Fiction: The Parable of the Sower


In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the plot focuses on one woman’s attempt to start and maintain a new religion for humanity — one that can give meaning to the people in Los Angeles in a post-apocalyptic world. The struggles that she encounters cause her flee the security of the border walls and make due in the alien world beyond the walls. Her ability to continue to give testimony to her beliefs — and in particularly to the idea that “God is Change” helps her and her followers to deal with the biases and inhuman treatment that is still pervasive in this uncivilized world.

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The setting is in the future — 2024 to be exact — in Los Angeles, California. The world has collapsed and the government in America has fallen apart. The world is in a type of waste land status: it is a dystopian future, one in need of guidance and strength from within. Bands of people still rove about outside the community walls and look down upon individuals of mixed races. There is a primitive spirit and culture competing with the ideals set forward by the heroine of the story.


The main character is Lauren Olamina. What distinguishes her from others is that she has the ability of hyperempathy — i.e., she can feel others’ pain and suffering and can place herself in their positions so as to more deeply understand them. It is out of this ability that she devises her belief system, which she takes with her outside her gated community in L.A., when it is destroyed. She is the founder of Earthseed — the name of the religious-philosophical system that she has devised based on her hyperempathy abilities.


The conflict of the novel centers around Lauren’s ability to survive and spread her belief system to help the humans of Earth overcome the obstacles they face in the dystopian setting. The conflict is as much spiritual and philosophical as it is practical and earthly. Society is in collapse and there is no protection or security. The only thing that can save Lauren and her group is the belief system that Lauren has cultivated since her time as a child. It is essentially a story of this system vs. a primitive world.


Lauren’s hyperempathy and interest in starting a new religion makes her a symbol of the sower — one who spreads the seed of a new idea on Earth. By being able to suffer along with others, Lauren can help to carry the cross, as it is put in Christian terms. She becomes a founder of a religion — like Christ — and this religion is based on the need to be considerate, to understand one…

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