The class blog for a section of Literature and the Contemporary, a literature and writing class offered at the University of Pittsburgh.
Earthseed: The Books of the Living by Lauren Oya Olamina was at first glance what I thought was a book from ages ago that had philisophical or religious teachings embeded into it. It took me pretty far into the book before I realized the main character of the story was actually the one who is writing this story. I think that perhaps it is not just a journal entry, or as Lauren described it on page 79 as it is "explanation--what God is, what God does, what we are, what we should do, what we cant help doing", but that it is also a way or a device to escape from a horrible life. I think that the theme of escape could also be applied to the continued navigation of the stars even as civilization is collapsing all around them. The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars (Page 84) is a passage of the book of Earthseed which supports the view of escaping life's problems by focusing on something else that is seen as magical or unknown in order to distract.
While reading this novel, I found a theme of Self-reliance becoming more prominent throughout each chapter. Specifically, by the fifteen-year-old narrator Lauren Olamina: A well-educated African-American girl. Seeing her community’s fate early on and how it has become doomed, Lauren, being a Self-relying person, believes that she must take matters into her own hands since no proper authorities are uncorrupted by money. Stepping up to the passive and non-responsive people of her community, she becomes proactive by acquiring and reading books about living off the land, gun use, and especially medical emergencies. Moreover, when tragedy strikes her community and houses are burned and people killed/raped, Lauren still finds a way to add things to her survival pack; even if it was just clothes and a little money. These packs that she has devised, although they must be used carefully and wisely, seem like they will greatly help Zahra Moss, Harry Balter, and herself with reaching their goal and first land community up north: Earthseed.And on a side note, I feel that Lauren may be the most dangerous person of all because of her hyper-empathy: Meaning, in order for her not to feel the others pain, she must kill them ( like shooting the dog and slitting the throat of the man that attacked Harry)
The Parable of the Sower is a scary story of the future. The story is set about 15 years from now. It shows a degraded society full of miscreants and the people trying to be separate from that life. Everything in our world that we take for granted is a commodity to these people. They have to pay outrageous prices for water, the police. Everything is a struggle. The main character of the story is Lauren Olamina. She is very intelligent, young and observant. She realizes things that most do not. This is due much to her “hyperempathy.” I think this is a very interesting concept. Lauren knows that the structure of their life is not going to last forever. She knows that the gated community is not safe. She just wishes there was a way to change the world she lives in. She says, “If everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain? I’ve never through of my problem as something that might do some good before, but the way things are, I think it would help.” (Butler 115) I believe Lauren is absolutely right. For example, if Keith, Lauren’s brother, could have felt the pain that he was putting his mother and father through, he would not have done it. The minister would not have beat Keith, leading him to run away. So many things could have been avoided if everyone suffered from hyperempathy. I think that Lauren might even extend this idea to God. She doesn’t believe in the God of her father, she has her own religion. She can’t bring herself to believe in a being that could cause this much suffering. I think this book brings up a very important issue about religion. What is God and how do we define him? Why does he create us and then let us do whatever we please? I can’t help but wonder how life would be different God himself suffered from hyperempathy? Would he still allow murder, rape, beatings?
While reading the first half of The Parable of the Sower I saw an uncomfortable foreshadowing of our future. The main character Lauren seems to be forming her own sort of religion based on change. the world around her has fallen into a state of anarchy. As I was reading this I began to think about another book that I had read in high school called Fahrenheit 451. Not exactly the same but based on the same principle that the government gets too much power and the world falls into a state of destruction. People become ignorant of the truth and all of the government programs fall apart such as welfare, and fire protection.
Compared to the other texts we've read I was intrigued by the science fiction feel the Parable of the Sower has. I had heard about this book, never previously read it, or knew its contents.It started out right giving the book an ominous foreboding. It reminded me much of the movie The Night of the Twisters, and other similar natural disaster stories. Except for the fact that this story the disaster is human. It also reminds me of Hotel Rwanda, people killing, raping, stealing, etc. I'm not sure how I take the father trying to "teach" instead of "panic" the community members. In one respect he is right, but in another he is further pushing for denial, a big theme throughout the novel so far. It seems out of character and yet at the same time so very in character. He is very complex, both the savior/protector/godlike figure of the community, but even he comes crashing down. I hope we later find out what happened to him.As for the context of this novel, the Earthseed idea is very interesting. For one, this is set in the future and yet puts a lot of hope of a further future in past ideals (going back to the land). The concept of Earthseed in itself is also very different. Earth being of our planet, and seed spreading to other planets. I never would have imagined humans as such. I especially find the verse on 126 interesting, "We are Earthseed/The life that perceives itself/Changing." This insinuates that animals are not earthseed, as well as any other life force out there (unless of course they do percieve themselves changing and are thus earthseed..and human?).I wonder the role of her hyperempathy, I looked this up and it is a real condition, though known as mirror-touch synesthesia now,and hyperempathy being one can feel anothers pain by hearing or reading about anothers. I'm interested as to why Butler would include it, since so far it has played only a minor role in Lauren's life.
