Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler is a science fiction novel, classified as dystopian. This book was written in the 1980s and is about the future. Specifically, it is a future that takes issues from the 1980s and extrapolates them to their worst conclusion. One of the main focuses of this book is a downgraded society that turns to drugs and violence. When Butler was writing, a similar issue was occurring in the United States. It was called the 1980s crack epidemic. It is fair to say that Butler was critiquing something when she wrote this book and set it 40 years in the future. By analyzing Parable of the Sower to see what connections I can make between the story and the history, I hope to figure out what Butler believes was at fault for the 1980s crack epidemic.
The main character of Parable of the Sower is Lauren Olamina. Throughout the novel, Lauren gives us details about her world. First of all, when the book begins, it is the year 2021. Lauren lives in the walled community that has banded together to keep their world separate from the millions of homeless, drug- addicted criminals on the street. Her family is poor but comfortable compared to the people on the outside. Violence is commonplace. It is expected that you know how to use a gun. Water is expensive, police and fire services only exist if you have money to pay them and it never rains more than once in a few years. Lauren also explains some information about herself. “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” (Butler 255).
We get a keen sense that there is a huge divide between classes. The rich are exuberantly rich, the middle class is classified as poor and the poor people are extraordinarily poor. It seems that the only way for anyone to advance his or her station was to be educated. The only jobs available that allowed people to make a living were educational in nature. Paracetco was supposed to make people smarter and increase their endurance so they could work longer and harder to get a job in that field. Any other jobs available would be servile in nature. Most of the time, servants were not paid wages. They were “paid” by their boss letting them live and eat at their place of employment. No one wanted these menial jobs so everyone took Paracetco and started to become addicts. One of the side effects was hyperempathy syndrome. This syndrome is severely dangerous because people affected by it are able to feel the physical pain of others. Therefore, she is defenseless in a very violent world and can easily be enslaved by another person, thus creating yet another debilitation of the work force.
Crack is a smokable form of cocaine, which was made by drug dealers and sold dirt-cheap. The synthesis of crack came from the plethora of cocaine that was being shipped to the U.S. from the Bahamas and Dominican Republic. There was so much cocaine on the market that the price began to drop. Dealers made an economical decision to make another form of cocaine that would get people hooked fast so that buy more. The purity of crack on the street in the early 1980s was about 80%, which sold for the same amount as cocaine at 55% purity. On the streets of big cities like Philadelphia, New York and Detroit, one unit of crack sold for $2.50.
Miami, and South Florida by extension, became one of the hubs of crack production. The authorities only began to consider crack a problem when it hit New York in 1983, despite the amount of time it was in Miami. In New York, about three fourths of crack consumers were middle class residents of Long Island, New Jersey or Westchester county and white professionals. Eventually though, crack spread to lower class neighborhoods because it was so inexpensive.
There was much money to be made in crack. Gangs started to get involved and this spread the usage of crack to almost all of the states. By the late 1980s, tens of thousands of gang members were selling crack. The crack trade had created a violent sub-world where related murders rose exponentially. In New York, in 1988, 32% of homicides were related to crack and drive by shootings happened daily as a way from drug users to get money for their next hit.
Women also began to use crack. It did not carry the stigma of a needle and more often than not, it was confused for marijuana. With the increase in women exposed to this substance came the increase of children born addicts. The crack epidemic increased the amount of people addicted to it by 1.6 million in 1985. It also increased the amount of cocaine-related hospital emergencies, which jumped from 12% to 110% from 1985 to 1986.
Crack seemed to have a stranglehold on law enforcement. It took from 1983 when law enforcement first noticed a problem until 1986 for them to take action in order to stop it. By then, they had their work cut out for them. The government passed a law called the “Anti-Drug Abuse Act,” which gave the DEA eight million dollars to develop crack teams, whose main goal was to stem the flow of crack coming into the country.
Strangely though, as quickly as the epidemic started, it stopped just as quickly. The epidemic was over by 1990 and the sudden stop can be attributed mainly to less demand for crack and more demand for young men and women to get jobs. By 1990 the economy was much stronger and people who might have been attracted to dealing were instead attracted to lucrative careers.
The 1980s crack epidemic has parallels to the drugs represented in Parable of the Sower. I already mentioned Paracetco but another drug prevalent in Lauren’s world is pyro. Unlike paracetco, which creates issues for the generation after its users, pyro is a cause of the present violence. Pyro addicts will do anything for money and they are actually the culprits of the destruction of Lauren’s home. Similarly, the prevalence of both drugs rose out of a changing social structure. Paracetco was abused by academics to avoid poverty and people got addicted to pyro and lost their homes. The homeless then turned to drugs and violence in order to survive. The widespread violence was compounded by little to no effective law enforcement. In order to get police or fire services, people had to pay huge fees. Since most people were living in poverty, the chance of law enforcement getting a call was slim to none.
In conclusion, I think Butler was trying to say that a shift in social structure allowed for the crack epidemic to happen. Crack started as the drug of choice for wealthy people and eventually trickled its way down to less affluent areas. Compounded with that was the inefficiency of the police. Law enforcement did not believe crack to be an issue until they saw the widespread violence and the burdening of the hospitals with overdoses. Butler depicts the police as ineffectual to the point of non-existent because she is commenting on the amount of time it took them to understand the severity of the crack epidemic. Law enforcement waited too long to act and it took yet another shift in social structure, not efficiency on the part of the police, to stop the crack epidemic and create a turn around.