Parable of the Talents is the second and final book in the Earthseed series by Octavia Butler. While the first book, Parable of the Sower, is told by Lauren, Parable of the Talents is told by her daughter Larkin. We learn what happened to Earthseed through Lauren’s journal, with reflection and details added by Larkin. It is clear from the beginning of the book that Larkin did not grow up with Lauren. We learn early her disdain for Earthseed, and her belief that her mother chose Earthseed over her.
The Story of Acorn
Acorn was the first Earthseed community. At the end of Parable of the Sower, Lauren, her husband Bankole, and the rest of the Earthseed Community decided to remain on Bankole’s land and build their community. They grew the community and started to build a commercial business buying goods from their neighbors for resale. Acorn was successful enough to afford two trucks that included guns for defense. They trucks were useful for commerce and for searching for the lost family members of people in the community.
One of the young people living in Acorn, Dan, wanted to find his two sisters. Lauren asked the people of Georgetown, who were active in barter and commerce, to look out for any information of the missing family members. Georgetown was run by the George family, who effectively managed law and order in the town.
Lauren, Bankole, Natividad, Travis, and Dan heard of a girl matching the description of one of Dan’s sisters in Georgetown, Nina. Lauren met with the pimp to see if he owned Nina. While the girl looked like Nina, it was not her. To Lauren’s surprise, she saw her brother, Marcus, instead. After hours of haggling, she managed to purchase him.
Lauren was surprised to find Marcus alive and wondered if any other family members might be. However, Marcus had seen them killed; he was the only one who survived.
After the attack on Robledo, Marcus was rescued by an old couple, the Durans, who had lost their only child. They lived as squatters with some other homeless people. He preached for people in the area under a nearby carport and was well-respected. The Durans gave Marcus their name and he lived with them until they got separated when the police attacked. After the attack, he started moving north.
On his journey north, Marcus was captured and enslaved by a pimp. By applying collars to the slaves, the pimp could easily shock them to keep them in line. They could also protect themselves from any rebellion from the slaves. Marcus was underfed and his mental health had suffered from his abuse. Marcus was happy to see Harry and Zahra from Robledo. While he adapted to living in Acorn, he did not support Earthseed.
When Marcus approached Lauren about preaching, she agreed that he could do so but would need to do it during the weekly Acorn gathering and be open to questions. She invited hin to preach at the very next Gathering.
When Marcus preached at Gathering, there were many questions from community members. Lauren had anticipated this. She knew that his lack of preparation for his first presentation would put him at a disadvantage.
Marcus faced many questions at gathering and made little progress in converting the inhabitants. He kept preaching at gatherings but made little progress with the inhabitants of Acorn. Almost three months later, he left Acorn with a family that he had managed to convert.
Life in the Times
Andrew Steele Jarrett became president on the platform of “Make America Great Again” and Christian values.This encouraged the Christian fundamentalists to act against heathens and cults. There were reports of different communities being attacked by groups of men wearing black tunics decorated with white crosses. When a nearby community, Dovetree, was attacked, that raised concern amongst the people of Acorn but they lightened those concerns by rationalizing that Dovetree was visible from the highway while Acorn was not.
One of the elements of community life in Acorn was the use of guards as protection for the community. One day, six maggots, fully armored vehicles (like tanks), descended on Acorn. While the community had done drills in case of an attack, their preparation fell short. The community members spread in all directions as planned but could not escape the gas attack by the attackers.
The gas immobilized all the members of the community. Children were all taken away, and the adults were dragged and dropped into the schoolhouse. Women were placed in the small classroom, and men placed in the larger classroom. Passed out, none of the adults could put up any resistance as they were collared by their captors. One woman, May, was with two children, Mercy and Kassia, when the attack happened. They were never found again.
By exploring their range of movement, the women learned that they were confined to the small classroom. The pain became unbearable when people went close to the door or window. While they could access a space under the school through a loose floorboard to hide items such as paper, which Lauren used to continue her notetaking and journaling, dropping into the space caused pain. They could do nothing when one of the women tried to escape through the window; they listened to her cries and screams as she died. Zahra also died during the first day of their imprisonment. Being of smaller stature, she received too much of the gas and died from it. (We later find out that the children were given an antidote to ensure their survival.)
