What is Olivia Butler's main thesis regarding community in the Parable of the Sower?

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In Parable of the Sower, Olivia Butler persuasively demonstrates that individual desire and free will are necessary to form and maintain true community. The corollary would be that any society that attempts to force people’s membership is destined to fail. Hope, not fear, will enable collective well-being. The author draws on and synthesizes elements of numerous historic examples, including early Christianity and U.S. 19th-century intentional or Utopian communities.

Butler presents situations in which near-chaos, characterized by excessive violence and the absence of rule of law, is contrasted with enforced conformity through physical barriers such as walls and gates and excessive rules and laws. While the latter scenarios have come into being through fear of anarchy and crime, the people within those confines have found neither security nor happiness. The example of Olivar, the rigidly controlled company town, is artificially limited by expecting residents’s loyalty to capitalist goals. The rigidly patriarchal model that the polygamist Moss presents has no appeal for many women, and even for men who would not compete with the self-styled prophet.

Lauren with her faith-based convictions and the others who leave lawlessness and over-regulation are seeking a fresh start. Part of what they share is uncertainty about the form this new radical solution will take. Lacking models for shared commitment as a basis of collective action, they often behave in selfish or anti-social ways. Butler shows insight into their struggles to come together around common cause and to find within themselves the motivation to share and help others survive and thrive.

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Your assignment is truly designed to get you to think about Parable of the Sower in a different way. Community (and the lack thereof) is very important in this novel, and the first half of the story has a different feel than the second half. In short, Olivia Butler’s point is that true community stems from compassion shown to others.

In the first half of the book, readers are shown how community is broken down due to lack of compassion and literal walls. People live in one of three states: the rich who live separately inside mansions with high walls and complete with ultimate security, the middle class (actually working poor) who live together inside walled areas who struggle to grow their own food, and the desperately poor and addicted who wander outside. The rich live lives in complete separation both from each other and the other members of society. Due to fear (especially of the addicted arsonists), they have walled themselves in. The middle class are almost as desperate as the poor and addicted. Separated from the one class that could help them, they can’t afford water or food; therefore, they must try to provide their own. Due to desperation, they are generally unable to help each other or those who are more poor than themselves. Of course, the poorest of people are completely separated from everyone, wandering the streets either addicted drunk or despondent. The fearful rich and the desperate middle class are either too scared or too busy to help the less fortunate.

The second half of the book truly proves Olivia Butler’s point: community can be restored through compassion. Lauren Olimina, the protagonist, proves this to us through her journey as a member of a refugee band wandering outside the walls. Lauren has a lofty goal: to create the community her society has lost. Lauren begins as a poor example of compassion. Due to her desperation, she is ruthless. However, it is a turning point when she saves Jill and Allie out of the ruins. The sage of the book, Bankole, comments on this happening:

I was surprised to see that anyone else cared what happened to a couple of strangers.

This is the real beginning of Lauren’s compassion and the proof that compassion is needed to create true community. From here, Lauren’s compassion for others continues to grow. Another example is her welcome of both Emery and her child. One day, they are simply found in the camp. Instead of Lauren throwing them out, Lauren offers them treasures in the form of pears. The other members in the camp follow Lauren’s example and the community begins to flourish. There are those in the community not quite mature enough to show compassion. Harry tries to thwart Lauren’s attempts:

You would have raised hell if we’d tried to take in a beggar woman and her child a few weeks ago.

Harry’s comments do not seem to phase the rest of the community, though. They continue on to their destination, learning to show compassion. When they reach where they eventually will call “home,” they are ready to create a real community. How can we know this, as readers? We know this by Lauren’s reaction to Jill’s death: a hug for Allie and some wise advice.

In spite of your loss and pain, you aren’t alone. You still have people who care about you and want you to be all right. You still have family.

In conclusion, it is important to note that this book is about the lack of community in a dystopia and how community can be restored: through compassion for others. This book is not set in the past or the present, but in the future. The setting is the California of 2024. The irony is that we can prevent the horrible reality in the first half of Parable of the Sower by never giving up compassion for others.

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