Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331

Although Four Walls Eight Windows, the original publishers of Parable of the Sower, tried to present the book as similar to the fiction of other African American writers such as Toni Morrison and Toni Cade Bambara, reviewers seemed still to regard it as science fiction. This did not prevent the novel from receiving high praise. For Faren Miller, in Locus, it “presents what is simply the most emotionally and intellectually appealing religion I’ve encountered in nearly four decades of reading sf.” Miller commented on the grim nature of the world depicted and the religious issues Butler presents but added that the novel “functions beautifully as fiction, brimming with living characters and the crazy complexity of life.”

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Hoda Zaki, in Women’s Review of Books, pointed out that Butler drew extensively on African American history:

[I]mages of slavery remind us of the U.S. past: slaves hiding their attempts at self-education and literacy, and fleeing cruel overseers; Lauren’s band of survivors, which recalls the Underground Railroad; the pervasive feeling that freedom, work and security lie to the north.

Zaki also pointed out that Butler shows characters from a variety of racial backgrounds in positive roles that are not usually found in science fiction novels about the future. Zaki concluded, “In a world increasingly polarized ethnically and racially, [Butler’s] work contributes a needed critical element to the genre of science fiction.” In a glowing review in the New York Times Book Review, Gerald Jonas commented that although religious awakenings are common in science fiction of the future, they are often arbitrary and conventional, but Butler “dares to take Lauren’s revelations seriously,” and this enables her to show how Lauren’s ideas capture the allegiance of her followers. Jonas concluded that the novel succeeded on many levels: “A gripping tale of survival and a poignant account of growing up sane in a disintegrating world, it is at bottom a subtle and disturbing exposition of the gospel according to Lauren.”

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Parable of the Sower

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