Analysis of Literal and Figurative Concepts in Parable of the Sower by Octavia. E. Butler
The novel, Parable Of The Sower, by Octavia. E. Butler, is set in California and takes place in the near future, during 2024-2027. The science fiction novel brings to life a gruesome view of the future with a shocking resemblance to reality. A parable is a simple story with a moral or spiritual lesson behind it. This novel is based upon a parable from the bible. While the novel is fiction, the authors use of figurative language to describe the dystopian future, of which includes global warming, a collapsed government, slavery, chronic water shortages, poverty, and a world filled with violence. There are multiple literal and figurative concepts of slavery, gender identity and hope for something better that allows for the readers to better envision the lifestyle of the characters and compare it to the patterns of our current and past worlds.
The world portrayed in this novel is god awful. The theme of slavery and racism is brough up more than once throughout Butler’s novel. Both figurative and symbolic language arises in the novel when Lauren declares “I’m going north”. Lauren is one of the many people that was headed North in hopes of finding employment and resources. This is much like the journey of the freed slaves from the South to the North in search of a better life. The whole journey North as told in the novel is symbolic of the journey North for the freed slaves. Butler makes several references to slavery throughout the novel. After Lauren’s community is destroyed, she forms a group including two former neighbors, Harry and Zahra, and a few other people she meets a long that way that were held as slaves in the past. Lauren and the group refer to themselves as the “crew of the modern underground railroad”. This is a reference to the underground railroad used for “fifty years or more, was secretly engaged in helping fugitive slaves to reach places of security in the free states and in Canada.”
Through Lauren’s journal entries, it is clear that Butler is trying to bring the topic of slavery to light. There are clear literal and figurative examples of slavery and racism throughout the novel. Butler “begins by evoking the African American experience of slavery and then moves beyond that experience of oppression to illustrate that African American slavery is one of many manifestations of bondage in American history.” Lauren, obviously, did not care about the race of someone. Her group of people consisted of black, white, Asian, Latino, rich or poor, gay or straight, it made no difference to her. Throughout the novel, the use and abuse of women is expressed more times than once. At one point during Laurens travels, she passes a naked woman stumbling down the road and cannot tell if the woman has been raped or if she was on drugs, or both. She goes on to explain that naked, “used” women often roamed the streets alone after being used by men. She describes this situation as it is a normal occurrence. This correlates to the modern day domestic abuse that has become accepted as the normal for many.
This is also similar to the sex trafficing issues that have grown over the past couple of years. Once Lauren returns to her destroyed neighborhood she observes the dead bodies on the streets, realizing that most of the females, of all ages, had been brutally raped before their deaths. In this futuristic dystopia, women were used, abused, and looked at as objects rather than human beings. It is stated by Lauren, on multiple occasions, that women are uneducated and only know how to take care of babies and cook. Their sole purpose was looked at to be to cook, clean, and have children while relying on the man to work. This way of viewing woman dates back hundreds of years. Lauren has to disguise herself as a man in order to leave Robeldo. This is similar to the woman, Debroah Sampson, who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the military to fight in the Revolutionary War, since women were not able to enlist in the military in 1782. As previously stated, people have maintained this view of women only being useful for certain things such as cooking and cleaning for many years. Butler obviously sees our future being no different or any better than the world we live in now. However, it is said that history repeats itself.
Maybe that is what the readers sees throughout this novel, history repeating itself in more ways than one. Laurens story and her ideas of Earthseed are used as a parable for the readers, giving an example of how people might avoid this repetition of history and the consequences of it through change and adaptation. The consequences of not accepting change and learning how to adapt and overcome are also shown throughout the novel. For example, Lauren’s father, Laurence, who was born in the twentieth century and stuck in his beliefs of the old ways. He constantly defending faith over reason, something Lauren does not agree with. Lauren says he believes in a “big-daddy-God or a big-cop-God” who will take over and make things right in times of need. Laurence is unable to adapt and overcome, and instead continues to hold out hope for his God to change things instead of being the chance needed. Halfway through the novel, Laurence disappears, along with his way of thinking. The death and disappearance of Laurens family is motivation for her as the leader of the “modern underground railroad” and Earthseed.
Butler emphasizes to the readers that the lessons learned from the past are important in teaching so that history does not continue to repeat itself. Referring back to the bible, Lauren is much like Moses, leading the group out of slavery or a bad environment, just as Moses led the Isralites out of Slavery in Egypt. Lauren uses these examples and lessons of the past to her advantage, founding Earthseed and finding a new place for a community, attempting to start a new life without repeating the events of the past. When Lauren learns of little Amy Dunn’s death, she is completely devastated. She was shot through the metal gate that led into the neighborhood. Lauren, who feels the pain of others as well as her own, is furious with the ways of the world at this point. She uses a simile to express her feelings of the neighborhood after little Amy Dunn’s death. She says “It’s like an island surrounded by sharks – except the sharks don’t bother you unless you go in the water. But our land sharks are on their way in. It’s just a matter of how long it takes for them to get hungry enough”. People are killing others for no good reason, and there is violence all around Lauren.
This is much like our current society, with school shootings, bombings, and more random acts of violence with no good reasoning behind them. The violence shown in many examples throughout the novel can be easily compared to the violence that currently goes on and has gone on for years. The main metaphor shown in the novel is the seed. It represents the hope of the characters. The title of the novel itself comes straight from a bible verse (Luke 8:5-8) in the New Testament parable about a sower/farmer who sowed seeds. Some of these seeds never had a chance to sprout, some were eaten by birds, and some started to grow but were killed by the heat of the day. However, some seeds fell on fruitful ground, grew, and produced good fruit. The farmer is a symbol for Jesus in the Bible, but is a symbol for Lauren in this novel. Comparatively, this is exactly what Lauren is doing throughout the novel. Her “seeds” are human beings, some of which hear her ideas of Earthseed and respond to it, and others who hear it and do not bother to respond. Lauren refers to her religion as Earthseed because she believes that human beings are the seeds needed for a new and improved community to blossom on Earth. According to Lauren, it is the people’s destiny to spread, like seeds, throughout the universe and start life on new planets. This is also why Lauren refers to the new community as Acorn.
The community of Acorn represents the seeds of a new life that will, over time, grow into something much bigger, just as a small acorn grows into a large oak tree with time. As previously stated, the new community name is also a metaphor in itself. Acorn is a safe space, or a place of refugee, for the community members. The Earthseed group plans to stay at the new community, in which they have named Acorn. At the end of the novel, the readers are given the actual parable of the sower from the King James Version of Luke. Throughout the novel, the readers have witnessed Laurens trial and errors of spreading her Earthseed religious views and ideas. The ending of the novel gives the readers a sense that Earthseed will be successful in the Acorn community. The way Lauren holds onto hope throughout all of the harsh conditions and violence is much like people do on a day to day basis now. In conclusion, the author uses figurative language such as similes and metaphors to better explain the near future dystopian world being portrayed. Many of the issues Butler incorporates into the future portrayed in the novel are parallel to past and current issues in the world today. The future that is shockingly grim and close to reality with the literal figurative example sof slavery, gender role issues, and hope for a better future scattered throughout the novel.
- Allen, Marlene D. “Octavia Butler’s Parable Novels and the Boomerang of African American History.” Callaloo, vol. 32, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1353–1365., doi:10.1353/cal.0.0541.
- Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York, NY: Warner Books, 1993. Print. Siebert, Wilbur Henry. Reprint Services Corporation, 1898, https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=QXA_AQAAMAAJ&hl=en&pg=GBS.PP1
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