In Parable of the Sower, our young prodigy heroine Lauren Olamina founds Earthseed, her own religion. Yeah, folks, in case you were wondering, that's pretty intense. Lauren's not just doing it for fun—she really believes it, and she's put a ton of effort into working out her ideas. According to Earthseed, God is Change, not a deified authority figure. Lauren lays out Earthseed with poetic verses, conversations with people she meets, and actions.
Fundamentally, Lauren sees recognizing the importance of change—and working with it—as a way of empowering people to better their communities and lives. Eventually, there's the Destiny: the idea that humanity should settle on other worlds in outer space. But that's something that humanity needs to actually make happen.
Focusing on the importance of change is a particularly powerful way to help people solve problems and build community.
Focusing on the importance of change isn't a particularly powerful way to help people solve problems and build community.
If the theme of Parable of the Sower were a boiled down and slapped on a bumper sticker, it would totally say God Is Change. Now, literature in general is all about change: we analyze plot as it develops and characters as they develop, and the whole thing is about how we're getting from point A to point B, and why.
But this novel takes the to another level. Lauren Olamina, our heroine, actually makes a religion out of this idea. Sometimes people are receptive to her message and how she frames it, and sometimes they aren't. One question this novel asks is: how should a person go about trying to convince others of something, anyway? Particularly something as simple but profound as the thesis that God is Change?
Lauren's right. Change is the most important factor in our lives.
Change is overrated. While it may be important, there are other factors that are better to focus on.
There are so many religions out there—which one to choose?
Well, if you're Parable of the Sower's Lauren Olamina, you don't choose; you create your own. Confronted with a world that's falling apart, Lauren—who is just a teenager—creates her own belief system, Earthseed, the central tenet of which is that God is Change. There's no dogma here. If you're basic believe is that change is the foundation of the universe, then that means everything is always developing. If you ask Lauren, the point isn't to follow rules: it's to participate in and contribute to the constant evolution of the world.
Founding your own religion is a healthy response to a disintegrating society.
Founding your own religion is a bad idea, no matter what's going on around you.
Remember how in Battlestar Galactica (the recent one, folks, not the original), Commander Adama told everyone how great it would be to get to Earth? He wasn't sure if there really was an Earth, but he knew that people needed something to believe in, so he just acted as if it were real.
Sometimes it helps people unify and make progress if they have a big gigantic goal they can work toward and put their faith in. In Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina tells people who follow Earthseed, the religion she's creating, to believe in a Destiny: they're gonna go out to space and settling among the stars. Space is a real-life heaven, she says; we can actually get there and make a new start for ourselves.
People need a long-term goal or Destiny to focus on in order to make progress.
People don't need a long-term goal or Destiny to focus on in order to make progress.
In Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina, has a funky hyperempathy syndrome that makes her acutely aware of the pain or pleasure felt by other people. Translation: if someone around her feels pain or pleasure, she feels the very same thing—even if that thing terrible, like getting beaten up or shot.
Like a lot of people with a real-life condition or disability, Lauren has a unique relationship with her syndrome: she sometimes sees it as a good thing, and sometimes as a bad thing. The syndrome also affects her ability to open up with other people, since it's difficult for her to gauge when and how she should inform other people about the condition. But basically, it makes her totally aware of other people's emotions, and that gives Lauren a unique perspective on compassion and forgiveness.
The world would be a better place if more people were "sharers" like Lauren.
The world wouldn't be a better place if more people were "sharers" like Lauren.
In Parable of the Sower, a big part of Lauren Olamina's plan for living according to her own religion is to establish her own community. She doesn't have to wait long for the chance to put her ideas into action. Once her own hometown Robledo is destroyed, she has to migrate north as a refugee, and on the journey she attracts followers who eventually help her establish the first Earthseed community: Acorn.
Contributing to a community is one of the best ways to help yourself survive.
Community is overrated; there are plenty of other good ways to survive on your own.
Parable of the Sower is set in the not-so-distant future. We're talking 2024-2027, and what Octavia Butler gives us is a United States that's falling apart—and where poverty is widespread. That's, um, not very far off the mark: even in 2015, according to a Federal Reserve Board survey, almost half of all people in the United States reported that they couldn't come up with $400 to meet an emergency. Ouch. So what does that forecast for us? Through the eyes of her heroine, Lauren Olamina, Octavia Butler takes a look at what may come.
Lauren's experience of poverty is a necessary stage in her growth as a person.
Poverty is romanticized. It's not necessary for Lauren to go through poverty in order to understand how to improve the world through her work.
So, slavery in the United States was abolished after the Civil War, right?
Yeah, not so fast. In Octavia Butler's near-future sci-fi novel Parable of the Sower, there are various types of slavery taking place all over again: we've got debt slavery, marital slavery, pretty much everything but plantation slavery (and who knows, that may even be happening somewhere). People might argue that these aren't tantamount to what was taking place for Black folks prior to 1865, but what does Lauren Olamina, the novel's narrator, have to say about that? Just what does it mean to own another person, anyway?
Debt slavery, marital slavery, and other types of slavery exist and are real forms of slavery today.
Slavery only refers to a situation in which one person owns another person.
All right, so sci-fi heroine Lauren Olamina in Parable of the Sower is a prodigy teen who invents her own religion, founds her own community, and in all kinds of ways is just plain awesome. Don't argue with that, because you can't. But what actually makes Lauren so awesome? Well, one of the major factors is her perseverance. She sticks to her goals and works hard—she even preaches a sermon about the importance of perseverance. She tries to get others to see the importance of hard work and change and problem solving and more—and then when her hometown is destroyed and her family killed off, she just perseveres some more by heading north to save the world.
World, don't mess with Lauren Olamina.
Perseverance is a personal trait that's necessary for success.
Perseverance is something you learn, not necessarily something you're born with.
You may have noticed that most sci-fi novels feature white characters—or alien species whose ethnicity doesn't much reflect life in the United States today. Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower is very different: it was authored by a Black woman who wanted to "write herself in" to her stories and to American literature.
In this novel, the protagonist and narrator, Lauren Olamina, is a young Black woman. Race is definitely a factor in who's able to survive in Lauren's world and how—it's not something that Lauren can afford to ignore. She seems more eager to ally with people who are also minorities or who come from mixed background, perhaps seeing in them not only a kind of safety but also a strength that is ordinarily ignored or overlooked by people of the dominant white ethnicity.
It's wise for Lauren to ally with ethnic minorities.
People from ethnic minority backgrounds in this novel are strong in times of adversity because they're used to adversity.