does not know anything. From him, Lilith learns of her purpose on the ship and what the ship is. The living ship is home to the Oankali and the ooloi. Broadly they are split into three groups; Dinso who will stay on earth with the humans, Toaht who stay on the ship, and later the Akjai who will leave on a new ship. JD’s family unit consist of his wife Tedin, their mate and ooloi Kahgutaht[Kat], and their child Nikanj[Nik]. While staying with the group she had to teach Nik all she knew about earth and being human. In return Nik would teach her about Oankali and ship life to prepare Lilith to be Nik’s companion. Nik, who was in their childlike stage depended on Lilith to help it through the change into adulthood. Which was why Lilith was placed with Nik. Lilith relationship to the group changes over time as she grows accustomed to her new existence and purpose. From the beginning she had been conditioned in a way to depend on the Oankali for everything. From the first meeting with JD to her dependency on Nik, extended to Kat sometimes, to keep her alive. This reflects on the Oankali because of their dependency on humans to keep the species alive and evolving. Lilith had a hard time coping with her new existence and in letting go with her past.
Of Lilith’s experiences on the ship before she had to Awaken other humans in a way helped her when the time came. She was given a change so she could learn quicker and communicate with Nik much easier. One of the things Lilith really wanted, and felt she needed to do, was talk to another human on the ship. There were humans who had stayed on the ship when they were awaken or first brought on that lived within the group families. The first human Lilith met after her own Awakening and move into the family was Paul Titus. Paul had practically grown up on the ship when he was awaken at the age of 14 sometime before Lilith. The meeting with Paul was not what Lilith was hoping for because he tried to rape her but was stopped. The reaction by Paul was caused because though he had grown physically he was still mentally a young teen who could not process or had an interaction with another human his whole life. This was not evident to the Oankali for they did not know much about humans and were studying them. Sometime later it was time for Nik to change into and adult and leave the home of its parents with Lilith. After this and time later Lilith had to start waking people.
The way Lilith wanted to choose people was simple. Whoever would not kill her or freak out and those who would be helpful when she had woken other people. Gender was a big them in this section of the book because Lilith was worried that if she woke a male first they would either be violent or Lilith would become attached to them because she had not seen a male in so long, beside Paul. The first person she chose to awake was a young woman named Tate. In awakening Tate first she made sure she was able to understand what was going on and sure she was willing to help her with what needed to be done. As Lilith started to wake more people, there was already disbelief at where they were and who Lilith was. This distrust they have for Lilith was almost similar to how Lilith felt in meeting JD the first time. She had a difficult time in believing what was happening but learned to accept it. As did the newly Awakened people. That being the first group of humans to be Awaken, there were many uncertainties in what would happen and they, Lilith and the Oankali, could only prepare for so much. As she took in more people and the group got larger personalities and opinions grew also. The first interaction Lilith had with Jean Pelerin was over the food they were given. It was after this small fight that Lilith first started to question her humanity and whether she was still considered human. The small factions stated to form because they were bored, scared, and caged. Of those she is able to trust and formed relationships with, Joseph LiChan Shing was the closest to Lilith and the only other human to receive enhanced protection from the boiling anger of the group. He was also the earliest to meet an Oankali, Nik. From each new struggle Lilith had to handle the second largest one was when the opposition group to Lilith tried to forcefully take another female to pair up with. From this fight Lilith had hit multiple people though the Oankali still did not intervene with the humans yet. Not till later when they arrived to connect with pairs or singular people as Lilith did with Nik. The connection between Lilith and Nik was different to the one she shared with Joseph because for her and him it was a human connection after such a long time and not physical in the sense Nik was. After the imprinting sessions were done, the humans were ready to move into the training room to test their skills at surviving on the Earth.
The events of the training room were an escalation of what happened in the previous space. The humans broke off into groups because they thought they were really on Earth and were still afraid and did not trust Lilith or the Oankali. It was here that Lilith felt the most alone and inhuman when next to them because she had something to compare herself to that was not the Oankali and ooloi. While the humans needed the help of Lilith to live and survive in the forest area, they took it without really giving her annoying in return. Those who had earlier sided with her also stated to leave became they could no longer take what had happened to them. Lilith felt the most alone and inhuman after the murder of Joseph by one of the leading opposition groups because he found out about Josephs enhancement. The last sense of human in Lilith leaves with the death of Joseph because he was an anchor of sorts for Lilith after being alone for so long and her previous loss of her son and husband before the war. She almost lost Nik after one of her tentacles was severed. By the end of the book though Lilith still clings to some form of humanity the final loss of Joseph and being left on the ship marked her as different and nonhuman. While the willingness to save Nik in the presence of other humans and her enhancements also signified her change are her need to reexamine who and what she was and wanted to be defined as when there was no one to compare herself too.