If you were to take a look at our protagonist, you'd see a young woman. And you'd probably like what you saw, because she's athletic and attractive. But you wouldn't actually be looking at her. That's because she's not human. She's an alien, a parasite for a lack of a better term, living inside a human host's body.
Wanderer is slender and silver. She looks kind of like a worm. And she's been implanted into Melanie Stryder's spinal cord and brain stem. Um, ew? Wanderer controls Melanie's body kind of like Krang from TMNT or Plankton on SpongeBob Squarepants.
Her no-body nature complicates things for a few reasons.
Who knew an alien centipede could be so complicated? Let's talk about each of these points. We'll try and get them cleared up before the alien invasion hits for real.
When Wanderer wakes up in her human host, she has all sorts of senses (well, five) that are brand new to her. This experience of getting acclimated to our senses is some we humans take for granted. Even looking at faces is a new experience, as Wanderer points out that "It was hard to tell [faces] apart, to see the tiny variations in color and shape that were the only markers of the individual" (1.47). Of course, her species all look identical to humans, so it's just part of the culture shock.
Many of the emotions she feels are apparently unique to the human race. Feelings like anger and guilt are foreign to Wanderer until she feels them in her human body. She starts to feel jealousy, wondering "why should it bother me that [Ian] thought Melanie was beautiful?" (38.66). And she even feels guilt, saying, "No other host had made me feel such guilt for what I was" (10.71).
That's right: we're the most neurotic species in the universe. Thanks, Woody Allen.
Wanderer is self-aware from day one and consciously analyzes all the different senses, making us look at our own senses and the way we perceive things in a different way. It takes an alien to make us look at our human lives in a brand new light.
Alien domination doesn't exactly have a positive connotation. Think of Independence Day, Alien, or Mars Attacks!.What happens to the aliens in the end? They get blown into gooey little chunks by heroic humans before we even learn why the aliens were trying to kill us all.
Stephenie Meyer turns everything on its head in The Host. She makes Wanderer the protagonist. We get to know her feelings, thoughts, and motivations. We even start feeling sympathetic toward her.
The classic alien story gets inverted in another way, too. In these classic movies, the aliens turn humans into slaves. When Wanda ends up a prisoner of the humans, she's the one who become a slave in a way. Wanda says her species came to Earth "to experience, not to change" (21.40). And what she experiences is the human race's tendency toward domination.
Although neither Wanda nor the humans acknowledge it in The Host, the relationship between the human commune and Wanda is very close to master/slave. The humans use Wanda to cook, work on crops, run errands, and shop. (That's Wanda's big special talent: shopping.) This all plays into Wanda's decision to stay human. She thinks it's her decision—but we suspect that really it's because the humans have assimilated her.
It's difficult to get a bead on who Wanda actually is. Melanie's thoughts and feelings are so dominant that even Wanda doesn't know which thoughts are hers and which are Melanie's. This confusion raises a lot of questions, and we ask them over on the "Themes" tab. (Go read what we have to say on "Identity" for more on this out-of-this-world split-personality disorder.)
What we do know about Wanda is that she's a woman (or whatever her species word for "female" is) without a home. As Jeb says, "Wandering—guess that's your specialty, eh, Wanda?" (22.11). Wanda's lived eight different lives on eight different planets. That's a lot of experience, but it also shows that she's never put roots down and developed any long lasting relationships. It's hard to know who you are when you're moving around all over the galaxy.
One of the biggest conflicts Wanda encounters is the love trapezoid she finds herself in with Melanie, Jared, and Ian. We talk more about Melanie on her character page, but we have to note here that Melanie isn't exactly a poster-child for feminism. Her subservience ends up rubbing off on Wanderer, which matters when the issue of possession comes up. Which it does. A lot.
For example, Wanda realizes, "this body barely belonged to me or to Melanie—it belonged to Jared" (57.30). In what decade does this story take place, again? Perhaps the reason Wanda falls into her subservient role is because of Melanie's archaic views regarding women's.
Melanie's attitude rubs off when we see Wanda defending her abuser. Kyle assaults her in the bathing cave, but Wanda refuses to blame him, preferring to say that she fell on a rock. Wanda's I-fell-on-a-rock excuse echoes the I-fell-down-the-stairs lie heard by battered women on every Lifetime movie ever. You can argue that she's just an alien sympathetic to an angry, emotional human, but that's the easy way out. Wanda has been put into a body on a planet where, apparently, men dominate. (The novel's ending shows another haunting example of this: check out "What's Up with the Ending?" for more about that.)
Whether she realizes it or not, Wanda's experience on Earth proves that appearance and gender, and the way others perceive them, have major on impact on a person's personality, identity, and self worth. And not always—or even often—in a good way.