Octavia Butler’s Bloodchild is a short story that is considered one of the best pieces of writing she has produced due primarily to its thought-provoking themes and coming-of-age nature. It’s a story about a boy named Gan, and his journey of coming to terms with what is expected of him. Although the story is vague at times, especially in regard to how Gan feels about his role, one can get a vivid sense of what and why he makes the choices he does. Thinking about Bloodchild and drawing connections to my own experiences here at Geneseo has allowed me to realize that the choices we make are based on a consideration of risk versus reward.
In Bloodchild, humans, (or Terrans, as they are referred to in the story), are living in a world completely foreign to them, a world ruled by creatures called “Tlic.” The Terrans reside in a community called the “Preserve,” which is an isolated section of the planet run by the Tlic that is used exclusively for “housing” the Terrans. They are not allowed to leave the Preserve, but can wander within it freely. One of the Tlic, T’Gatoi, who is also a high-ranking government official for her race, has “chosen” Gan. In order for the Terrans to be allowed to live and survive on their new homeworld, they came to an agreement with their new hosts. The Tlic utilize the human’s bodies to birth their young, as the blood and flesh are a source of nutrition for the Tlic larvae. The Tlic do have a supposedly safe and painless way to do this, but the conflict in the story arises when Gan witnesses a man who is having complications with the “birth.” Gan had always seemed comfortable, or even honored, to have been chosen, especially by such a high-ranking Tlic. This was in spite of her older brother’s obvious dislike of the process, and her mother’s hesitation to have her son go through it. One day, on what Gan describes as “my last night of childhood,” a commotion outside prompts T’Gatoi to inspect, and allows Gan to take a look when she brings a man back into the house. The man is in extreme pain, a condition called N’Tlic. N’Tlic is a complication of the “pregnancy” where the larva eats its way out of its egg before being removed and begins to eat the flesh and innards of the man incubating it. Gan is left to witness the man go through the excruciating process of removal of the larvae by a Tlic that hadn’t chosen him. It disgusts him, terrifies him, and makes him think that perhaps the whole process is just wrong. It seems so alien to him now that Qui’s way of thinking starts to make sense, as Qui had seen something similar several years earlier. Gan was now fearful, perhaps even suicidal, looking for a way to escape the pain he had just witnessed. Then Gan talked with T’Gatoi. And he realized that what he really wanted was to have a choice, to be able to decide whether or not he wanted to carry this burden. In the end, he chose to endure. Perhaps to save his sister from that fate, or perhaps to bond even closer to T’Gatoi, but he chose to be a host.
Within the story, and in the prompt for this essay, the Terrans have created “What Butler terms “a livable space” in “a world” that isn’t your “own”.” In terms of the class title, “Risks, Rewards, and Rent-Paying,” I think that this most conforms to the notion of rent-paying, at least on an abstract level. In the story, T’Gatoi says, “And your ancestors, fleeing from their homeworld, from their own kind who would have killed or enslaved them-they survived because of us. We saw them as people and gave them the Preserve when they still tried to kill us as worms.” And indeed they did, although it came at a cost to the Terrans, or a necessity to “pay rent.” In the story, the Terrans have agreed to become hosts for the Tlic’s young, to allow them to grow inside them and supply nutrients from their bodies. There was also an element of risk versus reward in this offer for the Tlic. As T’Gatoi said, “We…gave them the Preserve when they still tried to kill us as worms.” Gan later emphasizes this by thinking, “It was clearly hard for her to let go of the rifle…It occurred to me that she was afraid. She was old enough to have seen what guns could do to people.” The Tlic took on the risk of the danger the Terrans posed with their weapons, and offered peace and a place to live, because they saw that the rewards of the Terrans living on the Preserve, and consequently being hosts, outweighed the risks in this case. The reward being that the Terrans were viable hosts for the Tlic larvae, something that might have been becoming scarce on the planet. The Terrans also took on many risks in their agreement with the Tlic. For the Terrans, they take on the risk of becoming N’Tlic, a condition caused by being hosts of the Tlic larvae. The man who has it, Lomas is described several different times on page 14 and continuing on 15. He is first described as, “Lomas began to groan and make choked sounds…He wept helplessly…She rolled up his shirt and gave it to him to bite down on.” And also, “His body convulsed with the first cut. He almost tore himself away from me. The sound he made…I had never heard such sounds come from anything human.” Even Gan takes a moment to describe how he feels about restraining Lomas, saying, “I felt as though I were helping her torture him.” All of these descriptions culminate to paint a picture of unbearable pain and suffering, and the horror of contracting N’Tlic. By agreeing to become hosts for the Tlic larvae, the Terrans are able to live on the Preserve, and build a future for themselves that could continue for generations. Gan has to think about all of these risks and rewards and weigh them against each other in order to decide whether or not to become a host.
Rent-paying in my own life is thankfully less invasive but no less important. In order to come to Geneseo I needed to be accepted by the college, so I had to maintain good grades throughout high school. I need to literally “pay rent” in terms of room and board, and tuition. I’m also required to keep a certain GPA in order to continue studying here, and abide by the school’s code of conduct. I’m also held to a higher standard because I’m a student athlete at Geneseo. I need to have a certain number of credits to be able to play, and I again need to maintain a certain GPA in order to stay eligible. Playing soccer in college has been a goal of mine for years, and I’m so grateful that I have been given the opportunity to play here. I looked at all of these requirements, all of these payments, and I said “I accept them.” I accepted these risks because I believe that the reward was worth it, because I wanted to go to Geneseo, and I want to continue studying here. I’ve already paid the tuition and room and board, so if I fail classes necessary for my major, or don’t get enough credits, then it could become necessary for me to stay at Geneseo for a fifth year, and make an extra year of payments that I don’t want to have to make. Or, I might not be able to make any friends and that’s not how I would want to go through college, so I might decide to drop out if that happens. Again, I lose the money I paid, but I also don’t have a college degree to help me get a job and build a future. In both cases, the rewards are more similar than the others: we get to live in relative safety. By agreeing to become hosts for the Tlic larvae, the Terrans are able to live on the Preserve, and build a future for themselves that could continue for generations. For myself, by paying the dues and abiding by the rules laid out, I get to live at Geneseo, study what I want, and gain the knowledge necessary to get a good job that I enjoy. I don’t get the rewards without taking on risks and paying the rent, but I accepted these risks because I believe that the reward was worth it, because I wanted to go to Geneseo, and I want to continue studying here and playing here.
Being able to understand themes and abstract concepts, and then applying them to our own lives can be extremely beneficial because it allows us to learn about ourselves and look inwards, growing from each experience. Any kind of growth that can be gained from stories is positive because the more we know and understand about ourselves, the more we are able to effectively impact society, and maybe even enable others to grow themselves. With Bloodchild, understanding how the relationship between the Tlic and Terrans works and the effects of the agreement the Terrans made with the Tlic can enable us to realize how vital similar aspects in our own lives are. The negatives and positives, or the risks and rewards, all stem from the agreement, which serves as the metaphor of paying rent. Understanding the precarious balance between risk versus reward is also important, as the Terrans had to weigh the risk of becoming N’Tlic versus the reward of the Preserve, a commonality in human nature. With each choice we make, we constantly evaluate the potential benefits against the potential losses. It’s evident throughout Bloodchild with the Terrans, as well as within my own life with my decisions regarding Geneseo, that the choices we make are based on a heavy consideration of risk versus reward, and that those choices sometimes culminate in a form of rent-paying.