Study Guide

Parable of the Sower Race

By Octavia E. Butler

Race

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.

Questions About Race

  1. How do people in Robledo, other than Lauren herself, think about race? How do people who travel north with Lauren think about it? What's similar and what's different in the perspectives of these two sets of individuals?
  2. Through her character Lauren Olamina, what does Octavia Butler seem to be saying about race? Is there any single big point Butler is making, or are there multiple small points?
  3. How would this novel be different if the narrator and main character were white?
  4. How does race relate to sexuality in this novel? Consider the relationship between Jorge and Bianca, or the disguise relationship between Zahra and Lauren. Is the near-future United States envisioned by Octavia Butler a place with more tolerance (or less) than today? How so?

Chew on This

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.

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