Parable of the Sower: An Analysis
Parable of the Sower, a futuristic novel written by Octavia E. Butler envisions the future of America being marred by poverty, crime, violence, and widening gap between the rich and poor. On the whole, the writer brings up her concerns about the future of America. In my view, her fears are well-grounded and if present woes of the country are not addressed such a misgiving will not take long to become a striking reality. However, Butler may not be accused of pessimism because she offers practical solution to the problems America face.
The story of the novel is centered on a young black woman Lauren Olamina who suffers from hyperempathy—defined by author as the ability to sense the pain and sensation of others. The initial chapters of the novel paint a dismal picture of California in 2024. The society plunges into disarray and disorder. Such a breakdown of society gives way to three groups. Firstly, the rich who have confined themselves to walled mansions and estates to keep burglars and outlaws at arm’s length. Secondly, the middle-class in the city replicates the same in an attempt to regain some normalcy in their lives. Finally, the poor segment of the society descends into the abyss of disease, drug addiction, and looming death. The growing economic discrepancy between these social classes may lead America to such a state of degradation in future.
The federal government mostly remains ignorant of the needs and priorities of the common public. The local police charge a fee to probe into criminal cases. It can be argued that the trends prevalent in 1980s and 1990s such as the emergence of gated communities, widening gap between the rich and poor and global warming are revisited in the novel to highlight the risks these problem may pose to the overall structure of American society. The story of Lauren Olamia in the form of her diary entries deftly explores these negative trends that still may undermine the fabric of our society.
The protagonist, Lauren Olamia is forced to migrate in search of better livelihood after arsonist burn down her enclave. She has to struggle on her own to find peace and run for her life following the murder of her family. Butler represents her protagonist as being highly sensitive to the miseries of other perhaps to remind us how the materialistic lifestyles have created a vacuum or say barrier among the people of America. The authority has lost control hence was unable to protect her family.
The novel is an unflinching portrayal of the human capacity to commit atrocities; salvation cannot come from the legal or criminal justice system or from the existing faith. Hope lies only in the creation of a new faith. (Sharp) During the period of migration, Laura begins to help those in trouble and to save their lives. She renounces the traditional faith and comes up with a new religion known as “Earthseed.” She establishes her own views on the existence of God and gives explanation of this new belief while leading discussions. She almost becomes a messiah in the process and garners disciples. The very basic tenet of Earthseed belief is that it does not require its followers to seek the help of some higher authority it expects responsible behavior from the individual and society instead.
The belief system that Laura devises also calls for the need of space travel. Her neighbors choose not vote for anyone except her father, who votes for a candidate who has vowed to cancel space travel programs terming it waste of money. Butler raises her concerns about such attitudes towards space travel and stresses the need to re-educate the youth and future generation to discard anything that impedes America’s technological advancement.
This new belief system even includes the concept of Heaven which is very dissimilar to the traditional conception. Laura believes that cosmos must be reached by human being as sky is the limit. She urges her follower to move beyond the planet and this is possible only through space mission. She laments when the astronaut is disallowed to reach Mars. According to her, this is the heaven that human beings should endeavor to achieve.
The theme of freedom also runs through the novel for us to understand its importance. The integrity of America lies in equality and freedom to all. Laura and her family virtually become prisoners as they cannot go out unarmed. The roaming thieves and drug addicts are always likely to ransack the neighboring houses. Joblessness compels people rob each other in order to make living. Youth have no future job prospects. The seventeen-year old Bianca Montaya can only expect to live her married life in a garage.
Butler maintains that salve-like working conditions still persist in America. The companies act like a master leaving their employees with the sense of inferiority. She alludes to the history of slavery and calls for an end to this new kind of slavery which is exploiting the common public of America. The historical references to slavery increase with the progression of the novel. She strongly condemns the treatment of people at the hands of KSF Company.
The author digs deep into the concept of God and shows America as being on the verge of social and economic collapse. The reason is simple: individuals render helpless in the face of big companies. Individuals must try to achieve power after they fully bear their respective social responsibilities. Therefore, she and other black people head off to North believing it to their ultimate sanctuary.
Lauren’s idea of God is that God is a power that human beings themselves can achieve if they desire it. The church, as portrayed in the novel, resembles a fortress. The entire process of baptism provides much room for her to rethink the idea of God. She, therefore, breaks away with the traditional concept of God. She also silently rebels against her father and comes up with her own version of power and amelioration of American future.
Butler foregrounds the value of self-reliance amid chaos and utter disorder. Laura, at the age of 15, decides not to depend on the police or government for her security. She takes up this risky business willingly as Eathseed dictates that one should not wait for the intervention of any higher authority. They must take it upon themselves to define the course their destiny.
The author also highlights the dangers of global warming that may create enormous problems in future for America as well. Climate change hits Robledo community in North America. This phenomenon has deeply affected the social and economic structure and will continue to do so if timely preventive measures are not taken. Consequentially, water shortage and pollution gives rise to sanitation problems.
The astronaut who was sent on a space mission is killed. The cost of water goes up making it even costlier than gasoline though only a few people buy gasoline. Laura reports on all these events. She tries to craft her own way by fully making the most of her intellect and critical faculty.
Walled and gated communities also point one major problem of overpopulation that America is confronting. Overpopulation makes it difficult for authorities to manage them. As a result, the crime gradually begins to spread. It also curtails job opportunities for the people. Given this, people have recourse to theft, extortion, or any other illicit means of earning.
Another equally important issue that Butler raises is that of illiteracy. Zahra, Allie, and Jill are portrayed as unable to even write a single word. The rate of homeless people reaches alarming height. Butler presents the issues of drug-addiction and homelessness as intertwined.
Moreover, impoverishment causes the collapse of a democratic system. In the absence of any defined political system, multi-national corporations hold sway as KSF (Kagimoto, Stamm, Frampton, and Company) is shown to have taken over the communities to an extent that “company towns” come into existence. Given this, Butler warns us against the demoralizing effects of corporate culture and globalization.
To assume that the novel focuses on the battle between political or economic ideologies will be infantile. The novel does more than just predicting the fate of America. Butler implies that America can fend off the impending threats of collapse by empowering humanity. She does not focus on the battle between the social and economic systems. One can say that Butler only gives her readers a stimulus to delve deep into the problems of America and prevent it to meet a disastrous fate.
Sharp, Michael, D, Popular Contemporary Writers, 2005, Marshall Cavendish, p.303