Parable of the Sower is conveniently divided into four years: 2024, 2025, 2026, and 2027. These divisions provide a handy-dandy way for us to trace what happens in the novel.
We meet Lauren Olamina when she's growing up in Robledo, a fictional town in southern California. Robledo's a gated community, although it's kind of just a neighborhood with a wall around it. It's not like the people in Robledo are particularly well off—kind of the opposite, in fact.
Lauren is a cool girl with hyperempathy syndrome, which means she feels others' pain and pleasure. That seems to make her both more vulnerable and more compassionate to others.
She also totally wants to start her own religion. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
In 2024, Lauren gets baptized—even though she doesn't believe in her father's Baptist religion—and gets inspired by Alicia Leal, an astronaut who dies on Mars. Lauren writes in her journal and observes the early signs that the gated community where she lives is falling apart: for example, the suicide of one of the residents, Mrs. Sims, shows that not all is well. This year is just sort of the basis or starting point of novel. It establishes where Lauren is before anything really gets underway.
In 2025, a lot more starts to happen. Amy Dunn, a little girl in the community, accidentally starts a fire and later dies from a stray bullet shot through the gate—maybe a little foreshadowing going on here? The residents of Robledo hold target practice to help train everyone in what to do during an emergency or attack. This all sounds good in theory, but in practice, Lauren's not convinced that these measures can defend Robledo from the drug addicts and robbers and other threats living beyond the gate.
So Lauren tells Joanne, her best friend, that they need to prepare better for emergencies and learn some survival skills—you know, since maybe the neighborhood will be destroyed. Change is coming, Lauren predicts—but Joanne won't listen. In fact, Joanne tattles on her, and as a result, Lauren's father tells her to keep calm and not carry on.
Then thieves start breaking into the neighborhood. Bad sign, right?
While all this is going on, Lauren finds comfort writing her verses. She's named her religion Earthseed, and she's committed to spreading it someday in the future. Keith, her brother, has other plans: he keeps sneaking off beyond the community's gate, playing at being a grown-up and sending his family into chaos. Sometimes he comes back bearing money as a gift for Cory, Lauren's stepmother, but we get the feeling life is headed downhill for him pretty fast.
Now it's 2026—Happy New Year? Keith is still living outside, but Lauren susses it out from him that he's involved in crime, even murder, to stay alive. Yeah, well, pretty soon, her parents have to go downtown to identify Keith's dead body. Things are changing, all right.
There are more and more break-ins as thieves continue robbing the neighborhood. Lauren sees that it's only a matter of time before Robledo is destroyed. The community starts holding watches at night, but thieves still bust in.
Joanne's family, seeing all this danger, leaves for the company town of Olivar, where they think the future might be better—though really, it just seems like going into debt slavery. Lauren decides that when she turns eighteen, she'll leave Robledo of her own volition and head north to spread Earthseed. But now guess what? Lauren's father, Reverend Olamina, goes missing. This seems to be pretty much the last straw. Things are falling apart pretty bad now for everyone.
Okay, we're at 2027, the final year in the novel. In July, Robledo gets destroyed. Yup, goodbye Robledo. Lauren was right all along.
Lauren loses her family and her pretty unimportant boyfriend Curtis. Did we forget to mention him? Good thing he's pretty unimportant. Anyway, Lauren flees north, but not before picking up Harry and Zahra from the neighborhood as allies. She already knew Harry a little bit from the target practice sessions, but Zahra had been living under her oppressive husband's thumb, so Lauren hadn't had much of a chance to meet her before now.
Anyway, the three of them are now refugees from Robledo, migrating north in hopes of a better future. Lauren also hopes to spread Earthseed. The three have a few possessions on their backs, enough that strangers will approach them for help sometimes. Initially, Lauren turns these beggars down. But it's not too much longer before Lauren decides to help people instead.
The first time Lauren and company help others is when they're refilling their water at a commercial water station. Lauren trips an attacker who's trying to take advantage of a mixed ethnicity family. That's Travis, Natividad, and their child Dominic, a.k.a. Domingo. Before they join up fully, Lauren has to help them out again by shooting dead an attacking dog, but after that, Travis, Natividad, and Dominic/Domingo are a solid part of what's becoming Lauren's traveling Earthseed group.
Earthseed, you'll recall from a few paragraphs up, is the religion Lauren's founding. Its main tenet is that God is Change. Earthseed advises humanity to recognize the importance of change and use that wisdom to help one another survive (as a short-term goal) and to settle on other worlds in outer space (as a long-term goal).
Lauren lays out a lot of her belief system to Travis and Zahra as they flee northward. Travis finds the religion thought-provoking, and Zahra likes the idea of helping people, but they all still don't know for sure where they're headed. Just north, basically, where they're looking for paying jobs and safety.
Pretty soon, they meet this old guy named Bankole, who helps them rescue a pair of sisters, Jill and Allie Gilchrist, from earthquake rubble. Bankole and Lauren hit it off romantically, despite their age difference (or maybe because of it?), and it turns out that he has three hundred acres of land in northern California. Great, let's go there, Lauren pretty much thinks. Jill and Allie slowly warm up to Lauren's Earthseed ideas and head north with her and her crew. It isn't much longer before they find an orphan boy, Justin Rohr, to adopt. Allie in particular takes care of him.
On their way north, the Earthseed group picks up some more people: Emery Solis and her daughter Tori join, desperate for any help they can get. Emery is basically a runaway debt slave from an agribusiness conglomerate. Grayson Mora and his daughter Doe join up soon, as well. We don't ever learn much about those two, but what's interesting about these last four characters is that they're all "sharers": they all have hyperempathy syndrome, like Lauren.
In October 2027, Lauren and her followers walk past a dangerous fire set by these crazy painted-faces drug addicts who show up every so often in the novel to provoke meaningless trouble. The group of migrating Earthseed refugees make it to Bankole's land, and Lauren asks everyone to commit to either staying there and building a community, or heading on.
Wouldn't you know it? Everybody decides to stay. They hold a service to honor all those they have lost, and they decide to name this new place Acorn. There had to be a happy ending after all that trouble, right?