Parable of the Sower

by Octavia E. Butler

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How did illiteracy impact the gated community and increase violence and poverty outside its walls?

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Butler uses illiteracy as a reflection of the lawlessness that exists outside the gated community.  The world that is constructed is one in which poverty and climate change have drastically transformed being in the world.  The world outside the gated community suffers the worst effects of these realities.  It is for this reason that there is lawlessness and a sense of terror in this setting. Illiteracy is not the cause of such a state.  It is a reflection of it. "The homeless people, drug addicts, vandals, arsonists, and thieves who roam the unwalled residential areas" are part of this setting, one in which literacy is not valued and other realities are.  

In contrast, life inside the gated community, the life that Lauren lives, is one in which literacy and scholarship are valued. Lauren values these habits because they form the basis for a civil society, something that becomes clear in her motivations as the narrative progresses.  Lauren's father teaches her these truths.  Her desire to form an Earthseed community is inspired by her literacy and sense of transformative understanding to see what can be from what is.  Illiteracy is not what made the people outside of the gated community more violent. Illiteracy did not create more poverty.  Perhaps one can make the causal connection that the lack of valuing literacy in this world helps to contribute to its lawless condition and a being in which what is becomes more important than what can be. Yet, it is due to economic challenges and the intensity of climate changes that individuals revert to a savage condition.  Illiteracy is a part of this larger narrative.  Butler presents the forces of change and the agents of salvation in the novel to be ones who are literate.  Literacy does not becomes the reason why social fragmentation has resulted.  However, being literate represents an aspect of redemption in a setting sorely in need of it.

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