Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1138
In Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina is the only daughter of a Baptist minister who leads the family’s walled community in California in the year 2024. The neighbors valiantly try to protect one another against the hordes of illiterate homeless people and thieves in the western United States, which is suffering from extreme poverty and climate change. Lauren’s family scrapes out a living, but Lauren suspects that the community’s walls offer only an illusion of safety, particularly because the police are both corrupt and ineffectual. Lauren learns what she can about survival tactics and struggles to articulate in her journals the principles of Earthseed, a religion that she believes she has discovered. Earthseed is based on the premise that God simply means the concept of inevitable change. Lauren also struggles to hide her hyperempathy, a delusional syndrome—caused by her birth mother’s drug abuse—that causes her to experience the pain suffered by others.
As civilization continues to deteriorate, Lauren’s brother Keith runs away and is murdered by drug dealers, and her father goes missing and is presumed dead. When Lauren is eighteen, her worst fears come true when a murderous group of drug addicts burns down her community. Lauren is briefly incapacitated but manages to grab the survival pack that she keeps prepared. While combing through the wreckage the next day for some sign of her family, she finds only two neighbors still alive: Harry Balter and Zahra Moss. Zahra tells Lauren that she witnessed Lauren’s stepmother and brothers being shot and burned. Zahra and Harry’s own families have also been killed, so the three survivors form an alliance and decide to walk north in the hope of finding better lives in Oregon, Washington, or even Canada.
No longer sheltered, the trio must kill in self-defense for the first time, which is doubly traumatic for Lauren because of her hyperempathy. They witness rape, robbery, murder, wildfire, and even cannibalism. However, they manage to retain their own humanity and even assist others at the risk of their own safety. Lauren continues to write, refining her thoughts about Earthseed and her belief that, even in these dark times, humanity must not lose sight of the importance of traveling to other stars in order to ensure the long-term survival of the species.
During the trek north, Lauren meets Taylor Bankole, whom she calls by his surname. Bankole is a former doctor in his late fifties whose own community was also destroyed. In spite of their age difference, the couple falls in love and agrees to marry, and they ultimately lead their growing group to a parcel of land that Bankole purchased years earlier in an isolated area of Northern California. As the book closes, in 2027, the group establishes a community they call “Acorn,” where they plan to grow their own food, establish a school for the children they hope to have, and protect one another until society regains some kind of order.
Parable of the Talents continues the narrative in 2032. Lauren, Bankole, and the other original inhabitants of Acorn have added to their community by finding other refugees and by having children of their own. Lauren has integrated her Earthseed beliefs into community life, holding a weekly gathering at which she preaches simple verses to remind her congregation that, while God as change is not to be worshiped, they must remember that they have the power to shape change and therefore God.
Although Acorn is isolated, Lauren keeps up with current events and is alarmed to learn that the newly elected President Jarret not only turns a blind eye to the violent persecution of non-Christians but also may actually be encouraging it. While looking for a community member’s lost sister, Lauren is shocked to find her brother Marcus, whom she had believed to be dead. Marcus is living as a slave and wearing an electronic convict collar that can deliver excruciating pain or even kill at the push of a button. Lauren pays for her brother’s release and welcomes him to Acorn, but tension soon develops. After recovering from the attack on their childhood home, Marcus has spent the intervening years as a Baptist preacher, and he is horrified by what he perceives as Lauren’s blasphemous Earthseed teachings.
Shortly after Marcus leaves Acorn to pursue his own calling, Lauren and Bankole have their first and only child, a daughter named Larkin Olamina Bankole. However, when Larkin is two months old, Acorn is viciously attacked by a group of Jarrett’s Christian America crusaders. The surviving adults are outfitted with slave collars, and Acorn is turned into a “rehabilitation” center called Camp Christian, while the young children are “rescued” and placed with Christian America foster families.
Lauren encourages her companions to watch for an eventual opportunity to escape, but the group endures seventeen agonizing months of hard physical labor, torture, rape, and despair over the loss of their children. When a landslide incapacitates the slave collars, the group kills their captors and scatters. Bankole has died of a heart attack caused by his slave collar, and Lauren desperately tries to track down information on her daughter. She appeals to Marcus for help. Now a rising Christian America minister named Marcos Duran, he insists that Lauren’s captors were simply fringe fanatics, rather than prominent members of his own church.
Lauren is once again alone, but she soon attracts new companions, some of whom begin to share her vision of Earthseed. Finally horrified by the atrocities committed with President Jarrett’s complicity, the people of the United States gradually begin to restore some order to society. However, in spite of her best efforts, Lauren is not reunited with her daughter until years later, when the adult Larkin, renamed Asha Vere, realizes on her own that she may be related to this increasingly famous woman who now has a significant following. Lauren is overjoyed to find her daughter, but she is devastated to learn that Marcus has known of Larkin’s whereabouts for years. Because Larkin was raised by her Christian America foster parents and developed a close relationship with her Uncle Marc, she is unable to muster any warmth or affection for her mother, and she is contemptuous of Earthseed. Deep down, she cannot help but feel that Lauren did not try hard enough to find her.
In spite of Lauren’s grief over the permanent loss of her daughter, a last journal entry dated 2090 shows that Lauren achieves some degree of peace because she has helped humanity take its first step toward the stars. She has gone to witness the launch of shuttles that will take colonists, some of them descendents of her original Acorn community, to Earth’s first starship, which is being assembled in orbit and on the moon.
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