Parable of the Sower

The Powerful Symbolism Of Water

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Water is the most abundant source of life on this planet. Not only did the first living beings emerge from its depths, but it also possesses the ability to keep every living thing alive. Powerful as it is, water takes on whole new meanings in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. In this novel, the journal entries of Lauren Olamina tell her story as she, literally and figuratively, navigates the world around her. The dystopian America Lauren lives in is practically void of a reliable source of water, especially in Lauren’s case as she lives in southern California, an area known for its long periods of drought. These circumstances highlight the symbolism of water in the novel. In Butler’s Parable of the Sower, water represents wealth, life, and safety.

There are many instances in this novel where water is a symbol for wealth. The setting of this story is one where a majority of the population is extremely impoverished. Due to this and the inflation of the failing economy, water has become an expensive necessity, and clean water a luxury. According to Lauren, “water now costs several times as much as gasoline” and “is as good as money” (Butler 18, 201). Only those who have money are able to drink water, and that water is not guaranteed to be safe unless it is from a commercial water station. As a consequence of this, people that have the ability to afford water are considered wealthy, and usually despised. Lauren explains that“[y]ou’re supposed to be dirty now. If you’re clean, you make a target of yourself” (18). To the poor and thirsty people around Lauren, if one has the option of cleaning themselves with water, they are trying to show off how much better and wealthier they are than the people around them.

Water is also a symbol for life. Heavy themes such as poverty, racism, and violence are all prevalent during this novel. However, there are certain times when lightheartedness and general liveliness can seep into the story, usually attached to scenes concerning water. For instance, when it begins to rain, after raining for six years, Lauren describes how she feels when the rain hits her skin: “It was so wonderful. How can [Cory] not understand that? It was so incredible and wonderful” (48). Lauren is characterized as a serious and intelligent girl, yet in this moment, seeing the water outside her house, she becomes a new person. Disregarding the consequences and disobeying her stepmother, Lauren stands outside until she is soaked in dirty rain water. These actions are not indicative of someone who is trying their best to be seen as an adult and to survive in a dangerous world, they are the actions of a teenager who wants to enjoy her life. A similar event occurs later in the novel when Lauren, Harry, and Zahra are at a beach. They are completely surrounded by potentially dangerous strangers in unknown territory, but this is the first time any of them had seen the ocean, so again Lauren disregards the consequences of her actions and actually lives her life. Her and Zahra, neither knowing how to swim, walk into the ocean and “threw water on each other…let the waves knock [them] around, and laughed like crazy people,” Lauren even claims it was the “best time [she’s] had since [they] left home” (206). Both these scenes are instances where characters that are usually burdened by countless tragedies and traumas are able to enjoy their life, surrounded by water.

In the novel, water additionally represents safety for the characters. Until the end of the story, the characters are never in a place completely void of danger. However, there are certain points where the characters are in places of temporary tranquility, places that are associated with water. The first place is the ocean. When the group arrives there, Lauren describes the scene:

…the narrow strip of sand was crowded with people, though they managed to stay out of each other’s way. They had spread themselves out and seemed far more tolerant of one another than they had during our night in the hills. I didn’t hear any shooting or fighting. There were no dogs, no obvious thefts, no rape. Perhaps the sea the cool breeze lulled them. (205)

This scene is a deep contrast to the night the group experienced on the hills, where there was shootings throughout the night and fighting constantly. But, at the ocean, there is an odd sense of understanding among the various groups, as if no one wants to disturb the peace the water created. Consequently, the characters feel safe here, safe enough for them to play in the ocean and enjoy themselves. The other place the characters experiences some safety was at the lake. Once they arrived at the lake, Lauren remarked that none of the people living there shot at them or bothered them at all as they made their way to a campsite (259). Additionally, the group was able to find a remote campsite where they could relax safely. Lauren even had the opportunity to spend all day “talking, writing, reading, and making love to Bankole” (268). Both the time spent at the ocean and the time spent at the lake are indicative about how being surrounded by water calms even the most barbaric people, creating a safer environment.

