Parable of the Sower was first published in 1993 by Octavia Butler. The year is 2024 and the world is in chaos. There are few jobs, no social welfare system. The police are as likely to be thugs as to help you, and you have to pay them for help. Those who can afford to live in walled compounds design their security using shifts of armed guards and locked gates to enter the area.
When we meet Lauren Olamina, she is fifteen. Although her mother is dead, the smart drugs that her mother used when she was pregnant with Lauren have had a lasting effect – Lauren is a sharer and can feel the pain of others.
The Olamina family is relatively well off. The father works at the University for money, and they have a house and garden. Mr. Olamina Is a preacher and his wife Cory is a schoolteacher. Lauren is the oldest with three younger brothers, the youngest of which is Keith.
From the age of fifteen, most members of the community were taught how to shoot. Since the age of 12, Keith was anxious to learn, but his father would not make an exception for him. Keith’s response was to sneak out of the compound, taking his mother’s key and the family gun with him. After his second time doing that, his father whipped him severely. Both Cory and Keith held this against him, and Keith left once more. This time, he stayed outside, bringing back money and gifts for his mom and one of his brothers. When Lauren asked him about what it was like outside, he gave her a glimpse into his life. He had made some friends that he lived with, and they lived by being tougher than other people out there. He never admitted to being a drug dealer, but Lauren suspected it.
One of the ways people tried to find security was to take a company job. They were paid in funds they could use to buy what they needed from the company. That worked well for some, but in other cases, the company pay did not meet s family’s needs and the family then became slaves to the company to pay off their debt.
Lauren thought that life would only continue to deteriorate. The city and country were under siege from the Paints, people who painted themselves and took drugs that created a desire to see things burn. Her father agreed that society was likely to deteriorate further, but he didn’t think that people were ready to hear that message.
Earthseed grew from Lauren’s thoughts about the world and her meditations on it. She later explained it as truth being put together from many sources, not created. She started writing her thoughts in a book, her own religion based on opening up to living in other galaxies, which she called Destiny. Furthermore, she attended her father’s church, where he was the reverend, while secretly writing her own verses. She even shared some verses with family, but she protected her writing, knowing that it would come under attack. It was completely different from the Christian idea of God. In Earthseed, God is change and Destiny is in the stars.
Lauren anticipated having to leave her home and go north to find work. To prepare, she got a bag ready with seeds and collected a gun, money, and ammunition. The family also buried money in the yard. (What did Lauren do with the money from Keith?)
Lauren had a boyfriend, Curtis, but she expected to leave alone. When he found out, he expressed interest in going with her. He wanted to marry her, but she wanted a bigger life than just a husband and babies.
One day, Keith was left outside the wall, beaten and tortured to death. Cory did not forgive her husband for this. She thought that they should move to a company compound, but he wouldn’t hear of it.
Then, Reverend Olamina went to work as usual at the University and never came home. Search parties went to look for him but had no success. Eventually, they gave up and had a funeral for him. After her father’s death was the first time, Lauren preached some of her own ideas, but she stayed quite close to the teachings of her father’s faith.
The family’s fortunes were greatly diminished. Cory tried to do Mr. Olamina’s job, although it was not technically legal. While life was more difficult and money scarcer, the family was still relatively safe. While addicts, pyros, would routinely set fire to buildings to enjoy the glow of the fire, and robbers would occasionally sneak into the compound to steal from inhabitants, the community was able to regroup and help each other recover. This was until the overwhelming attack.
One night, the wall was bashed in and Paints drove into the neighborhood, shooting people and setting fire to buildings. The attack was started by the pyros, distinctive by their painted faces, but there were also opportunists to scavenge the ravaged homes.
Seventeen-year old Lauren managed to grab her bag and escape from the neighborhood. She didn’t see any of the other family members. Later, she went back to her home, pretending to be a scavenger, and got some clothing in case she found her siblings. She also got some fruit and the money they had buried in the yard.
The next day, Lauren came across two people from the old compound. With Harry being a white man and Zahra a black woman, and cross-racial relationships being frowned on generally, Lauren decided to dress as a man. The three of them agreed to travel as a unit of two men and one woman. Zahra had lived outside before she was bought to be one of several (of the Moss) wives, so she had some knowledge of surviving without walls.
Zahra, Harry, and Lauren decided to travel north together, taking care to look out for each other. They bought and shared provisions along the way. They were wary of other travellers, worried that they might steal from them or hurt them. However, their group grew.
First was a multiracial family of husband, wife, and child. Next was an older black man, Bankole. After they came, Allie and Jill, sisters the group rescued from the ruins of their home after an earthquake. Then a woman and child joined them, and finally a single man and child.
Using the old maps that Lauren had collected and responding to news from a radio they purchased on the way, they chose their paths, walking for hours every day, and stopping to rest when needed. They needed to stop in towns to buy water and provisions.
As their group got larger, it increased their visibility while also providing some protection. The last four people to join the group were also sharers, the first ones that Lauren had met. Sharers were more sensitive to recognizing people’s emotions and could feel pain if they saw an injury. (The pain would continue when they stopped looking, so how would the pain know when to stop?)
Harry was the first one that Lauren told about her writing, her belief in Earthseed, and her goal of building a community. Through discussion with him and others in the group, over time, Earthseed grew in the minds of the members
Despite their huge age difference, Bankole and Lauren were attracted to each other. Bankole finally admitted that he was headed to some property that he owned in the hills near Cape Mendocino. His sister and her family lived there. Eventually, everyone agreed to head there.
Weeks later, when they arrived on Bankole’s land, they found rubble and ashes, with five skeletons. Bankole insisted on going to the nearest town to see if the police had any information. He was smart enough to only bring a little money with him. While the police took no notes and had no information to help, they took the money they found on him. They also said they would come to check on the situation at his homestead.
Recognizing that the police were more likely to steal from them than to help, and wanting to avoid trouble, the groups did not bury the skeletons for weeks. They also went back and forth, arguing amongst themselves whether to stay on the land or carry on heading north. Harry had dreams of finding a job with a salary, and they seemed unlikely to happen there.
At the end of Parable of the Sower, they decide to stay on the land. They would plant the seeds that Lauren had stored and carried and use the few remaining crops. Lauren suggested that they all bury their dead, even if they didn’t have the remains to physically bury. As each person buried the people they had lost, they planted an oak tree. They are building the community of Acorn.
Read on about the second book Parable of the Talents.
Note that Amazon Links are affiliate links. This means that I earn a small commission on qualifying purchases made at Amazon if you use this link to make a purchase.