Parable of the Sower (novel)

Parable of the Sower is a 1993 speculative fiction novel by American writer Octavia E. Butler. It is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth heavily affected by climate change and social inequality. The novel follows Lauren Olamina, a young woman who can feel the pain of others and becomes displaced from her home. Several characters from various walks of life join her on her journey north and learn of a religion she has discovered and titled Earthseed. The main tenets of Earthseed are that "God is Change" and believers can "shape God" through conscious effort to influence the changes around them. Earthseed also teaches that it is humanity's destiny to inhabit other planets and spread the "seeds" of the Earth.[1]

Parable of the Sower
Cover of first edition (hardcover)
AuthorOctavia E. Butler
CountryUnited States
SeriesParable duology
GenrePost-apocalyptic fiction
PublisherFour Walls Eight Windows
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback & paperback)
Pages299 (first edition, hardback)
ISBN0-941423-99-9 (first edition, hardback)
813/.54 20
LC ClassPS3552.U827 P37 1993
Followed byParable of the Talents 

Parable of the Sower was the winner of multiple awards, including the 1994 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and has been adapted into an opera and a graphic novel. Parable of the Sower has influenced music and essays on social justice as well as climate change. In 2021, it was picked by readers of the New York Times as the top science fiction nomination for the best book of the last 125 years.[2]

Parable of the Sower is the first in an unfinished series of novels, followed by Parable of the Talents in 1998.[3]

Plot edit

Beginning in 2024, when society in the United States has grown unstable due to climate change, growing wealth inequality, and corporate greed, Parable of the Sower takes the form of a journal kept by Lauren Oya Olamina, an African American teenager. Her mother abused drugs during her pregnancy and left Lauren with "hyper-empathy" or "sharing": the uncontrollable ability to feel the sensations she witnesses in others, particularly the abundant pain in her world.

Lauren grows up in the remnants of a gated community in Robledo, California, twenty miles from Los Angeles, where she and her neighbors struggle but are separate from the abject poverty of the world outside. Outside of the community are numerous homeless and mutilated individuals who resent the community members for their relative affluence. Public services such as police or firefighters are untrustworthy, exploiting their positions for profit and making little effort to help. Lauren's father, a Baptist pastor, holds the community together through Baptist religion, mutual aid, and careful use of resources, such as making bread from acorns. However, Lauren is increasingly certain that despite all efforts, society will continue to deteriorate and the community will no longer be safe; Lauren secretly prepares to travel north, as many do in search of rare paid jobs. The newly elected radical, authoritarian President Donner loosens labor protections, creating a rise in company towns owned by foreign businesses. Lauren privately develops her own new belief system based on the belief that "God is Change" is the only lasting truth, and that humanity should "shape God" in order to aid themselves. She comes to call this religion Earthseed.

Lauren's younger half-brother, Keith, rebelliously runs away to live outside the walls of the community. For a time, he survives by joining a group of ruthless thieves who value him for his rare literacy, but he is eventually found dead after torture. Later, Lauren's father disappears while leaving the community for work and is accepted as dead.

When Lauren is eighteen in 2027, the community's security is breached in an organized attack by outsiders: most of the community is destroyed, looted, and murdered, including Lauren's family. She travels north, disguised as a man, with Harry Balter and Zahra Moss, two survivors from her community. Society outside the community walls has reverted to chaos due to resource scarcity and poverty. U.S. states have become akin to city-states with strict borders. Money still has value, but travelers constantly fear attacks for resources or by pyromaniac drug-users, cannibals, and wild dogs. Interracial relationships are stigmatized, women fear sexual assault, and slavery has returned in the form of indebted servitude.

Lauren gathers people to protect along her journey and begins to share the Earthseed religion, which is developing into a collection of texts titled Earthseed: The Books of the Living. She believes that humankind's destiny is to travel beyond the deteriorating Earth and live on other planets, forcing humankind into its adulthood, and that Earthseed is preparation for this destiny. Lauren begins a relationship with Bankole, an older doctor who joins the group, and agrees to marry him. Bankole takes the group to the land he owns in northern California, where the group settles and Lauren founds the first Earthseed community, Acorn.[4]

Sequel novels edit

The sequel to Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, was published in 1998.