The people of Acorn were forced to bury the dead and to work in farming the land. From watching the grave diggers, Lauren discovered that Bankole had died, and Harry found that Zahra had died as well.
While the men and women were strictly kept apart, they got brief moments to talk to each other while farming. If they delayed too long in their work or if they were caught talking, they were punished through the collar. Although the captors were religious people, they also raped and abused the women. Some of them seemed to derive pleasure from inflicting pain on the prisoners.
People were brought in from other communities and imprisoned with the people of Acorn. Everyone was made to go to church and listen to preaching. They were also required to give regularly give testimony. In giving testimony, each person played a role of saying what the captors expected of them. This all changed one Sunday when a family, the Faircloths, shared about relations between two women in the camp, a punishable offence. Both women were lashed, one of them being Allie. The other woman, Mary, died and Allie did not recover for a long time after that.
A Planned Revolt
Some of the slaves from outside Acorn had a plan to attack the captors and get control of the wristbands that controlled the collars. Their plan failed and they were killed. The people of Acorn had warned them that their plan would not be successful.
Although the initial escape plan failed, the people of Acorn decided that they needed to try to escape as well. Their plan was that the women would get control of the wristbands and then the main control unit which was likely kept in one of the maggots.
Escape from Camp Christian
The people of Acorn were imprisoned for 17 months. They planned to try to escape but then had some help in the form of a landslide that tore the houses apart. In the process, the main control unit and the individual control units were deactivated. Recognizing their opportunity, the inmates killed any surviving captors and cut off their collars before escaping.
The escaped adults gathered their buried supplies, spent a few days together, decided to split up for safety. They chose an isolated spot, a message tree where they could leave messages for each other, and each went off to try to find their children. Their captors had never told them anything about what happened to the children.
Back on the Road
Allie and Lauren went to Georgetown and set up a base there. One day, the adopted son, Justin showed up and was very helpful in Allie’s discovery. From there, putting on her costume as a man once more, Lauren went to Eureka to look for her child.
Searching for Larkin
In Eureka, Lauren found day jobs, focusing on jobs where she’d heard of an adopted child. Although scared of doing so, she eventually went to a Christian center for a meal but refused to sleep there. One day, she happened to be there when Marcos was preaching. Her brother had changed his name to Marcos after his slavery and was now a prominent preacher in the Christian American church. Sending a note signed as one of their dead brothers, Bennett, she got Marcos to meet her around the corner.
When Marcos and Lauren met, Lauren tried to tell him about what happened at Acorn and the role of Jarret’s followers, the Crusaders, in it. He did not believe her and made excuses saying that the activities were likely from a fringe group. When Lauren tried to meet Marcus again the next day, she was told he had moved to Portland. He’d left a note for her encouraging her to join the Christian American church as the best option for finding her daughter.
Justin and Allie would remain in Georgetown while Lauren would go north. They would keep throwaway phones for contact.
Before going north, Lauren went to the communication points to find notes for the other people from Acorn and to leave notes, including her phone number for them. She also received some messages there.
Lauren got a partner, Belen (Len) Ross, to go north with her. They would travel as a man and a woman. The other woman was a sharer but hadn’t learned how to handle it. She was from a rich family but not valued due to the fact that she was a girl and a sharer, even though her affliction was due to the fact that both her parents had taken the smart drug responsible for her condition.
In teaching Len about Earthseed, Lauren realized that she needed to make Earthseed more flexible so that it would survive. Building another Acorn would make the community too susceptible to scrutiny and persecution.Testing her goal to create Earthseed teachers, Lauren started visiting people in some homes along the way. At one point, Len made the observation that Lauren was effective at seducing people.
Gradually, the following of Earthseed grew, and Lauren created a plan to bring up the other adults of Acorn from their various locations to live with supporters. In that way, the community grew and became distributed, gathering attention from academics and influential people. Earthseed became successful with lots of donations and increasing influence in a distributed network.
Lauren and Marcos met several times in Seattle but she never learnt any information about Larkin.
