Final Thoughts on Wild Seed [Octavia Butler Book Club]

Wild Seed Retro Cover

Next week, we will move on to the second book in the Patternist series, Mind of My Mind.

But first, let’s close out Wild Seed.

I found myself coming back to two main ideas after reading. (Spoilers ahead – but you should be keeping up with the reading.)

The first was a question for myself: How do I see the evolution of Doro and Anyanwu’s relationship? Was it ever anything besides a relationship predicated on how he could use her abilities? I label it abusive, but at the same time, there is something else there. It’s something close to a shared loneliness, but not fully. Kind of like the bond that passes between people who truly understand each other, yet are fundamentally different. As if Doro and Anyanwu are like magnets – repelling each other for most of the book, but still drawn to each other in the end. Then I would read over a chapter and hate Doro all over again. His views on morality may have made perfect sense to him – but they caused so many people pain. Can one ascribe humanity to a being such as Doro? If we can, we can wonder about his final reveal of vulnerability; if we can’t, then there is no use appealing to something that was never there to begin with.

Also, strangely, the Willie Lynch letter keeps surfacing in my mind. Despite having long been discredited (by multiple scholars at this point), the central question the false artifact purports to answer – “How do we create a slave?” – is a tantalizing one. Doro is a slave trader. Doro’s associates are slave traders. And he proves to be quite skilled at persuading others to submit to his control, through physical or psychological violence. Anyanwu’s final decision plays into that question as well. There are many times in the book where Anyanwu follows Doro’s orders, but her final submission felt different somehow. Again, if we look at this through the prism of humanity, and Doro’s expression of vulnerability as an expression of love, perhaps it is understandable. However, if we do not see Doro as human, it feels like Anyanwu submits, fully, to slavery. Did Doro create a slave? Or did Anyanwu choose to be one? Or did she chose something else entirely?

What are your thoughts, readers?

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  • Bella01

    Thank you soo much for deciding to do a blog post on Wild Seed! This is the first Octavia Butler book I’ve read cover to cover (I tried to read Kindred but I find it very hard to read books/watch movies dealing with slavery. I’m trying to slowly muster up the courage to read that because Wild Seed definately showed me the talent we lost in Butler) I think both the author as well as the commentators on here recognized the duality in the relationship between Doro and Anyanwu. I think that it’s not entirely incorrect but somewhat simplistic to only see there relationship as Doro= slavemaster and Anyanwu=slave. Now to be sure there’s definite power divisions and later on shifts that often keep Doro in a position of power. He is after all a man (or something) that not only subjugates people for profit and power but also the fact that he breeds both his spawn and others like cattle. But Anyanwu isn’t someone helpless victim either. She is a powerful being, the uncontrollable “wild seed” that was ruled her village in Africa much like a more humane Doro. I think she even said when she first met Doro that it was better to be a master than a slave, which made me think that 1) She obviously has experience what it’s like in both positions and that 2) Even though we think that being another human being’s “master” is morally wrong and unhumane, it does have it’s benefits, especially compared to being a slave. Even Doro to me was in someways a slave to his power and his very nature. His very survival depended on the death of others, making him undoubtedly someone who made people fearful, with very good reason. The fact that his need to find another like him, an immortal, lead him to impregnant (or in the cases of when he became a woman to get pregnant himself. Lol this book is so crazy and I love it!) people the world over for the perfect genetic match, similar to how some slavemasters would pick the slave studs to impregnant all the female slave to produce strong and healthy slaves. I think the main thing that caused their relationship to change was simply that they were both immortal. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a mother and see my child die before me. Doro and Anyawu saw that for centuries, as well as all their family and friends. It’s like what Issac said, when Doro realized that in the end, all he had was Anyanwu he realized that he needed just as much as he thought she needed him. To be honest though, I can definitely see why people would be disappointed that they ended up together. Anyanwu was just an awesome character in both her power (The superhealing! The super strength! The shape shifting!) and personality (she was smart, tough, resourceful, independent and still caring and beloved by everyone around her.) Doro was so fucked up to her, he basically used her as a baby factory, put her through so much physical and emotional abuse and then fucking raped their daughter (even though she said she wanted to but still she had no way to consent and who the fuck does that with their kids? Oh, right Doro does and then in 15 years will fuck his daughter/grandaughter and ger her pregnant or go all Mrs. Doubtfire and fuck his son/grandson and get pregnaant his dame self. I’m sorry this is so long but I love this book! Truthfully I have so many more thoughts but I would love to perhaps start a email discussion with some of the wonderful commentators here:)

  • Scott Eustis

    I wouldn’t say Anyanwu ever submits fully to slavery; she is ever chipping away at Doro’s inhumanity, despite how exhausting and deadly a task this is.   Progress with Doro’s humanity is slow and incomplete–for the first half of the book, changing Doro hinges on Doro’s connection to Isaac.    At the climax of the book she has forced a change in the program.   She has forced Doro to demonstrate a public humanity for the first time in the book.   

