Friday, April 8, 2011

Parable of the Sowers: All Struggles are essentially power struggles Revision

“All struggles / are essentially power struggles.” This is how the verse of the ninth chapter of Parable of the Sower begins. Out of them many verses written by the main protagonist Lauren Olamina, this is the one that stood out to me the most. In 17 short lines, this verse can be applied to many of the internal struggles faced by the characters in the novel.

At first glance, I was under the impression that the verse that opened up the ninth chapter strictly applied to the events that happened within that chapter involving Lauren’s brother Keith and their Father. The fights between Keith and Mr. Olamina were a struggle for dominance within the household. Just like the lines within the verse, Keith was intent of ruling, leading, and defining the Olamina household by any means necessary. Keith’s first attempt at dominance occurred when he ventured outside the walls of their compound. After spending almost two weeks outside, Keith finally returned back to the compound. In Keith’s eyes, he is braver and stronger than his father. He is able to venture outside the walls by himself with nothing but a BB gun and returned unscathed. He’s more than ready to lead and care for his family. And unlike his father, he is able to provide luxuries such as “big, expensive bars of milk chocolate with peanuts” for his youngest brothers, and large amounts of cash for his mother to use (Butler, 98). His father certainly thinks otherwise, and beats Keith in the hopes of him never stepping outside of the walls again. It seems that Mr. Olamina strongly believed that this beating would serve not only as a warning to Keith, but also work to hold his crumbling family intact. This incident is parallel to the line within the verse that describes power struggles as “no more intellectual / than two rams / knocking their heads together”. The power struggle between Keith and his father is just that. Both individuals are stubborn, hard headed, and intent on making sure things go exactly the way they want them to. Keith is trying to establish a higher place for himself within the household, while his father is doing almost everything within his physical power to prevent that.

The relationship that Lauren and her father shared could also be described as power struggle. Though not as obvious as the struggle that her brother Keith and her father experienced, it is still important to the development of her leadership skills. Before Lauren’s father disappeared, she did not have the option of sharing her ideas about Earthseed or even holding a position of power in the neighborhood. She was forced to hide her thoughts about her fledging religion. However, once her father disappeared, Lauren knew that her “community had to go on, hold together, survive” (Butler, 135). Her father did give her one piece of advice that Lauren used in her later explanations of Earthseed: “it’s better to teach people than to scare them” (Bulter, 65). This is seen in the way that Lauren explains Earthseed to others. She does not force her ideas or try to make the verses of Earthseed appear set in stone. After all, Earthseed is based on change and the fact that the “post-apocalyptic world surrounding them lacks any form of permanence or stability” (Nilges, 1333). This allows possible followers to form their own opinions and also their own subversion of the religion. Lauren’s fluid views on power are parallel to the guidelines she has set for Earthseed. Just like her views on power, Lauren’s views on Earthseed are always being refined, defined, and designed. Her ideas about Earthseed are based on change and also on the premise that its followers are always working to “survive and evolve” (Lacey, 2). The easygoingness of Lauren’s leadership style and also Earthseed ensure that she is prepared for almost situation, good or bad, that she encounters. This “easygoingness” and willingness to adapt when necessary came in handy when Lauren’s neighborhood compound was destroyed by the Pyros. By preparing for imminent danger, and not just ignoring it, Lauren showed her keenness to the change going on around her.

The ideas of this verse can also be applied to the heated conversations that occurred between Lauren and Harry just after their neighborhood compound was destroyed and ravaged. After some time on the outside, Harry started to show apprehension towards the behavior of both Lauren and Zahara. It seemed as if Harry was keen on keeping the same mindset that he had held while living behind the walls. He even goes as far as to chide Lauren for being tolerant of Zahara stealing. “Thou shalt not steal” Harry proclaims (Butler, 172). In Harry’s mind, his ideals are best suited for leading for the group. However, Lauren is not willing to concede and live by Harry’s rules. She is very much aware that these same trusting rules are what led to the downfall of their neighborhood. Instead, Lauren is intent on doing her best to make sure her and her companions make it through their environment alive, and by any means necessary. The lines “And most / are no more intellectual / than two rams / knocking their heads together.” Don’t necessarily apply to this situation. While Harry could be compared to a mindless ram intent on confrontation, Lauren is far from that. Lauren holds the qualities of a leader and takes her band of companions into the consideration in every situation. Every decision she makes is for the betterment of her group. Harry is stuck on moving through the decimated world like a mindless sheep, going through the motions just like he did behind the walls of the neighborhood. While reading the novel, I sensed that Harry was not entirely comfortable living under the leadership of a woman. This was a drastic gender role change compared to the one he lived in within the neighborhood walls. Women were expected to take on a domestic role, one that did not require them to venture outside the walls to work or travel.

