“Parable of the Sower,” a novel by Octavia E. Butler

A speculative fictional novel, Parable of the Sower was published by Octavia E. Butler in 1993. The novel takes the form of a journal and tells the story of Lauren Olamina, a young girl who creates her own religion, “Earthseed,” in a time of chaos. Set in 2024, there is nothing but absolute social chaos. Lauren lives in a world where no one can trust each other, and one must fend for themselves. When her family dies, she sets on a journey of survival beyond the walls of her community in search of water, food, shelter, and the chance to rebuild a crumbling world – a chance to fulfill Earthseed.

Lauren is an adolescent who has grown to be affected by her internal and external conflicts. One of the most powerful traits of Lauren as a character that show a connection between the internal and external is the fact that she suffers from a condition known as ‘hyper-empathy’. This causes her to feel the emotional and physical pain of others around her. She should be the weakest character in the novel, yet she is portrayed as the strongest and most determined. The one who feels the most pain, is the strongest; she has not let her condition stop her, but instead has learnt to deal with it, primarily because of her father. Earlier in the novel Lauren asks, “if everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain?” (115). She continues to remark that she never thought her curse, might actually be used for good. Later on however, concerned more about what pain could do to her when working within a group, she says that “self-defense shouldn’t have to be an agony or a killing or both” (278). She sees her condition as her curse, what that would leave her defenseless and reliant on the people around her.

Butler’s novel reminded me of a lot of different kinds of texts. It reminded me of “The Road” (2009), a post-apocalyptic film of a father and son on the search for civilization. It also reminded me of Hamlet, simply because of the recurring imagery of “maggots”. I was also reminded of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins as the narrative style is quite similar to Butler’s text. Both novels contain strong female characters who must fight to survive, and convey their journeys through an informal tone of voice. However I am most struck by how the song “We Don’t Run” by Bon Jovi relates to the novel. Like Butler’s novel, fire is a recurring symbol in Bon Jovi’s song as he paints a picture of what seems to be a place set in the future where there is thunder, fire and the sky is falling. There is a communal spirit conveyed in the title of the song and lines like “we don’t back down”. I am most interested in the line though, where Bon Jovi sings, “Like a phoenix from the ashes/ welcome to the future it’s a new day”. This to me is especially significant when relating it to Butler’s text because the opening poem of chapter 14 reads:

In order to rise
From its own ashes
A phoenix
First
Must
Burn.

The chapter marks the moment when Lauren decides to escape. She soon realizes that her family has been killed. The story shifts at this point in time; it is no longer about how Lauren is affected by her relationship with her father, family and friends, but it becomes about how she defines her own relationships. She begins to define herself; with the only choice being escape, Lauren must find a way to survive, stay safe, and pursue Earthseed.

Works Cited:
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Grand Central, 2000. Print.

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