Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Parable of the Sower and The 1980s Crack Epidemic

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler is a dystopian story set about 20 years in the future from the present day. In general, Butler’s novel is warning of the future. She takes events that were happening in the 1980s while she was writing the book, and takes them to their worse possible conclusion. Her narrator lives in a walled community that is trying to keep out the millions of homeless, drug-addicted people on the street. Violence and crime are a way of life. The pyro and other drugs that Butler talks about are a clear image of crack-cocaine, so-called the crack epidemic, and its affect on the populace. I believe that the two drugs, Paracetco and Pyro, that Lauren mentions are supposed to reflect the U.S. crack-cocaine epidemic in the 1980s. Butler wrote the book in the 1980s so she was thinking about 40-50 years in advance. There are many details in this book that seem to be a commentary about the way that things were at that time.

The crack epidemic involved cocaine that was being shipped from the Bahamas to Florida and then sold at very low prices. It was then made into a smokable form called crack-cocaine. Reports of this form of cocaine were seen as early as 1981. This cocaine’s purity was at about 80% as opposed to the 55% purity of white powder. By 1987, the purity level had increased to 90% while the price stayed relatively inexpensive. It gave users an instantaneous high and many became addicted quickly. Crack increased the number of hospital emergencies related to overdose. It also started a generation of so called crack-babies who were born being exposed to cocaine. Many mental and physical ailments result from pre-natal cocaine exposure, including premature birth and birth defects.

In Parable of the Sower, the narrator Lauren tells us about two different types of drugs that are abundant in her world. “My mother was taking-abusing- a prescription drug when she got pregnant with me. The drug was Paracetco. As a result, I have hyperempathy syndrome.” (255) Lauren tells us that the abuse of Paracetco was a widespread issue and that it was some kind of “Einstein Powder.” I believe that Butler is drawing a parallel between the generation of crack-babies that arose from the crack epidemic. Women attributed crack-cocaine to marijuana, making it less intimidating. “As a result, a generation of addicted children were born to--and frequently abandoned by--crack-using mothers. By the late 1980s, about one out of every 10 newborns in the United States (375,000 per year) had been exposed in the womb to one or more illicit drug.” Butler is obviously critiquing the crack epidemic with her parallel in Lauren. By showing Lauren’s mother as career obbessed enough to abuse a drug, she is showing that mothers did not know what they were doing to their children. Lauren’s hyperempathy syndrome is more deadly than many other diseases in her world because of its violence. Since Lauren is incapable of seeing another person hurt without being debilitated by the pain. It almost kills her as she is fleeing from her home that is being attacked by people under the influence of pyro, an illicit drug that is said to make setting fires akin to sex.

Pyro is the parallel that Butler has drawn to the almost 100% pure crack-cocaine that was on the streets by about 1987 and the violence that came along with the trade. “The crack trade had created a violent sub-world, and crack-related murders in many large cities were skyrocketing. For example, a 1988 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in New York City, crack use was tied to 32% of all homicides and 60% of drug-related homicides.”

In Lauren’s world, pyro makes people destroy things, set fires and create more criminal mischief. Without a real police force to control them, crime in her world is spinning out of control. Butler is really showing how bad she thought the crack epidemic was. By 1987 in the United States, the crack epidemic had reached its height and after this, the government began to get a handle on it. They passed laws and acts discouraging people from taking drugs and getting help for people that were already addicted to crack.

In conclusion, it is evident in Butler’s writing that she is critiquing the government and the social structure of the United States in the 1980s. It is also clear that the drugs in Lauren’s world named Paracetco and Pyro are different aspects of the crack-cocaine epidemic that ravaged the American Legal System in the 1980s. Retrieved 3/9/2011

1 comment:

  1. Your discussion of Pyro and your discussion of Paracetco both of have merit, but it bothers me that you don't really deal explicitly with differences as well as similarities between them. While Paracetco's birth defect issues might connect it to crack, they also connect it even more clearly (because it started as a prescription drug) to prescription drugs which causes waves of birth defects in the real world. Pyro, of course, has a more obvious and intuitive relationship with crack.

    All of that is kind of secondary, though. You do a fine job of connecting the drugs to crack, despite my skepticism about a couple of the details. But the most interesting part of your essay, the launching ground for the actual argument, is greatly underdeveloped: "In conclusion, it is evident in Butler’s writing that she is critiquing the government and the social structure of the United States in the 1980s."

    Really? What is that critique? Who is she attacking, how, and why? I think you're right, incidentally, but all you've done is established the background and claimed that she's making a critique. The interesting part is elaborating what it is, and possibly responding to it.