Octavia Butler has authored several novels based on science fiction. One of them is the ‘Parable of the Sower.’ The book was written in 1993. The main character in this text is Lauren Olamina. According to Butler (23), the female character possesses hyper empathy skills. To this end, she can experience the pain and other sensations afflicting other people around her.
In the book, two major models of ideal communities stand out. The first is the one advocated for by Lauren’s father. The second is the one that the character is trying to come up with. In addition to the two communities, several groups are evident in the novel. They include the ‘paints,’ the scavengers, and Olivar’s community (Butler 22).
In this paper, the author is going to analyse Butler’s novel from the perspective of families and communities. To this end, the author will evaluate the argument made by Butler in his comparison of the different families and communities. Also, the characters of a good community will be reviewed. The mechanism holding members of a family or a community together will also be analysed.
Other elements that will be looked into include, among others, how Lauren reacts to threats against her community, the dynamics involved in building a community, and the various elements that can disrupt the existence of a community. The author of this paper holds that family and community bonds are major components of human responsibility and cooperation. The notion is evident throughout the novel.
Parable of the Sower: A Brief Summary of the Novel
The story is set shortly between the years 2024 and 2027. As already indicated, Butler spins the narrative around Lauren Olamina and her family. The story is presented as journal entries spanning the specified duration of time. The text can be regarded as an apocalyptic depiction of American society shortly, a few decades from the present. The story attacks social ills that result from the prevailing trend of affairs in the economic, political, and social spheres (Marlene 1360).
During the time within which the novel is written, America can barely be considered as a nation. Society is full of fear, strife, poverty, moral decay, and other vices. In some parts of the country, such as the southern states, cholera becomes an epidemic. Measles and other ailments affect a number of the states. Blizzards and tornadoes are also common in society (Marlene, 1360).
The deteriorating state of affairs is attributed to such social ills as over-industrialisation and cut-throat competition. Modernisation and opportunism have reduced the country into waste. Also, the novel paints a vivid image of individuals who have been deprived of their humanity. America is depicted as a society in which violence, cruelty, and oppression prevail. It is illustrated as a society operating on the ‘survival for the fittest’ mantra. Industrialisation has led to the deterioration in the quality of shelter and life in general (Marlene 1354). Also, unemployment, sickness, and modern slavery prevail in American society.
Behind the gated community, Lauren’s family, together with those of other few citizens, struggle to salvage their lives in a chaotic society. Lauren’s father, who is a preacher, strives to direct people to a righteous way of life. Ultimately, Lauren’s compound is burnt down (Marlene, 1365). Together with her family, she is forced into the ruthless world. Eventually, she has to move to the northern parts where safety is perceived to exist. She conceives her revolutionary ideas on how mankind can be saved.
Analysis of the Themes of Family and Community in the Novel
The juxtaposition of Various Forms of Human Communities
The themes of family and community are evident throughout the novel. The two are presented as closely related entities in the narrative. Butler is trying to make the argument that family and community are a core component of human responsibility and cooperation. The bonds between the family members are closely related to those binding the community together. Also, these ties are susceptible to disintegration. Their disintegration arises from the irresponsible and extremely selfish desires of individuals.
Butler juxtaposes various forms of communities and families in the novel (83). The author is trying to show that humans are social beings. Some communities can sprout out of shared values or vices. For instance, the Earthseed group that Lauren leads is bound by common values. The shared desires are made apparent when Butler states that, “in spite of your loss and pain, you aren’t alone. You still have people who care about you and want you to be all right. You still have family” (p. 189). What this means is that members of the family are there for one another.
The group referred to as the ‘Paints’ or crazies is bound by common vices. Keith states that the “crazies did that. Paints. They shave off all their hair—even their eyebrows—and they paint their skin green or blue or red or yellow. They eat fire and kill rich people” (Butler, p. 39). In this case, they are depicted as deviants in society.
Characteristics of a Good Community and Factors Binding Family and Community Members Together
A good community is characterised by social support. Members of a given family are there for one another. For instance, when Lauren’s father goes missing, all the adults in the community unite in their search for him (Butler 98). Ties of affection and loyalty bind together the people of Robledo. However, post-modern societies are also characterised by some element of individualism. When Keith leaves the community, very few people mourn his fate.
From the novel, it appears that a community is characterised by human beings looking out for one another. The people of Robledo constitute a good community. On the other hand, the ‘crazies’ are a bad community. Keith describes them as selfish characters. According to Butler, “sometimes the Paints like the fire so much they get too close to it. Then their friends don’t even help him. They just watch them burn” (p. 39). The statement is an indication of the individualistic element of these people.
Building Communities and Factors that can Disrupt the Process
In the novel, communities are built by individuals who have a common purpose. However, such external factors as envy and hatred can disrupt these societies. Lauren and her small group of Earthseed’s have to learn how to establish a sense of community and common purpose. In spite of the challenges, Lauren is depicted as a courageous, loyal, and selfless person (Marlene 1360). The book paints vivid pictures of the collapse of American society. According to Butler, Lauren’s father regarded the big city as “a carcass covered with too many maggots” (p. 33). However, Lauren believes that some of these creatures exist in her immediate neighbourhood, Robledo.
In Robledo, social order has completely broken down. People have to come up with gated communities within which they can maintain some semblance of order and protection. American society is known for its individualism and racism. However, Butler shows that these are trivial behaviours brought about by circumstances (Marlene 1362).
Lauren’s community is made up of individuals from different races. Butler describes one of the neighbours as a person full of bigotry and hate (89). Lauren’s is one of the few gated communities where a sense of communion is found. Her family and other middle-class social units have come together to establish some semblance of normal life in Robledo. In one instance, Lauren’s father states that theirs “is a small community” (Butler 92). Here, people are interdependent.
Family Bonds and other Kinds of Ties in the Novel
Butler depicts families as having very close ties (98). Also, families and communities are closely related. To this end, the latter is portrayed as a collection of families supporting each other in spite of their differences. The discrepancies notwithstanding, members of the family do not forsake one of their own. For instances, Lauren’s family has some differences with other units in Robledo. His father points out that “there’s nobody to help us but God and ourselves” (Butler 27). In this case, family support is lacking.
The family and community bonds portrayed in the novel postulate the approach that human beings can utilise to perpetuate humanity. According to Marlene, “humans will also need a new environment (to change their existence” (p. 1359). Change is an inevitable element of this post-modern society.
The themes of family and community ties in Butler’s novel indicate that human beings come together to forge a common goal. Just like a family, a community is built on a sense of togetherness. Differences exist within and between families and communities. Loyalty, selflessness, and sympathising with others strengthens both family and community bonds. Lack of these values may lead to the disintegration of these social entities.
Butler, Octavia. Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books, 1993. Print.
Marlene, Allen. “Octavia Butler’s Parable Novels and the Boomerang of African American History.” Callaloo 32.4 (2009): 1353-1365. Print.