Parable of the Sower Summary
Parable of the Sower is a 1993 speculative fiction novel by Octavia E. Butler. It takes the form of journal entries by the protagonist, eighteen-year-old Lauren Olamina.
- In 2024, after her Southern California neighborhood is attacked, Lauren—who suffers from “hyperempathy syndrome”—begins to trek north along with two of her neighbors.
- Several others join Lauren’s group as they journey along the highway. Lauren, meanwhile, works on developing the new religion she calls Earthseed.
- After experiencing many dangers on the road, the surviving members of the group reach a piece of land in Humboldt County where they agree to settle.
Last Updated on October 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 853
An epistolary novel, Parable of the Sower consists of journal entries by its protagonist, Lauren Olamina. Each chapter’s epitaph is a related verse from a text called “Earthseed: The Book of the Living.” As the narrative progresses, it is revealed that this is Lauren’s book and that Parable of the Sower recounts the genesis of this spiritual text.
The narrative begins in 2024. Lauren is a teenager living in a walled-off neighborhood in “Robledo,” a town about twenty miles outside of Los Angeles. She lives with her father; her stepmother, Cory; and several little brothers. Her father is a preacher and a prominent community figure, and Lauren struggles to contend with the way her own religious beliefs have come to diverge from her father’s. As her own beliefs evolve, she writes them down in a journal that she eventually comes to call “Earthseed.”
Because her late mother was abusing a synthetic drug during pregnancy, Lauren has “hyperempathy syndrome.” This means that she feels others’ experiences viscerally—if someone is physically injured, she will feel physically injured. If they experience physical pleasure, so will she. Knowing what a vulnerability this is, Lauren and her father guard this secret from the rest of the world. Lauren refers to her condition as being a “sharer.”
Her hyperempathy syndrome means the world outside the neighborhood is uniquely difficult for Lauren. The world outside their enclave is extremely inhospitable and dangerous, and many of the people who live on the streets suffer significant physical injuries from being attacked. Lauren can’t pass through that territory without sharing their pain.
Becoming increasingly fearful of unrest in the face of scarcity, precarity, and climate disaster, an anxious Lauren begins to quietly prepare for the fall of civilization. Some members of the community hope to move west to a newly-opened privatized company town, but Lauren’s father warns that company towns lead to indentured servitude and modern slavery.
When her brother Keith is killed and then, later, her father goes missing outside the neighborhood walls, Lauren’s fears escalate. Their protective wall is repeatedly breached by thieves and arsonists, and one day their community falls entirely under siege. Attackers set fire to the neighborhood, shooting at residents as they flee their homes, and most residents are killed.
With her pre-packed emergency bag on her back, Lauren flees. She initially assumes she might be the only survivor but soon encounters two others: Harry Balter and Zahra Moss, two other young people from the neighborhood. The three eventually decide to walk north together, hoping to find easier lives in Oregon or Washington. With swaths of others making the same dangerous journey, they travel on foot up the coastal highways and make camp by the side of the road at night. During the journey, Zahra and Harry become romantically involved.
Though they are wary of other strangers, and collective desperation means caution is mandatory, their small group eventually befriends a young couple named Travis and Natividad. The two have a young baby named Dominic, called “Domingo.” They all decide to travel together. Soon, they meet a man on the road named Bankole. When he helps them rescue Jill and Allie Gilchrist, two women buried under a pile of rubble, they all continue north together.
As they travel up the coast, Lauren introduces the group to Earthseed. Some are resistant to its ideas, and some readily embrace them, but over the course of the journey they come to identify with the concept as a community. They bond together over their shared commitment to protecting the group and acting in the best interests of their community, even as conditions on the road become increasingly ruthless, and eventually pick up several more members: Justin, a child whose mother is killed in a gunfight near their camp; Emery Tanaka and her daughter Tori, who have escaped from a company town in which they were indentured; and Grayson Mora and his daughter Doe, who have also escaped slavery.
As Harry and Zahra’s relationship becomes more serious, Lauren and Bankole become romantically involved. Eventually, he tells her his secret: he has property near Humboldt County, where his sister lives, and he’d like her to come live with him. She agrees on one condition: that she can bring the whole community and found Earthseed on Bankole’s land.
After one especially brutal fight in which they’re attacked by a roving gang, Lauren realizes that Emery, Tori, and Grayson are all sharers. They’re the first she’s met other than herself, and she and Grayson compare notes about how many times they both “died” while shooting their own attackers.
Finally arriving on Bankole’s land, they discover the burned rubble where Bankole’s sister’s house once stood and numerous human bones across the property. After some debate about whether they should settle there or keep moving, they decide to stay. It’s dangerous on the property, they realize, but it’s dangerous everywhere.
They hold ceremonies to honor their dead, share a meal together on their new land, and decide to call the community “Acorn.”