Slayage 18 (a scholarly study of Joss Whedon's work) has an excerpt from a compelling title: Blood Relations: Chosen Families in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel by Jes Battis. This is a theme I'd overlooked, but of course it's there: even the core biological family, Joyce and Buffy, is abandoned by the father, embraces Dawn, and adopts strays like Xander and Spike. (Often to comic effect: as with Xander's erotic fantasies about Joyce, or Joyce in the kitchen with Spike the creature of the night, discussing their favorite soap opera, "Passions".)
I often hear abuse victims express hatred of their blood families, and sometimes reassure them that if they survive to adulthood, their "real" family, their second father, mother, brothers and sisters will be chosen by them. It's often struck me how many historical figures I admire, Churchill and R.F. Burton, start as outsiders to their family or nation and then later are called back to redeem the conformist members of the tribe. Some, like Churchill, build "chosen" families around themselves. Interesting that Whedon is now writing X-Men, another series about an "chosen" or "assembled" family of outsiders.
(Churchill was so broke in the 1930's-- he wouldn't shut up about Hitler-- that after making a speech in Grand Rapids, he had to be smuggled out of town by the pastor of Fountain Street Church, and paid as he was getting on the train-- otherwise the creditors would have taken his fee before he could send it home to his family.)
Here are some excerpts from Battis' "Demonic Maternities, Complex Motherhoods: Cordelia, Fred, and the Puzzle of Illyria":
". ...What begins as a derision towards human cultural customs on Illyria's part develops, over time, into a knowledge gap that frustrates her, just as Fred's social awkwardness was a site of both frustration and desire in that it forced her to watch from the outside, to linger, a bit like Angel himself, looking in on the warm human dynamics of an extended family she didn't quite know how to penetrate. Illyria's outsiderness, although it manifests itself as icy posturing and imperialism-writ-large, is no less predicated on loneliness than was Fred's...
". ...There is a moment, before Fred dies, when Spike, gazing at the Deeper Well which leads all the way to the center of the earth, observes that "there's a hole in the world. Feels like we ought to have known." In truth, both have known that hole, and known it intimately—both have felt Buffy's death, grieved for her, and then come to accept her return in unique ways. But this is a different sort of hole. This is the staggering possibility that someone, a loved someone, could disappear and not come back—or come back wrong...
". ... When Wesley first speaks to Illyria, she is astonished at his boldness. "I thought the humans would have long died out by now" ("Shells," 5016) she says, duplicating the demonic hubris—and critical underestimation of human resilience—that many creatures before her on Buffy and Angel have been guilty of. Wesley tries to use this arrogance against her, telling her that "humans rule the earth. . . crying and sweating and puking their feelings all over you. Go back. Sleep." But, as with future conversations that she will have with Wesley, Illyria sees through his attempts at deception. It does not take long for Illyria to become a version of Cordelia, giving everyone the cold and honest truth whether they want it or don't. Unlike Cordelia, however, who knows who she is and what she has to do, Illyria is directionless. She is actually in much the same position that Buffy was in when she first returned from the grave, not knowing what is expected of her, not understanding what she's supposed to say or do, and experiencing the world as a kind of assault. Buffy describes her waking life as "hard and bright and violent" ("Afterlife," 6003), and Illyria describes it as "too small. . . it's too small. I can't breathe" ("Underneath," 5017).
See also Deconstructing Wesley, The Stone the Builders Rejected: Col. Ted Westhusing, The Stone the Builders Rejected: Susie Scott, Musical Playlist for Giles and Wesley