Parable of the Sower
By Octavia E. Butler
Review by Jennie Treadway-Miller
Before The Hunger Games, the Divergent series, and The Maze Runner, there was Parable of the Sower. Unlike today’s dystopian novels, where there’s a contest to be won or a large, looming government that manipulates its people for sport, Parable of the Sower is a story of grit and survival in a world that’s been ravaged by an erratic climate and global economic upheaval. Written in 1993 and set in 2025, the novel lacks the technological devices (literary and electronic) that we see in blockbuster dystopian stories today, a positive feature that speaks to Butler’s creativity and depth.
Lauren Olamina is the young daughter of a preacher, but what she comes to believe about God, creation, and human nature is unique to her. The world she lives in – one fraught with strife and bare-knuckled persistence – isn’t compatible with her father’s faith. Lauren’s dwindling family survives by banding together with others to stay alive outside the wretched city of Los Angeles.
When a fire rages their compound, Lauren is forced to pack up and head north, a decision rooted primarily in instinct and a hearty, personal faith. It’s this instinct that fuels her energy. As a hyper-empath, or a sharer, she takes on the physical and emotional anguish experienced by those around her, a quality that gives her unique insight and strength. Believing she has the answer that will rebuild society, a vision for Earthseed, Lauren and her group of travelers walk to northern California to take a chance on a new life.
Lauren and her band of misfits must find a way to survive on few supplies and a keen awareness for the savage world around them. The journey is not without loss. Over and over again readers are begged the question: What would you do to survive?
Octavia E. Butler is an internationally acclaimed science fiction writer who tackled challenging themes relating to race, gender, and authority. Butler is known not only for her unshakeable protagonists, but also because she broke the stereotype as an African American woman writing in a male-dominated genre. In a New York Times article in 2000, she said, “When I began writing science fiction, when I began reading, heck, I wasn’t in any of this stuff I read. The only black people you found were occasional characters or characters who were so feeble-witted that they couldn’t manage anything, anyway. I wrote myself in, since I’m me and I’m here and I’m writing.”
Whether Lauren Olamina was written in the specific image of Butler is unknown. However, it’s clear through interviews and personal narratives that the spunk and strength of the Parable protagonist is inspired by Butler’s own persistence in the literary world.
Prior to her passing in 2006, Butler was the recipient of various awards for her science fiction work, including the Langston Hughes Medal from the City College of New York and the lifetime achievement award from the PEN American Center. She was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame posthumously in 2010.
Parable of the Sower is the first of two in the Parable Series. Parable of the Talents, Sower’s sequel, earned the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1999.
Jennie Treadway-Miller is a writer and photographer living in the rolling foothills of East Tennessee. When she’s not running or reading, she’s homeschooling her two sons and enjoying life with her husband. Together, they enjoy the outdoors, college football, and board games. Read more at jenniecreates.com.
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