    Doro has certainly changed Anyanwu: even more than her submitting to his commands.  Once she runs away from him, she has engages in her own program, as if  to show to herself or Doro that it can be done humanely.   She doesn’t return to her solitary witch life, although we see her return to a simpler life among the animals a few times.

    The story hasn’t resolved all of the evils Doro commits, but then I don’t think a Utopian ending would have been as satisfying.  the story has demonstrated how slow and exhausting progress is.  

  • Carol

    I have read this book over and over again in the last 25 years.  But the last time must have been about 10 years ago, so if I get off track a bit, please forgive me. 

    I have always felt like Anyanwu was not fully aware of the extent to which she has enslaved herself until after she gains her freedom by living with the dolphins.  Her act of leaving without knowing the outcome of her actions is enough to break her self-imposed imprisonment.  By this, I am not saying that she wasn’t being held captive by an evil being – she absolutely was, but when she is able to escape him without using his tactics of threats and violence, she is able to break the bonds that Doro built. Doro does not really see her as an equal until he believes that he has lost her.  After that, I think she stays simply because she see an opportunity to change him and thereby help others.  Sure she understands him.  Who understands White people better – African Americans or Whites themselves?  To understand Doro is a means of survival.  And in that same way, Doro only understands Anyanwu to the extent that it serves his needs, or it relates to himself in some way.  Butler’s theme throughout all her books is that people (human or otherwise) need one another.  All people.  In one way or another. And that life is messy and not as cut and dried as we sometimes make it out to be.  People sometimes love their captors.  Sometimes humanity needs to intermingle in order to grow.  That intermingling can take on some very beautiful and very ugly aspects on both sides.  But in Butler’s books, beings that love and try not to hurt one another usually prevail, but not without a lot of pain and flaws. 

  • Anonymous

    I found Wild Seed very hard to put down, but I was also pretty uncomfortable throughout with Doro’s ethics, and Anyanwu’s relationship with him. And while I found Doro’s evolution over the book fascinating to watch, and how his change or lack thereof affected Anyanwu’s choices, I was also not so pleased with his conversion at the end. Especially in the context of abusive relationships, which one often stays in with hopes for change that never comes.

    Plus, in the end he doesn’t capitulate to Anyanwu’s worldview so much as he capitulates to loneliness. So in some ways there is never really a meeting of minds; they stay disconnected from each other even as they search for connections.

  • Anonymous

    [whiny voice]None of the other Patternmaster books are available as audiobooks. How do I both quilt like a madwoman (there’s a deadline) and access the rest of them?[/whiny voice] 

    [pirate voice]Yarrr![/pirate voice]

  • Anonymous

    She does not end the book as a slave. Her threatened suicide levels the playing field between she and Doro. He realizes he needs her, and that need for anyone brings him to his knees, and makes them, if not equals, then at least closer to each other in power. She can’t change him, or his attitude, but she makes him back up and take her and her people on her terms. 

    As awful as Doro is, his ideal, the finding of a way to create special people who might one day live as long as he and Anyanwu is an ideal that Anyanwu subscribes to. She wants that too. She wants to be surrounded by folks who get her. She almost had that as his slave, but she had to give up being free to have it.  She then re-creates it with freedom as a guiding force, but still and yet, she holds much of the power. Butler compares Anyanwu’s intentional community with Doro’s slave communities. Anyanwu’s always come out as better, with personal freedom, choice and that very important no slavery element, but the similarities are still there.

  • galto

    I think the relationship was absolutely abusive but not without love. Sort of the relationship that Old testament god has with humanity, I never really saw Doro as much of a human and to be honest i don’t think he really did until his act of vulnerability.  Until that point he hadn’t done very much that was human because he was superhuman, this i think leads into the idea of slaves and slavery. He treated people as slaves precisely because he was super human to such a high level that he stopped empathizing with them in any human way the same way slavery has always perpetuated itself by stripping the slaves of humanity and otherizing them. This, ironically enough is all too human.