Reading Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

Just finished this apocalyptic book, set in the mid-to-late 2020s, in which the American president wants to “Make America Great Again.” It was written in 1993.

The diverse main cast of characters includes a dozen men, women, and children of color. Many books that I read as a child had me creating mental images of white characters. When Parable introduces two white women, they are described as ‘medium size white women with brown hair.’ Hah! A far cry from the ‘flowing [very specific shade, length, and texture of hair],’ beauty-as-virtue descriptions utilized for white literary heroines. I devoured YA fantasy, and the women were frequently headstrong and clever. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lack of diversity and that my mental image was never challenged. I digress.

Parable of the Sower deals in the mysticism of religion in a way that felt practical, but also one that made me mentally push back on Earthseed, the main character’s religion. It made me echo the question that the book asks throughout, about our communities and our country: “What keeps change from trending corrupt?” Considering my copy of the book was published with discussion questions, I think Butler wants us to talk about it.

Parable deals in problems which have historically plagued the country, and that have perhaps never fully disappeared and could return: workforce privatization as monopoly resulting from destabilization, de-facto debtors slavery, water shortages, widespread gun violence and drug abuse, states’ rights overpowering national unity, lack of birth control, lack of education, the precarious future of the space travel program, the way infrastructure shapes communities or doesn’t, and perhaps most interesting to me, homesteading as subsistence survivalism, instead of a bountiful, community-based, anti-capitalist exercise of choice. If any of this piques your interest, I’d recommend that you read the book.

Here are some parts I marked as I read. Slight spoilers, but not much more than above.

All successful life is
Adaptable,
Opportunistic,
Tenacious,
Interconnected, and
Fecund.
Understand this.
Use it.
Shape God.
–pp 124-125, Earthseed poem

The Self must create
Its own reasons for being.
To shape God,
Shape Self.
–pp 259, Earthseed poem

“He nodded. “All right. But tell me, what do people have to do to be good members of an Earthseed Community?”
A nice, door-opening question. “The essentials,” I answered, “are to learn to shape God with forethought, care, and work; to educate and benefit their community, their families, and themselves; and to contribute to the fulfillment of the Destiny.”
“And why should people bother about the Destiny, farfetched as it is? What’s in it for them?”
“A unifying, purposeful life here on Earth, and the hope of heaven for themselves and their children. A real heaven, not mythology or philosophy. A heaven that will be theirs to shape.”
“Or a hell,” he said. His mouth twitched. “Human beings are good at creating hells for themselves even out of richness.” He thought for a moment. “It sounds too simple, you know.”
–pp 261-262

Your teachers
Are all around you.
All that you perceive,
All that you experience,
All that is given to you
or taken from you,
All that you love or hate,
need or fear
Will teach you — 
If you will learn.
God is your first
and your last teacher.
God is your harshest teacher:
subtle,
demanding.
Learn or die.
–pp 279, Earthseed poem

“We all had to buy a few things, but Emery squandered too much money on pears and walnuts for everyone. She delighted in passing these around, in being able to give us something for a change. She’s all right. We’ll have to teach her about shopping and the value of money, but she’s worth something. Emery is. And she’s decided she’s one of us.”
–pp 313

Create no images of God.
Accept the images
that God has provided.
They are everwhere, 
in everything.
God is Change–
Seed to tree,
tree to forest; 
Rain to river, 
river to sea; 
Grubs to bees,
bees to swarm.
From one, many;
from many, one;
Forever uniting, growing, dissolving–
forever Changing.
The universe
is God’s self-portrait.
–pp 315, Earthseed poem

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