A Night In The Box (Or 2 Years)

Posted on October 25, 2011 by Tiffany KW.
Categories: Uncategorized.

Lilith’s experience of solitary confinement seemed the most alien concept thus far.  The idea of not seeing anyone else (human or otherwise) for two years stretches my comprehensive abilities.  I don’t mean that every other thing in the book is acceptable and familiar — not by a long shot.  But I can thoroughly picture in my mind’s eye what the Oankali look like (Koosh balls that walk), what the walls and bed feel like (thinly padded steel), and how it feels to learn an extraterrestrial language (very frustrating).  It’s the nature of Lilith’s captivity that feels so alien to me.

Her incarceration carries with it the weight of manipulation and even torture.  After all, what do we do with the people we despise?  I’m talking about the people we want to punish to the greatest degree, not simply those of whom we want to be rid.  We place them in solitary in a Supermax prison facility.  The only human contact these traitors, serial killers and spies receive comes from their transport to and from an exercise space.  Other than this single hour, the remainder of their day decays inside the convicts’ cells.  Furthermore, every minute of every hour of every day, the prisoners are being watched.  Nothing they do, not one single activity stays private.  The authority figures always watch and listen.  Sound familiar?

Lilith does not receive the courtesy of a separate exercise space or human contact.  The OED defines alienation as: “to make estranged or to turn away the feelings or affections of any one.”  The Oankali go above and beyond to ensure Lilith feels alienated in the extreme sense of the word.  The smallest details seem engineered to instigate a mental breakdown.  For instance, the food provided is nutritious, but disgusting in appearance, virtually tasteless, and never varies.  No clock or other time-keeping mechanism provides her with a real sense of time.  Her body’s distorted sense of time keeps her off balance; she never knows how many days have passed or whether it’s day or night.  Her captors keep her naked for the majority of her Awakenings.  For most of humanity, the need for clothing is deeply ingrained from birth.  Primarily, it is Lilith’s solitude that feels so very alien.  Not a single human face, voice, scent, or touch.  For two years.  I don’t know that I could survive that same circumstance, quite frankly.

Each of the above items is a technique employed to gain control over a captive.  Social deprivation, disorientation, and isolation from anything familiar serve as a means to make the subject dependent on the captors for whatever purpose: to gather information, to ensure obedience, or simply because they can.  What Lilith endured during her solitary confinement by the Oankali constitutes nothing less than total alienation.  I can’t identify with her situation, and although I have an understanding of what might occur, it is the most alien aspect to the novel so far.  Lilith attempts to point out the error in method to the Oankali numerous times, but to no avail.  I can’t help but think of the immortal Paul Newman: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

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