The symbol of water in Parable of the Sower represents a variety of positive and life-sustaining factors. Because of its high price, those that can afford the basic necessity of water are seen as wealthy. Moreover, the tranquility created by water allows for the characters to relax safely and enjoy themselves. Not only is water essential to survive, but to these characters, water is essential for doing anything more than surviving. Throughout the story, the water presents the characters with outlets to escape the severity of the world around them and just live.

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Analysis of Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler Through the Characteristics of Dystopian Literature

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Parable of the Sower, by Octavia E. Butler, conveys many similar topics from history, such as slavery, not having equal rights, and decrease of civilization, which is what makes it diffcult to put the book under one genre classification. Regardless, Butler is able to fit the literature of dystopia into her book. Many different criteria and characteristics of dystopian literature, such as a collapsed civilization, lack of justice, and restriction of freedom and information, are seen throughout the book. In addition to that, the author is able to make the opinion of the book clear to lead the reader to figure out how it’s going to be a future of a real world. A utopia is an imagined place where everything is known to be perfect.The problems that occur in a utopian world are war, disease, poverty, oppression, discrimination, and inequality. The opposite of utopia is dystopia which is perfectly portrayed in the book. A dystopia is defined as an imagined place that is not perfect that consists of everything being unpleasant or bad. In the Parable of the Sower Butler discusses the different kinds of social issues and trends in the United States, from the 1980s and 1990s, and pushes them forward by thirty or forty years. The problems that are occuring have no solutions and become worse each day.

Lauran is one of the main characters who writes everything happening in a journal entry. She has a condition in which she is able to feel the pain of those around her. Her family is staying in a community named Robeldo which is locked with a gate around it. People in the community build a wall to be able to protect themselves from the crimes happening outside their community. Those who are living in the community think they are safe from the dangers happening in the real world. The idea of that is not very true because in the book the community is being attacked more than one time through the book until one day in chapter 14 the whole community is burned down. One of the problems in the century they are in, many people started creating more gates to protect their community. The people in the communities don’t have access to the outside world which restricts their freedom and leaves them to only interpret to what is happening in their community. The environmental disasters that happen in their community caused a scarcity of natural resources.

In their community there has been no rain for years and people will do anything just to get water. Those who are wealthy are the only ones able to afford taking a bath and washing their clothes. The police and firefighters who are known to help for free are corrupt and must be paid for their services. The people living in the communities do not have an idea of what different animals exist. In chapter four, the parents in the Robledo community take their children outside to practice shooting. While the kids are shooting they are attacked by dogs leaving the kids very confused because they have never introduced to what they were. Lauren asks Aura, “You’ve never seen one before have you?’ She shook her head”. Lauren has some knowledge of what dogs were, but Aura never even heard of such an animal. Lauren explains to her how she knew what they were ‘I’ve read books about them being intelligent, loyal pets, but that’s all in the past, dogs now are wild animals who will eat a baby if they can’. Lauren explains this after two characters were attacked. If the people in the community were informed of what is happening in the outside world they would know about other animals. The discovery of normal traits of animals in the future fits into the dystopian world. One of the major problems throughout the book is the humanity the people of the community do not have. Many people are attacking other people and killing them. In the book Lauren states, ‘It looked so peaceful, and yet people out there were trying to kill each other, and no doubt succeeding. Strange how normal it’s become for us to lie on the ground and listen while nearby, people try to kill each other”. Lauren reflects to this as she is listening to a gun battle. Other than killing people, humans are eating other humans. In this environmental period a dystopia is perfectly displayed.Many people start to starve because of the low food supply. This is the time of where the government services start to collapse. Even though the examples in Parable of the Sower fit perfectly in the dystopian literature, it also fits into the theme of Afrofuturism. The book is a science fiction which is set in the future that includes different parts of black history and culture which match the exact meaning of Afrofuturism.