Butler began to write a third Parable novel, tentatively titled Parable of the Trickster, which would have focused on an Earthseed community's struggle to survive on a new planet. Along with the third novel, Butler was planning several others titled Parable of the Teacher, Parable of Chaos, and Parable of Clay.[5] She began Parable of the Trickster after finishing Parable of the Talents, and mentioned her work on it in a number of interviews, but at some point encountered writer's block. She eventually shifted her creative attention, resulting in Fledgling (2005), her final novel. The various false starts for the novel can now be found among Butler's papers at the Huntington Library, as described in an article at the Los Angeles Review of Books.[6] Butler died in 2006, leaving the series unfinished.

Publication and award history edit

Published by Four Walls Eight Windows in 1993, by Women's Press Ltd. in 1995, by Warner in 1995 and 2000, and by Seven Stories Press in 2017.[4][7]

Adaptations edit

Parable of the Sower was adapted into an opera by American folk/blues musician Toshi Reagon in collaboration with her mother, singer and composer Bernice Johnson Reagon. The adaptation's libretto and musical score combine African-American spirituals, soul, rock and roll, and folk music. An early concert version of the opera was performed as part of The Public Theater's Under the Radar Festival in New York City in 2015.[9][10][11] The finished version had its world premiere in Abu Dhabi in November 2017 and has been performed in Boston, New York City, Los Angeles, Singapore, Amsterdam, and elsewhere.[12][13][14]

In 2020, Parable of the Sower was adapted into a graphic novel by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, the team which had previously adapted Butler's novel Kindred, and published by Abrams ComicArts. The graphic novel was named to the Black Lives Matter Reading Lists compiled by the Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table and the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.[15] It went on to win the 2021 Ignyte Award for Best Comics Team and the 2021 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.[16][17]

In popular culture edit

The work of hip hop/R&B duo THEESatisfaction was influenced by Octavia Butler.[18] The third track from their 2012 album awE NaturalE, "Earthseed", contains themes from the Parable series: "Change there are few words / That you can say / We all watch things morphing everyday."[citation needed]

In 2015, Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha co-edited Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, a collection of 20 short stories and essays about social justice inspired by Butler.[19] In June 2020, Brown and Toshi Reagon began hosting the podcast Octavia's Parables, which gives an in-depth dive into Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents.[20]

See also edit

Further reading edit

  • Agusti, Clara Escoda. "The Relationship between Community and Subjectivity in Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower.' Extrapolation 46.3 (Fall 2005): 351–359.
  • Allen, Marlene D. "Octavia Butler's 'Parable' Novels and the 'Boomerang' of African American History". Callaloo 32. 4 2009, pp. 1353–1365. JSTOR 27743153.
  • Andréolle, Donna Spalding. "Utopias of Old, Solutions for the New Millennium: A Comparative Study of Christian Fundamentalism in M. K. Wren's A Gift upon the Shore and Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower." Utopian Studies 12.2 (2001): 114–123. JSTOR 20718319.
  • Butler, Robert. "Twenty-First Century Journeys in Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower." Contemporary African American Fiction: The Open Journey. Madison: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1998. 133–143. ISBN 9780838637876
  • Caputi, Jane. "Facing Change: African Mythic Origins in Octavia Butler's Parable Novels", Goddesses and Monsters: Women, Myth, Power, and Popular Culture. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004. 366–369. ISBN 978-0299196240
  • Dubey, M. "Folk and Urban Communities in African-American Women's Fiction: Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower." Studies in American Fiction 27. 1, 1999, pp. 103–128.
  • Govan, Sandra. "The Parable of the Sower as Rendered by Octavia Butler: Lessons for Our Changing Times", FEMSPEC 4.2 (2004): 239–258.
  • Grant-Britton, Lisbeth. "Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.” Women of Other Worlds: Excursions through Science Fiction and Feminism. Ed. Helen Merrick and Tess Williams. Nedlands, Australia: University of Western Australia Press, 1999. 280–294. ISBN 978-1876268329
  • Hampton, Gregory J. "Migration and Capital of the Body: Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower.” CLA Journal 49 (September 2005): 56–73.
  • Harris, Trudier. "Balance? Octavia E. Butler s Parable of the Sower.” Saints, Sinners, Saviors: Strong Black Women in African American Literature. New York: Palgrave, 2001. 153–171. ISBN 978-0312293031
  • Jablon, Madelyn. "Metafiction as Genre: Walter Mosley, Black Betty; Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower." Black Metafiction: Self Consciousness in African American Literature. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 1997. 139–165. ISBN 978-0877455608
  • Jos, Philip H. "Fear and the Spiritual Realism of Octavia Butler's Earthseed", Utopian Studies 23. 2, 2012, pp. 408–429. JSTOR 10.5325/utopianstudies.23.2.0408.
  • Lacey, Lauren. J. "Octavia Butler on Coping with Power in Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling." Critique 49.4 (Summer 2008): 379–394.
  • Mayer, Sylvia. "Genre and Environmentalism: Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower, Speculative Fiction, and the African American Slave Narrative", Restoring the Connection to the Natural World: Essays on the African American Environmental Imagination. Ed. Sylvia Mayer. Munster, Ger.: LIT, 2003. 175–196. ISBN 978-3825867324
  • Melzer, Patricia. "'All That You Touch You Change': Utopian Desire and the Concept of Change in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents." Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. Gale, 2008. Originally published in FEMSPEC 3.2 (2002): 31–52.
  • 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 32.4, 2009, pp. 1332–1352. JSTOR 27743152.
  • Phillips, Jerry. "The Institution of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower." Novel: A Forum on Fiction 35.2/3 Contemporary African American Fiction and the Politics of Postmodernism (Spring–Summer, 2002), pp. 299–311. JSTOR 1346188.
  • Stanford, Ann Folwell. "A Dream of Communitas: Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents and Roads to the Possible." Bodies in a Broken World: Women Novelists of Color and the Politics of Medicine. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003. 196–218. ISBN 978-0807854808
  • Stillman, Peter G. "Dystopian Critiques, Utopian Possibilities, and Human Purposes in Octavia Butler's Parables", Utopian Studies 14.1 (2003): 15–35. JSTOR 20718544.
  • Texter, Douglas W. "Of Gifted Children and Gated Communities: Paul Theroux's O-Zone and Octavia Butler's The Parable of the Sower." Utopian Studies 19. 3, 2008, pp. 457–484. JSTOR 20719921.