In this novel there are multiple themes that Butler ties into the plot, the most recurring one I believe is that of change. She spends a great deal of time having Lauren talk about how the world has changed and will continue to change despite any efforts that humans put out. One point in the novel where I see the theme of change playing a major role is on page 57 when Lauren says, "But things have changed a lot, and they'll change more. Things are always changing. This is just one of the big jumps instead of the little step-by-step changes that are easier to take." Here I see Lauren's character as someone who tries her best to conform to the way her society thinks by blocking out what they know is upon them and focusing on anything good that they have left, but she still has the underlying personality which leads her to worry about the future and how those changes are going to affect her and the people around her.Also, the way Butler has her characters, especially Lauren, examine the meaning of God and what God actually is, specifically on page 25, was very intriguing to me because I was having a similar conversation with a friend about how God can or cannot exist based on logic and philosophy. The two themes of God and change are linked closely in the novel by Butler, which also struck my attention. The passage on page 25, "God is power--/ Infinite,...God is Change." was particularly interesting because it seems that any way God was perceived at some point in the Bible was summed up in this passage, to an extent it attempted to explain the purpose of God but at the same time seemed to create contradictions about Him, which even got me thinking about the way I personally perceive God.
Reading the first part of Parable of the Sower, it describes a grim near future about American life such as the crime, the rise of gated communities, illiteracy, drugs, drug addiction, the growing gap between rich and poor, and also climate changes brought by global warming. The narrator Lauren Olamina, comes from a troubled community in which she is in search for a better life. And one of the early and ongoing themes within the novel is about change especially within religion and God. Lauren appears to reject the traditional Christian religion, and has no belief in God. She makes her own religion by basing it off her observation of change within the world. She believes that change within the universe is constant within life. “God is just the adults’ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want. He doesn’t say that around Dad, but he says it. He believes in what he sees, and no matter what’s in front of him, he doesn’t see much. I suppose Dad would say that about me if he knew what I believe. Maybe he’d be right. But it wouldn’t stop me from seeing what I see.”
The Parable of the Sower is extremely eye-opening and very hard to read. Foreshadowing what the future could look like, made it difficult for me to stop reading, but also made me want to stop reading. The story of Lauren Olamina is one of perseverance and the realization that only you can save yourself from the world. Intelligent, young, Lauren takes the reader with her on her journey of life changing events that are scary for anyone to think about. I felt so connected to her story, I am not similar to her in many ways beside age, but this story really seemed to reach out and grab my attention in the way that the other books we've read have not. I genuinely feel for Lauren Olamina and constantly find myself hoping her life will gain some stability, but continuously get let down.
One of the elements I found interesting about Parable of the Sower is the peripheral story about the political atmosphere. With their world in chaos and despair, newly elected President Christopher Charles Morpeth Donner comes into office promising to turn the country around by spurring employment, similar to what Franklin D. Roosevelt did when he came to office during the Great Depression. However that seems to be the only similarity, as Donner attempts to do this by eliminating the minimum wage and worker protection laws, as opposed to Roosevelt who sought to grow the economy by protecting workers (Butler 24). Another major difference is the attitude of the country, with most people pessimistic that Donner has any chance of succeeding. I think this negative parallel exists to help cement the idea that people no longer have hope in the current world, and creates the opening for Lauren to step in as prophet.
The book Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler, was a refreshingly shocking. At first, when I went to the bookstore to buy the book, it was strange that the helper was going to the science fiction section to find the book because when I heard the title of the book, science fiction was a type of genre that was the farthest from my mind. When I was reading this book, I got to think a lot about future of this world, especially when the main character of the book, Lauren, was describing the state of the city. It was especially shocking when she says “Even inside, my brothers throw dirt on themselves as soon as they get away from the house. It’s better than getting beaten up all the time” (Butler 18). People became so poor that being dirty is now what is acceptable in the society, and because people got either “desperate or crazy or both” that they all are acting like animals. A woman getting raped is not even considered as a critical problem, getting clean water for baptism is a big deal for them, and almost on one uses gasoline because of the high rocketing price. Is this really the future we are facing? I think some parts of it are going to be definitely true if we do not start caring more about the environment and our future.
While reading Parable of the Sower, two other novels came to mind. War of the World's and 1984. The first came to mind as I read of the destruction occurring in and around her neighborhood compound. But rather then aliens destroying everything, it is their own race doing the pillaging and killing. Lauren is also similar to the main character Winston Smith from the novel 1984. Just Like Winston, she is disillusioned by her surroundings and is looking for an escape. Olivar serves as the idyllic citedal on the coast, but it can certainly be said that it is under the watch of Big Brother (KSF).The quote that stood out to me the most was "a tree cannot grow in its parents shadows." Lauren knows that there is know way for her to escape, or grow if she does not establish her own independence and determination.