Parable of the Sower Dystopian Novel Analysis by Ralph K Jones

Dystopian Literature Review

Parable of the Sower: Land of Opportunists

The night begins as usual, with two adults armed with pistols watching over the walled community of Robledo. Out of nowhere, a shrilling alarm is raised, and a pair of thieves flee from the house they were attempting to rob. The watchmen shoot at the invaders, but they scale the wall and scamper back to the wasteland outside. Nobody in the community is hurt, and nothing too valuable was stolen. These robberies are all too common in the walled-off communities of Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, and the future only consists of more of the same. Worst of all, the people in this community are actually lucky to have such a future. What awaits beyond those walls?

Parable of the Sower

The story of Parable of the Sower follows Lauren Olamina, a young girl who is growing up in one of these walled-off communities, which is led by her preacher father. Lauren is mature, intelligent, and resourceful, but she has a rare, crippling condition known as “hyperempathy syndrome” that causes her to vicariously experience other people’s pain and pleasure. This condition causes Lauren great difficulty whenever she goes outside for shooting practice and sees the gaunt, malnourished, and brutally murdered people on the streets. However, her condition also inspires her to develop her own religion and way of life: Earthseed.

Parable of the Sower In-depth Review

In the community of Robledo, hearing screams and gunfire is as common as hearing the sounds of birds. Thieves and drug addicts routinely break into the community looking to steal food and supplies, and the families defend themselves with whatever weapons they can find. The break-ins start out minor, but they get progressively worse; a young girl is shot and killed, an old woman is murdered during a robbery, and an entire family’s house is burned down with them still inside. Furthermore, Lauren’s younger brother Keith starts venturing outside looking to prove his manhood, but he ends up getting horribly tortured and killed. Lauren  becomes increasingly worried about the community’s future, and plans to start a community of her own based on the tenets of Earthseed.

“There is no end
To what a living world
Will demand of you.”

― Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Shortly after her father disappears, Lauren’s fears are realized, and her entire community is ransacked and burned. She is able to escape in the night, and returns the following day to loot her own home, coming across the bodies of people she knew growing up. After she leaves, she meets up with two other survivors, a woman named Zahra and a man named Harry, and learns that her brothers and stepmother were all killed. Saddened, yet determined, Lauren cuts her hair off to pass as a man, and the three start travelling north in search of something.

Right, Wrong, Good, Evil it’s all Subjective

Along the way, they are forced to fight off opportunists, psychos, and robbers nearly every night. However, they also meet people who are friendly, and they join up with their group, gradually increasing their numbers. Among them is a middle-aged man named Bankole, who tells the group about a safe haven where they can settle. Once they finally arrive there, they discover that the house has been burned down and the inhabitants murdered, but they decide to use the land anyways to build the first Earthseed community.

Parable of the Sower, America has changed

In Parable of the Sower, America has changed from the “Land of Opportunity” to the “Land of Opportunists”–regardless of where one goes, people still take advantage of one another. In the outside world, people will gladly rob, rape, and kill those who are the most vulnerable. And even in all this chaos, the police are absolutely worthless. Considering how they charge exorbitant fees and imprison people for no reason, the police can even be worse than the bandits. The only way out of this chaos is to choose a life of subservience and vassalage in what is essentially modern slavery. You can work for room and board, but you won’t be allowed to own guns or defend yourself, your children might be taken away from you, and you become totally dependent on your “employers”. No matter where you go or what you do, somebody will try to take what belongs to you, and there’s nobody you can call for help. You’re either “owned” by the walls of the community you live in, the chaos of the outside world, or by richer, more powerful humans beings.

Lauren’s ambitions for Earthseed are the only shred of hope within this story. Lauren utilizes her hyperempathy, which usually makes her vulnerable, and uses it as a tool for change. Early on in the book, she wonders if the world would be better off if everyone had her condition, and while it would be impossible to make that a reality, she could at least inspire others to live like her.

Parable of the Sower Ralph’s Wrap Up

Lauren understands that she must do distasteful things in order to survive, but she’s not willing to give up her humanity. She kills and loots the bodies of those who attack her, but she also goes out of her way to help people. For example, later on in the book, Lauren’s group saves two sisters who were trapped beneath a collapsed building, and then takes them in afterwards. Despite their cries for help, not a single person came to their rescue until Lauren intervened. This simple act proves that Lauren wishes to end the pain and suffering of others, and wants people to follow her example.

Earthseed gives the world an actual hope for the future, one in which they can find “a heaven you don’t have to die for”, and where “God is Change”. It turns out that, when the members of society have turned against each other, the only way to see change is to create it yourself, one good act at a time.

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