References edit

  1. ^ "The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars". Earthseed. May 31, 2014. Retrieved April 23, 2021.
  2. ^ Times, The New York (December 29, 2021). "What's the Best Book of the Past 125 Years? We Asked Readers to Decide". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 16, 2022.
  3. ^ Fox, Margalit (March 1, 2006). "Octavia E. Butler, Science Fiction Writer, Dies at 58". The New York Times.
  4. ^ a b c Holden, Rebecca J.; Shawl, Nisi, eds. (2013). "Annotated Butler Bibliography". Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices, and Octavia E. Butler. Seattle, WA: Aqueduct Press. p. 282.
  5. ^ Palwick, S. (July 1, 1999). "Imagining a Sustainable Way of Life An Interview with Octavia Butler". Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment. 6 (2): 149–158. doi:10.1093/isle/6.2.149. ISSN 1076-0962.
  6. ^ Canavan, Gerry (June 9, 2014). ""There's Nothing New / Under The Sun, / But There Are New Suns": Recovering Octavia E. Butler's Lost Parables". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  7. ^ "Parable of the Sower". Seven Stories Press.
  8. ^ Sheehan, Dan (September 3, 2020). "Octavia Butler has finally made the New York Times Best Seller list". LitHub.
  9. ^ Moon, Grace. "Toshi Reagon's Parable", Velvetpark: Art, Thought and Culture. 14 January 2015.
  10. ^ "Under the Radar 2015 Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower: The Concert Version" The New York Times. 18 January 2015.
  11. ^ "BK Live 1/14/15: Toshi Reagon." Archived 2016-08-07 at the Wayback Machine Brooklyn Independent Media. 16 January 2015.
  12. ^ Bennett II, James (April 15, 2022). "Toshi Reagon finds an opera for the ages in the book 'Parable of the Sower'". GBH. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  13. ^ Swed, Mark (March 10, 2020). "Commentary: How the spirit of protest is echoing across L.A.'s concert halls". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  14. ^ "News". Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower: An opera by Toshi Reagon and Bernice Johnson Reagon. Retrieved March 31, 2023.
  15. ^ Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table; Black Caucus of the American Library Association (June 8, 2020). "Black Lives Matter Comics Reading Lists". American Library Association. Retrieved July 31, 2020.
  16. ^ Templeton, Molly (September 20, 2021). "Announcing the 2021 Ignyte Awards Winners!".
  17. ^ "2021 Hugo Awards". World Science Fiction Society. January 2021. Retrieved December 19, 2021.
  18. ^ "Attention Earthlings!".
  19. ^ Patton, Venetria K. "Octavia's Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements". Retrieved June 24, 2020.
  20. ^ Liptak, Andrew (June 22, 2020). "A New Podcast Will Take a Deep Dive Into Octavia Butler's Parable Novels". Archived from the original on June 23, 2020. Retrieved December 10, 2021.

External links edit