The children from Acorn were all brought to an orphanage to be adopted by good Christian families. Larkin was adopted by Madison and Kayce Alexander. They had lost their perfect daughter and never let her forget that she was not a poor substitute. Her father molested her and while she could mosly avoid him, he would touch her inappropriately when she failed to escape.
Larkin was renamed Asha by the Alexanders. At school, she did not fit in. One of the methods of entertainment were Dreamasks, but they were all sanctioned stories with a religious bent or meant to show how good Christian men and women behaved. She did get her hands on a pornographic mask and managed to keep that away from parents. What she was less successful in hiding were the forbidden stories that she created.
Larkin wrote forbidden stories and thought that she had built-in protection so that they would be erased if her electronic notebook was accessed by an unauthorized person. However, that was not the case, and when they were discovered, she was punished with counselling, spécial classes and penance for the indiscretion.
The one thing that Larkin loved to do was sing and so she joined the choir. This was seen as an appropriate activity for Christian girls and it got her out of the house, away from Madison and Kayce. Then as soon as she turned 18, she got a job and moved out. Once she’d done that, she learned how unforgiving the church could be. There were rumors about her and her prior community treated her abysmally. She stopped going to church a few months after leaving the home of the Alexanders but decided to attend a gathering where Marcos would be preaching.
Meeting Uncle Marc
While waiting to be allowed admittance to the hall where Marcus would be preaching, Larkin started to sing. Then she was called in by the wife of the reverend hosting Marcus to come to meet him. In that conversation, he told her that he thought he was her uncle and that they could test this.
Marcus told Larkin about Acorn but not about Earthseed. He left out many details and told her that her parents were dead. Larkin moved in to live with Marcus. They were each other’s family. She got a job creating Dreamasks but they enjoyed living together. She lived in his secondary home and he admitted that be would never get married as he was gay and gay relationships were not allowed in the church.
Mother and daughter
Larkin was 34 by the time she met her biological mother. By then, Earthseed was well known, prominent, and people kept mentioning how much Asha looked like the founder. When Asha read Lauren’s biography and learned that her daughter had been taken from her, she started to wonder. When she asked her Uncle Marc if the woman could be her mother, his frozen face gave away the answer.
Realizing that Lauren was her mom, Larkin drove over to the refuge where she was resting. It took her 3 days at the refuge where Lauren was living before a young man agreed to bring a message to Lauren for her. Finally Larkin heard back and was brought to meet Lauren.
A Longed for Meeting
Lauren was happy to see Larkin and seemed to want to hug her but kept her distance. Larkin recognized both her charismatic, cult-leading side, and her harder side. She wondered which one was real. The meeting was fraught, Larkin distrustful and Lauren feeling betrayed by Marc. Lauren hated Marc for keeping Larkin from her. It didn’t help that Larkin explained Marc was the first person who loved her end the first person that she loved.
Confronting Uncle Marc
Larkin confronted Marcus about what she found. He explained that he didn’t want to share her and that he thought she was best off with a good Christian family than with her mother. Feeling betrayed by the choices he made, Lauren initially would not see him. But then she forgave him. He was her family and they had no one else.
Larkin/Asha was loyal to her uncle. She chose him as she believed her mother chose Earthseed. She did visit with her mother a few more times. About her mother, Larkin wrote ” she never really needed us so we didn’t let ourselves need her”.
The Ending of Parable of the Talents
In the ending, the first Earthseed mission is heading to space. There are people in the suspended state called Dia-Pause, embryos, seeds and other items from earth in the shuttle. Lauren watches as the shuttles leave earth, standing with Harry and his grandchild. Larkin is caring for Marc after a heart transplant and declined to watch the launch. While Lauren is not on this trip, she is proud of the work they have done. She expects that even if she doesn’t make it there alive, her bones will.
In the beginning of Parable of the Sower, there was an astronaut who wanted to be buried in Mars but the Secretary of Astronautics wouldn’t allow it. Lauren thought this decision a stupid one. At the end of the book, we see her achieving her dream.
From Larkin’s journal, we learn that Lauren died a short while after the launch of the spaceship. She was 81.
The book ends with the Parable of the Talents, copied from the bible.
Read my summary of the previous book, Parable of the Sower.
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