The community Lauren lives in is the only one that has people from different races. Lauren who is black has white friends, but knows that black girls like her should not date white men and only choose someone from the same race. Outside of her community, Lauren knows that traveling with white people can cause negative and violent stuff to her group. Even though the book is after the abolition of slavery it talks about different kinds of slavery that happen in our society, and indicates that those forms of slavery still exist and affect many kinds of people. As the years pass it shows how race relations with class differences have divided the people in a way that it caused community of Robledo to come to an end. The future of society, from the perspective of Butler, depends only on if people are able to set aside their differences and work together, and if not, the future may look as how the community in the book turned out to be. In conclusion, even though Butler brings together many different themes into the book she is still able to fit it all under the category of dystopia. The different events happening in the book causes there to more than one theme. One of the messages she is trying to spread with the book is that our world could end up just like the Parable of the Sower’s world.

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Analysis Of The Topic Of Religion In Parable Of The Sower By Octavia Butler

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

The novel, Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, takes place in a post-apocalyptic society where there is little to no hope left for the remaining survivors on Earth. Many people have given up on saving the world and now result to taking what’s left of it. However, the few people who do believe in a better life, including protagonist Lauren Olamina, all share one common ideology, religion. Illustrating religion as the last hope against the looming darkness of the dying world, Octavia Butler emphasizes the character development of religious believers and non-believers in Parable of the Sower to represent the differences in lifestyles and choices between them; ultimately making the argument that religion is the driving force in which gives us humans a purpose and reason to prosper, or in this case rebuild the world. Lauren’s relationship with religion sprouted at a very young age. Her father, a local reverend, instilled his Christian beliefs upon her such as many parents do to develop good morals within their children.

However, Lauren has since abandoned her father’s beliefs and now devotes herself to her personal religion, Earthseed. Earthseed, a work-in-progress, is founded on the belief that “God is change”. Earthseed says that God shapes us as we change, but we are also able to return the favor and directly change God. In addition, Earthseed claims that God exists to change the universe, and paradoxically the universe exists to change God. Earthseed is a religion in the novel, even if hardly anyone in the world knows or acknowledges it. A religion does not need a minimum number of followers, but simply one person engaging in and sharing it with the world. The reason for Lauren giving up on Christianity is not clearly stated. It seems as though she has no hard feelings towards it, she just prefers to focus more on reality as she knows it rather than place false hope into unforeseen entities. Lauren never denies religion or shows any signs of being an atheist, she certainly believes there is something more going on in the universe and the novel as a whole seems to be a coming of age story for Lauren and her development of Earthseed.

Octavia Butler doesn’t always portray religion in the best way and often challenges it throughout the novel. However, it can be seen in the characters who hold religion dear to their hearts that their faith is the much-needed foundation for the reconstruction of the broken world. It seems that almost every character who holds a belief in some sort of religion, are also the only people left on Earth actively making it a better place, or at least trying. In order to show how each believer will achieve their common goal of restrengthening the world, the main characters’ purposes, in which they will strive towards, are revealed through their religions and actions. Lauren’s father’s purpose is being a teacher. He works tirelessly as a full-time professor, dean, pastor, and leader in their community. He not only teaches the youth how to read and write at the local school, but he is also a teacher of morality. He teaches those around him through words and actions on how to maintain a solid community and relationships with others. It is safe to say that most of his actions are religiously motivated, and it’s not a coincidence that his actions are unselfish and out of love for his family, community, and the overall good of the world around him. He is the epitome of a leader during times like the one they’re in, and without him, Lauren would not have the role model and friend she needed as a child. Similar to her father, Lauren is also a believer trying to pick up the pieces of a broken world. However, instead of using Christianity as her main source of reasoning, Lauren makes decisions based on what’s best for Earthseed. Lauren treats Earthseed as if it is her child, and will do anything to protect it because she believes Earthseed could be the savior of humanity. Lauren can be seen as a type of prophet in her new religion. Similar to many other prophets from different types of religions, Lauren is a leader of a group walking into the unknown wanting to share and grow her faith with the world. Lauren strives to find “good ground” to create Earthseed communities such as Acorn, and develop a population that will join her in creating a better life, and ultimately “take root among the stars”.

