Parable of the Sower Summary

Octavia E. Butler

Parable of the Sower

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Parable of the Sower Summary

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Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower is a work of dystopian fiction presented as the diary entries of the story’s hero Lauren Oya Olamina. The year is 2024 and Lauren is a teenager living in California, where, like most of the country, society has fallen into deep decline. Police protection has become a for profit enterprise, leaving the poor vulnerable. Environmental damage caused by pollution has made resources like water scarce and expensive and made for unpredictable and extreme weather conditions. A popular new drug causes users to set fires, making the experience one of euphoria for the users of the drug. Many are driven to engage in violence and robbery out of desperation.

One option for safety is to work for the company Olivar. But the protection offered by Olivar comes at a price: employees must submit to having their lives under the complete control of the company. In other words, those who sign up to work for Olivar have to give up their personal freedom and autonomy. Those who stay behind keep their freedom but have little hope for escaping the poverty and danger of living on the outside.

Lauren’s mother died during childbirth, and so she lives with her father and stepmother in a gated community. Her father is a Baptist preacher and teaches at a local college. There are few opportunities for employment in the community, but it does offer some protection from the violence going on outside the community gates. That is, the community offers some protection until it is burned down and its residents are forced to relocate.

But the central crisis highlighted in the novel – expressed in Lauren’s diary – is not the fight for survival, but rather a crisis of faith. With all the suffering that surrounds her, Lauren abandons her religion – but not her faith in the divine through which all change is possible. She comforts herself by thinking of the present situation she finds herself in as a stage in a transformation of the world towards an ultimately good end and as a reflection of the activity of the divine.

What drives Lauren to adopt such a position? What gives her hope in such an apparently hopeless situation? Lauren possesses a supernatural ability called superempathy, which causes her to experience the pain and suffering of others as if it were her own. It is because of what she experiences as a result of this ability that she is unable to engage in the acts of violence that many around her have been driven to perform. It prevents her, for example, from going along with the request of her friend Jeremy for her to participate in a crime for personal gain.

Lauren also possesses intellectual gifts that make her quite advanced for her age; Lauren has begun to take college courses even though she is only 15 years old. One way she exercises her intellectual gifts is towards developing a theology that be reasonably believed in such a dismal situation. The theology she develops is called Earthseed and its central doctrines concern the idea that change is a process towards an ultimately good end.

In the end, Lauren’s faith is put to the ultimate test and everyone learns a lot about each other, about the world and their place in the world. After her community is burned to the ground, Lauren decides to take her chances and wander north in search of a new place to live. In spite of the danger, Lauren refuses to trade her personal freedom for the safety and security she could potentially receive by taking on a position in the Olivar company.

Lauren’s situation, in many ways, parallels that of Moses in the Bible after he leaves Egypt and is forced to wander through the desert in search of a new home. Lauren is able to form a community made up of people who have lost everything as a result of the terrible conditions that have become the norm across the nation. Lauren is able to win the allegiance of many followers who are attracted to the theological principles Lauren has developed within the Earthseed belief system. Lauren and her followers go on to establish a community whose members pledge to follow the moral precepts that Lauren has been preaching.

The Parable of the Sower touches on many themes, including the nature of God, change and community. The novel was followed by the Parable of the Talents. A third installment was incomplete at the time of Butler’s death in 2006.