The Parable of the Sower

by

Author: Butler, Octavia E.

Title: Parable of the Sower

Genre: Science Fiction

Publication Date: 1993

Number of Pages: 345

Geographical Setting: Fictional town of Robledo, California, 20 miles from LA; California; Oregon

Time Period: 2024-2027

Series: Parable books, 1 (Also referred to as the Earthseed series)

Plot Summary: It’s 2024 and 15-year-old African-American Lauren Olamina, who narrates the novel in the form of a diary, lives in a gated community outside LA. Poverty, homelessness, addiction and violence are rampant, especially in California; the environment is a mess, clean water is at a premium, and pyromania is commonplace. All this is encroaching on the walls that protect Lauren, her family, and their small community (“We’re a rope, breaking a single strand at a time”). But Lauren, an exceptionally resourceful and questioning teenager, is prescient and preparing for the worst. When the worst arrives and Lauren flees the destruction of Robledo for the dangerous world outside the walls, she is determined to survive and begins a physical, spiritual, and emotional journey that leads to the founding of a belief system and community (“God is change” and we can shape change) on her way to a hoped-for better life up north. Although the book contains violence and there are descriptions of corpses including a dead child, Butler doesn’t linger in her descriptions of violence: she is instead interested in the moral, ethical and spiritual questions raised by Lauren’s struggle to survive and to trust. (She has a secret that endangers herself and others.) Although there are elements of adventure, this is a character-driven story of survival and growth that also touches on issues of race, gender and selfhood in an accessible style.

Subject Headings: African-americans–Fiction; Bildungsromans; California—Fiction; California, Southern—Fiction; Coming of age—Fiction; Diaries—Fiction; Dystopias; Environmental Protection—Fiction; Religion—Fiction; Science fiction; Twenty-first Century–Fiction; Young Women—Fiction;

Appeal: diary narrative, intimate, complex and sympathetic characterizations, character-driven, evocative, engaging, insightful, realistic, philosophical, ruminative; plot builds deliberately, engrossing, episodic; spiritual and emotional journey, coming of age, thought-provoking; graceful prose, unaffected, expressive, accessible; menacing atmosphere, foreboding, dark, introspective, violent, bleak, chaotic.

Relevant Fiction Authors and Works: Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale. Also a futurist, dystopian, bleak and insightful novel of ideas featuring a strong female heroine. Slightly more issue-driven. Starhawk, The Fifth Sacred Thing. Also set in dystopian California in the 21st century and concerned with environmental and spiritual issues, it features strong heroines (witches) who have created their own safe haven community. A more strongly feminist slant than Butler. Jack Womack, Random Acts of Senseless Violence. Also features a teenage protagonist in a dystopian and violent future, this time New York City, and also written in the form of a diary, but less philosophical and less hopeful.

Relevant Nonfiction Authors and Works: Al Gore, Earth in Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit. Also a reflective and thought-provoking look at how man has damaged the planet and the implications for its future. Baszile, Jennifer. The Black Girl Next Door: A Memoir. Also set in southern California and a coming of age story featuring a trail-blazing African-American heroine (the first black history professor at Yale) and written in graceful, accessible prose that illuminates multicultural life.

Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. Also about a black woman who rescued others on perilous and dangerous journeys in hope of a better life up north.

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