Revisiting “Parable of the Sower“
MoCADA Griot Talks examines both classic and contemporary tales of the diaspora. Through a critical lens, we dissect the work of prominent Black authors to uncover the reality exposed through their stories that may benefit contemporary life. This installment explores celebrated sci-fi writer Octavia Butler and her dystopian novel, Parable of the Sower.
(Cover Art Credit: Parable of the Sower by John Jude Palencar)
Octavia Butler’s dystopian tale, Parable of the Sower, follows the epic journey of young Lauren Oya Olamina, a teenager plagued by hyper-empathy in a world ravaged by climate change, the greed of humanity, and immense poverty. As the world around her collapses as she knows it, Lauren begins a search for identity and purpose beyond a limited life of scarcity. As she becomes more distant from her father ideologies (he is a preacher at the beginning of the story) and his God, Lauren adopts her own cosmology and is forced into a world of survival. Her tale becomes a testimony in the form of a new spiritual path that encompasses the idea that “God is change” and re-enforces the power of community.
Butler’s tale becomes more and more prophetic as the effects of climate change become more evident and late stage capitalism manifests itself alongside a viral disease today. Not only does Butler use her skill as a storyteller to hold a mirror up to society’s views on race, class, gender, excessive wealth, etc (mind you this book was first published in 1993), her sci-fi lens foretells what might become our reality as we inch closer to 2025 — interestingly, the same year Lauren’s sacred texts, The Books of the Living, are written.
“I’m trying to learn whatever I can that might help me survive out there.” (Butler, Chapter 5)
Though Butler’s Lauren is faced with circumstances that demand otherwise, her approach is rooted in knowledge, and unbeknownst to her, preparation. She longs to move forward, and does, believing that it is the destiny of Earthseed, or more simply, survivors of the chaos that is unfolding in the narrative — the poor and the forgotten, more succinctly — to take their place among the stars.
No different from Lauren’s world in the novel, today we are living through a time of physical distancing and lock down protocols while world leaders dance on the edge of a universal martial law. As the world comes to a complete standstill, many across the globe are unsure of how their bills will be paid or whether groceries will fill their cabinets week to week. How then could we be using this time to change the world, to change God? What ways of being could we unlearn now to ensure our survival? What other gems can we extract from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower?
We would argue, many. With Parable of the Sower and its follow up (Parable of the Talents), Octavia Butler creates an apocalyptic adventure that unravels the daunting realities of society to unlock the silent devices used to keep us in check every day. The pre-chaos “goodtimes” that we somehow remember nostalgically, a reality that has oft left Black, Brown, women, the working class, and other marginalized communities ignored, invisible, over-policed, and suffering at the hands of the prosperous “haves”, is not a time or place, if Lauren had her say, that we should happily return.
This journey, at the very least, does well to remind us of this and more by focusing squarely on the oppressed; a Black girl on the run and a community of stragglers she assumes as part of her congregation along the way, and how with no power and little to call their own during an unexpected time of surreal upheaval, they are able to find strength within the spiritual to build anew. And Lauren is the prophet who leads them here.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Diamond Marie Gonzalez St. Baptiste is a writer and poet inspired by the Negritude movement of art and scholarship, who uses the themes of identity, the meaning of Blackness and folklore as a base for her work. As the community Programs and Outreach Associate for MoCADA, her work is informed by a culture rooted in ritual acts and performance. Diamond is also working towards a PhD in the humanities while undertaking personal research on the cosmology within literature of the diaspora, with a focus on Afro-Brazilian poetry.
To download the book from Audible or Kindle, click here.