In Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower, one of Lauren Oya Olamina’s Earthseed passages is, “In order to rise/From its own ashes/A phoenix/First/Must/Burn.” (Page 153). The phoenix has several different meanings. In mythology, the phoenix is usually described as a bird with brilliant plumage and having magical properties while alive. At the end of its life, when the phoenix dies his body is enflamed and, from the ashes, the phoenix is reborn to begin life anew. The phoenix is also a metaphor for a circle or a cycle, destruction and creation, and to some extent, divinity and immortality based upon the phoenix rising from the ashes after each lifespan. In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler applies these metaphors to Lauren as a character.
For Lauren Olamina, because of her hyperempathy disorder, lives a guarded life, but as the problems of the outside lowly start to impede on her gated life, she is excited to recruit as many people as possible in order to prepare as many as she can for life outside the protective walls of the gated community. She was talking to her best friend Jo, “We’ll die in here unless we get busy now and work out ways to survive (Page 56)”. She then goes into ways that they can survive with books, Lauren thinks that she has an ally, someone to stand by her, but then she was ‘told on’ by Jo to her parents. With this act, Lauren thanks herself that she didn’t go into detail about her own disability, a belief that she carries with her throughout her travels. She is resistant to provide any details about herself to those who she ‘picks up’ along the way until they prove themselves to her. This cycle is ongoing throughout the book as she first learned to be careful from being ‘burned’ by Jo.
Lauren is also represented by the Phoenix through destruction and creation. While in her gated community, Lauren was held back, not by any outside forces, but by her own responsibilities. During her build up for evacuation protocols, she has got together clothes, money, and food for her travels. She prepares early, but is hesitant to leave, never really making the move to go. When she was talking to Curtis, she was questioning leaving, “What are my responsibilities? What will happen to my brothers if I leave them to Cory? They’re her sons, and she’ll move the earth to take care of them, keep them fed and clothed and housed. But can she do it alone? How? (Page 140)”. It was from this responsibility and it was this Lauren who figuratively died in the fire that killed her family and community and was reborn into this new world where she is realized that all her old fears was so much less pressing then what she is going through now and the decisions that she is making now as represented when she gets to Clearwater and realized that she didn’t check on the seeds that she packed as often as she would have planned on, “I hadn’t renewed [the seeds] as often as I should have while I was at home. Strange that I hadn’t. Things kept getting worse and worse at home, yet I had paid less and less attention to the park that was supposed to save my life when the mob came. There was so much else to worry about—and I think I was into my own brand of denial, as bad in its way as Cory’s or Joanne’s mother’s. But all that feels like ancient history. Now was what we had to worry about. (Page 318-319)”.
Finally, Lauren also is seen though the phoenix imagery as immortal as her work Earthseed and the community that she creases lives on despite when she herself might die.
In conclusion, the phoenix represents an immortal circle of destruction and creation which is also represented in the character Lauren Olamina and Earthseed.