Lauren even notices that “he just didn’t want to change” to their ever adapting surroundings. (Butler, 182). Unlike Harry, Lauren is not a static character. Lauren is continuously defining, refining, and designing her moral compass. This is not surprising though, due to her trust in Earthseed. Her entire religious movement is based on change, and it would be out of character if Lauren was not ever changing and learning from her surroundings. However this change and acquisition of power does not come without its struggles. Lauren J. Lacey discusses the challenges Lauren Olamina faced as a sufferer of hyperempathy and also as a black woman. Lacey proposes that Lauren must “first coming to terms with forces that impede” her from reaching her full potential (Lacey, 2). Throughout the novel, Lauren takes many steps to not only hide her disability, but to also mask her gender. Lauren initially decides to keep her gender a secret as she feels that it is easier for her to survive in the world as a man. I am also convinced that many of her Earthseed followers would not have been as quick to join if they had been aware of her real gender. However, Lauren’s qualities as a leader and her ability to rally people together eventually outweigh any negative feelings brought on by the fact that she is a woman of color. Lauren does a good job of overcoming her hyperempathy by her “strength of mind, body, [and] character” (Lacey, 2). Rather than being a sufferer of hyperempathy, Lauren almost uses it to her advantage. Well aware of the disadvantage her disorder can cause, Lauren make sure to never let anyone directly or indirectly use it against her. This is seen in her quick decision to kill of any antagonists that threaten the safety of herself or her followers. Her hyperempathy makes her stronger and more concrete in her decision making because she understands that a wrong decision could end up being her last.

Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2000. Print.

Lacey, Lauren J. "Octavia E. Butler on Coping with Power in Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling." Critique 49.4 (2008): 379-394. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 5 Apr. 2011.

Nilges, Mathias: "WE NEED THE STARS": Change, Community, and the Absent Father in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents Callaloo: a journal of African-American and African arts and letters (Univ. of Virginia, Charlottesville) (Baltimore, MD) (32:4) [Fall 2009] , p.1332-1352,1393.

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to read this in two slightly different ways.

    First, I want to talk about the strength of the individual paragraphs. You have an excellent paragraph on Lauren vs. Keith, an excellent one on Lauren vs. her father, an excellent one on Lauren vs. Harry; you also have good material on hyperempathy as an advantage (what is implicit there, but could have been explicit, is that she changes *all* of her seeming disadvantages into advantages, not just one). Your research is solid, too. Although some of the paragraphs toward the end aren't quite as good as the early ones, they're still good.

    The flip side is that you often fail to connect your ideas as well as you could. Take this line: "While Harry could be compared to a mindless ram intent on confrontation, Lauren is far from that. Lauren holds the qualities of a leader and takes her band of companions into the consideration in every situation." Are you arguing that Lauren's views about power have evolved? It would seem so; I think what you should be arguing here is that she is learning lessons from her father's mistakes. You draw attention to her father saying that you should lead people, not scare them; you also draw attention to his violent, mindless confrontation with Keith. What you *don't* do is show he is therefore contradicting his own advance; what you also don't show is that Lauren seemingly learns from this lesson.

    Your individual arguments and observations are all good - good enough, in fact, that there are clearly broader implications to be learned from them. You just don't do most of that work of broadening and interpreting your individual thoughts together - as signaled, most obviously, by the fact that you don't have a clear argument in your introduction. Because of the strength of the individual components of your essay, this isn't even close to being a disaster, but you aren't following through and developing your material as well as you could. If you were able to make all of the possible connections here, this would be an outstanding essay instead of a very promising one.