Study Guide

Parable of the Sower Change

By Octavia E. Butler

Change

All that you touch
You Change.

All that you Change
Changes you.

The only lasting truth
Is Change.

God
Is Change. (1.Verse.1-8)

This verse passage from Lauren's Earthseed is pretty much her thoughts on change distilled into a few simple lines. She's saying change is everywhere and happening all the time, even to you. Some others have preached this message as well—think of the famous David Bowie Song, or Heraclitus. What's different about Lauren's presentation of the same message is that she's casting it in religious terms and connecting it to social change: at first she tries to improve her Robledo community, and after that fails, she tries to build her own community.

God is Power—
Infinite,
Irresistible,
Inexorable,
Indifferent.
And yet, God is Pliable—
Trickster,
Teacher,
Chaos,
Clay.
God exists to be shaped.
God is Change. (3.Verse2.1-12)

Here's another of Lauren's verses about—guess what—how God is change. Here she's saying God/change exists to be shaped: we can work with it, as if God/change were clay, and in the end, we're trying to produce something. We have to be careful, because God is powerful and indifferent and all that scary stuff, but we can still succeed.

By writing these verses, Lauren is also hyping herself up to believe in her own ability to create change. For her and for those who choose to follow her, it's a kind of positive self-talk. Positive self-talk might be more familiar for those trying to change only themselves—repeating a mantra about sticking to your diet, for example—but it might also be necessary when trying to motivate (or manipulate?) others to change.

Harry woke up, drank a little water, and listened while Zahra told how Richard Moss had bought her from her homeless mother when she was only fifteen—younger than I had thought—and brought her to live in the first house she had ever known. He gave her enough to eat and didn't beat her, and even when her co-wives were hateful to her, it was a thousand times better than living outside with her mother and starving. Now she was outside again. In six years, she had gone from nothing to nothing. (5.12)

Zahra's story illustrates just how dramatically people's lives can change—and how those changes can make a person who at one point isn't considered valuable into someone who is. Zahra's not particularly important to Lauren while they're living in Robledo, but once the community collapses, Zahra's skills from her previous life suddenly become very helpful to Lauren. Perhaps if they'd joined up sooner, Robledo could have been saved, but it seems Richard Moss was in the way of that. Yet Zahra stuck with him because what he provided was better than her past.

[The bubonic plague in medieval Europe caused] slow changes compared to anything that might happen here, but it took a plague to make some of the people realize that things could change. (5.94)

In the first half of the novel, a chief problem Lauren faces is that no one will believe her about the importance of change. She says here that in the past, it took a plague—an obvious and profound threat to a society's physical health—for people to even realize that big change was possible. Indeed, in our daily lives, the revelation of severe health issues, something like a cancer diagnosis, often turns out to be the stimulus that motivates a person to fundamentally reevaluate his or her own life. Parable of the Sower seems to ask: why can't we adopt the mentality that we're always updating ourselves and our environment? Why do we need to cling to dogmas when everything is always changing?

"Things are changing now, too. Our adults haven't been wiped out by a plague so they're still anchored in the past, waiting for the good old days to come back. But things have changed a lot, and they'll change more. Things are always changing. This is just one of the big jumps instead of the little step-by-step changes that are easier to take. People have changed the climate of the world. Now they're waiting for the old days to come back." (5.96)

Lauren says this to Joanne to try to get her to see the truth. In our narrator's Robledo world, the people trusted to solve problems, such as her father and other adults, are caught in a reactionary mindset: they're all about the past, the supposed good ol' days. Lauren seems to think that attitude explains why they can't recognize the importance of change. It's like that saying among people trying to change the world: don't trust anyone over 30.

"But [Change is] not a god. It's not a person or an intelligence or even a thing. It's just . . . I don't know. An idea."

I smiled. Was that such a terrible criticism? "It's a truth," I said. "Change is ongoing. Everything changes in some way—size, position, composition, frequency, velocity, thinking, whatever. Every living thing, every bit of matter, all the energy in the universe changes in some way. I don't claim that everything changes in every way, but everything changes in some way." (18.29-30)

Travis objects that change is an idea, not a God, and Lauren says this criticism isn't so bad. Usually we associate religion with a deity, but in Parable of the Sower, that isn't exactly what's going on. Lauren says it's okay for God to be just an idea. In real life, too, there are some instances where religious believers do not have a deity in mind. Consider Gandhi, for example, who in The Story of My Experiments with Truth sees God and Truth as the same thing. Or maybe people are just quibbling with Lauren: what the definition of a religion (or a deity) in the first place? Hint: there's no hard-and-fast answer to that question. As they say, there are as many religions as there are people.

[Travis] had asked and asked me what the point of Earthseed is. Why personify change by calling it God? Since change is just an idea, why not call it that? Just say change is important.

"Because after a while, it won't be important!" I told him. "People forget ideas. They're more likely to remember God—especially when they're scared or desperate." (18.60-61)

Once again, we confront the problem of trying to make people—or ourselves—change. As Travis puts it, why not just say that change is muy importante and leave the God stuff out? After all, religion might turn off a lot of your potential audience. Well, Lauren disagrees. She thinks that when stuff hits the fan, people turn to God, whatever God actually is. It's like that saying: There are no atheists in foxholes. What do you think? Is God (keep that definition broad) necessary for social change or not?

Changes.
The galaxies move through space,
The stars ignite,
burn,
age,
cool,
Evolving.
God is change.
God prevails. (19.Verse)

This verse passage from Lauren's Earthseed is pretty lyrical—you know, like written all pretty and stuff. What's the point of writing that way? Well, the prettiness of the language might convince your audience to take your message seriously. It's a rhetorical trick. This sounds good, you might say, so I'll believe it. In other words, in Lauren's battle to make people accept the importance of change, lyricism is one of her weapons.

God is Change, and in the end, God does prevail. But we have something to say about the whens and the whys of that end. (24.2)

This is Lauren saying that we the people are empowered to shape change. Now, we're not all-powerful: we can't do just whatever we want, because God is more powerful than we are. But don't count us out, either. Note that this passage comes toward the end of the novel, which means that it comes after Lauren has had a lot of experiences that test how well her Earthseed philosophy holds up. In Robledo, she was more timid about her beliefs, but now, with her own community following her, she's more assertive.

"As bright as you are, I don't think you understand—I don't think you can understand what we've lost. Perhaps that's a blessing."

"God is Change," I said.

"Olamina, that doesn't mean anything."

"It means everything. Everything!" (25.99-102)

This conversation happens between Bankole and Lauren in the novel's final chapter. Bankole kind of doesn't get Lauren, even after traveling very far with her. He says her slogan—God is Change—doesn't mean anything. Yeah, people should know better than to say that to Lauren. She replies that it means everything. But the point is, Bankole is someone Lauren hasn't been able to convince about the importance of change. Why do you think that is? (To find out more about their relationship, by the way, check out the novel's sequel, Parable of the Talents.)

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