Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

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Parable of the Sower Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In Parable of the Sower, Southern California in 2024 is a landscape of devastation caused by environmental disasters and governmental corruption. Evil flourishes because of power conflicts between the rich and the poor, who are sharply divided in a segregated society. Lauren Oya Olamina (an African tribal name) is the daughter of a Baptist preacher and educator. Her mother has died of a drug overdose. The family lives in the walled town of Robledo, near Los Angeles. Lauren is a “sharer,” one who suffers from hyperempathy, the ability to feel the pain of others, a delusional condition which inhibits her ability to act in a crisis.

Environmental disasters have caused a scarcity of natural resources. There has been no rain for years; people will kill for water. Only the wealthy can afford to bathe and wash their clothing; the poor are identified by their filthiness. Police and firefighters are corrupt and must be paid for their services. Feral dogs rove the countryside, killing humans. Lauren, fifteen, admires her father but rejects his traditional Christianity. She has begun a notebook with a series of short poems which reflect her growing belief in her original philosophy, which she calls Earthseed. God, she believes, is Change, and there is no heaven to offer comfort. People must adapt and depend on one another and on their own natural abilities to live in an indifferent world.

Butler’s description of life under these conditions is unsparing. Drug-addicted gangs of pyromaniacs kill for pleasure and burn their victims alive. Robledo is an armed camp, walled in against the outside world. Corporations exploit their indentured workers in a revived form of wage slavery. Women and children are frequent victims of rape. Lauren believes that her father’s traditional religion is useless in this state of anarchy.

The mutilation and murder of Lauren’s fourteen-year-old brother, Keith, by a crazed gang of drug addicts signals the community’s coming destruction. Her father goes missing and is presumed dead. When arsonists set fire to the town, Lauren escapes with her emergency backpack, along with several surviving friends. Lauren, who is unusually tall, dresses as a man for her own protection and begins her journey north among the countless refugees walking on the California freeways.

Lauren’s first-person narration is a detailed account of her hellish odyssey, with numerous deaths and narrow escapes. Finally the group that she has gathered, which has survived by killing in self-defense, arrives at a coastal California town. Here Lauren, eighteen, marries an older man, Taylor Bankole, who protects and loves her. Although Bankole is a physician without religious convictions, he supports Lauren’s missionary commitment to Earthseed and the community she founds.

Lauren’s journey chronicles her growing leadership qualities and is an incisive psychological profile of the challenges a prophetic leader faces in forging a community from a diverse collection of survivors. Both Lauren and the community grow successfully because they respect racial diversity and gender and age differences. They also tolerate discussion and dissent.

The narrative portrays keen psychological insight, perceptive character development, and a clear call for tolerance for human difference as the key to survival. The story concludes with a passage from the Gospel of Saint Luke, the parable of the sower whose seed falls on good ground and bears fruit. Earthseed, the ideal self-contained community with its humane principles of inclusion and hard work, offers some hope that it will bear fruit in a hostile world.


(Novels for Students)

Chapters 1–3
Parable of the Sower begins in July 2024, in Robledo, in southern California. It is Lauren Olamina’s fifteenth birthday. California has changed drastically over the past three decades. Water is scarce and expensive, there are few jobs, and climate changes have produced massive rains followed by years of drought. Lauren lives in a neighborhood...

(The entire section is 1,879 words.)