51 pages 1 hour read

Octavia E. Butler

Adulthood Rites

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 1988

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Summary and Study Guide


Adulthood Rites is a science fiction novel by Octavia E. Butler. First published in 1988, Adulthood Rites is the second work in a trilogy, originally collected under the title Xenogenesis and later published as Lilith’s Brood. Known for her innovation in the science fiction genre, Butler’s work often explores social themes such as gender and race as well as systems of hierarchy through a critical, philosophical lens. The Xenogenesis trilogy has been commended by other science fiction authors, such as Orson Scott Card, and is the center of much scholarship.

This guide refers to the First Grand Central 2023 e-book edition.

Content Warning: Adulthood Rites contains descriptions of violence, as well as discussions of colonization and eugenics.

Plot Summary

Adulthood Rites, the second book in the Xenogenesis series, unfolds in four parts. The narrative is set several years after Dawn, which follows Lilith Iyapo, a nuclear apocalypse survivor, after awakening on an Oankali-operated spaceship. The Oankali, an alien species with a mission to genetically reshape humanity, presents Lilith with a moral dilemma between her allegiance to humans and the Oankali’s vision for a genetically altered future. The Oankali are beings with tentacles all over their bodies and have three genders: male, female, and ooloi. Of the three, the ooloi feel most connected to humans.

The story picks up in Adulthood Rites with Lilith giving birth to Akin, the first male “construct,” a human-Oankali hybrid. Akin grows up in Lo, an Oankali-controlled entity on Earth where humans and Oankali coexist. The Oankali’s intervention has rendered humans infertile, and humans require Oankali assistance to procreate. Akin is raised by a group of parents, including Lilith, as well as an ooloi called Nikanj. In Lo, Akin lives alongside other constructs like him. This unique environment reflects a cohabitation experiment between the two species. Simultaneously, “resister” villages inhabited by humans who oppose Oankali influence exist in the outside world.

At the end of the novel’s first part, Akin, a little over a year old, is abducted by resisters who want to sell or trade him due to his remarkably human appearance. Transported to Phoenix, a resister village, he develops a significant bond with Tate, a human woman who acts as a mother figure. He lives with her and her husband, Gabe, who is more wary of Akin. The Oankali do not rescue Akin and allow him to remain in Phoenix, envisioning that this exposure will foster a connection with his human side. However, as Akin matures, an intense longing emerges. He regrets the missed opportunity to bond with his sibling, an integral aspect of Oankali existence, which would have transpired had he stayed with his family in Lo. He spends many years in Phoenix and accepts the humans as his teachers. In the second part’s conclusion, the Oankali reclaim Akin from Phoenix, returning him to Lo. Lilith asks Tate to return with them, but she refuses.

In the third part, a now 20-year-old Akin becomes a wandering spirit, troubled by the plight of the humans and the indifference of his Oankali elders. His isolation from his sibling amplifies his sense of disconnection. He is eventually sent to Chkahichdahk, the Oankali home ship that is devoid of human genetic material. There, Akin is supposed to reunite with his sibling and delve into his Oankali heritage. Despite his initial reluctance, Akin begins to learn from the Akjai—Oankali in their pure form. He eventually discloses his ambitious plan for an Akjai-human settlement on Mars—a proposal aimed at emancipating humans from Oankali intervention. To his surprise, an Akjai agrees to the idea and spreads it throughout the Akjai community. Deliberations among the Akjai end in a tentative consensus, tempered by skepticism about humanity’s ability to self-govern when it trends toward self-destruction. However, the Akjai are eventually convinced to give the humans a chance and, thus, the freedom to self-destruct.

In the concluding section of Adulthood Rites, Akin returns to Earth, eager to inform Tate of his plan. However, Akin finds Phoenix plagued by violence and chaos. Akin first encounters Gabe, who fails to recognize him and distrusts him and his intentions. Eventually, Gabe leads Akin to Tate, who is injured and sick. Akin reveals his plans to establish a human settlement on Mars. While attempting to heal Tate using his Oankali abilities, Akin is unexpectedly knocked out by Gabe, who fears that he is poisoning her. This triggers Akin’s metamorphosis, during which familiar faces from Akin’s childhood watch over him. He discusses his Mars settlement plans intermittently, but strife surfaces among the humans, exemplified by Neci, whose violent and distrustful actions escalate into setting Akin’s house on fire.

Gabe saves Akin and meets with Tate and other like-minded humans outside of Phoenix. They witness the fire spread across the village, and Akin stands with those willing to embark on the journey to establish a new human settlement on Mars, fostering hope for a future free from the complexities of Oankali intervention and Earthly mayhem.