Contrastly, the characters in the novel who don’t belong to any sort of religion seem to have accepted the fate of the Earth and don’t strive to improve the general quality of life. The pyromaniacs embody this persona and have no regard for anyone or anything aside from feeling short term pleasure by burning the world to the ground. In addition, Keith Olamina, Lauren’s brother, believes “God is the adults’ way of trying to scare you into doing what they want”, and he certainly fits the theme of non-believers who don’t care about the well-being of society. Keith’s role in the novel is short, but meaningful. Keith, with money as his incentive, chooses to constantly sneak out of the gated town and get involved in dangerous activities against his father’s wishes. While he was trying to do what he believed was good for his family, Keith was unable to realize that he put his entire community at risk, and ultimately led to its demise. Characters such as these have tunnel vision and seem to have no sense of responsibility for the greater good of society but would rather take advantage of the broken world and deprive it of its last chances of recovering from such a plight. Octavia Butler continues to show that religion is the only thing keeping society together, and those who approach life with religion in their corner understand that it’s up to people like them to save humanity. In a dystopian world, religion is the hope that people need and cling on to desperately to survive.

While religion seems to be the motive for bringing the world back together, it is also possible that religion could be hindering society’s ability to progress. Wasting days at Sunday masses or using resources and money for baptisms are a few examples of how religion may seem to have a negative effect on the outlook of society. The time and energy that Lauren’s community spends on organizing and putting on religious events could very well be used to help one another prosper and grow their community. Religion forces them to work towards achieving their ultimate goal of gaining access to heaven, but is it really worth it to spend their lives working towards something that may not even be true when people all around them are struggling to survive in this life? While religion may seem as though it could be a false hope and a waste of precious resources, losing it would leave humans with no purpose or reason to do anything but survive, such as Keith or the pyromaniacs. If there is no goal or something to work towards and everything is meaningless, then what is the point of doing anything? Even Earthseed, a religion that doesn’t believe in an afterlife, still has a heaven. However, this heaven is attainable during one’s life and “the destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars”. Religion pushes us to create a better life for ourselves, and a better future for the generations to come. Even if the religions in Parable of The Sower are false, they are necessary because in achieving their ultimate goals, society will also begin to be restored. Parable of the Sower offers a potential look into our near future and serves as a warning to all of humanity. The horrors of this dying world are explicitly shown by the harsh conditions Octavia Butler displays throughout the novel, leaving many of the non-believers to give up and assume hope for this world is all but lost. However, religion constantly serves as a beacon to those who believe in a new life, a better life; and those who choose to follow this beacon are tasked with the responsibility of saving those around them and the ones who will make up our future. Religion offers the hope that can be used as motivation and the end goal its followers are longing for and striving to achieve, it ultimately gives them a reason and purpose to keep on living.

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Analysis of the Idea of Boomerang in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

It is the year 2024. American society is at the brink of an environmental and economic apocalypse. A young girl in Robledo, California knows she can no longer accept the dormancy and perpetual degradation of the status quo and must find a way to inspire change for the chance of survival. In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler follows a 15-year-old African American girl, Lauren Olamina, as she struggles to navigate a world broken by class differences, greed, and capitalism. In her novel, Butler uses elements of race relations in the United States in a historical and modern-day context to suggest that empathy-driven change is fundamental in the prevention of social and political degradation. Butler was a firm believer that history was not always linear, but sometimes cyclical in motion. She also believed that the idea of progress, when relating to social change, was not permanent and could very well be reversible. These concepts are partly what inspired the Parable trilogy, along with her own experiences and vision of where the world could be headed. “This was not a book about prophecy; this was an ‘if-this-goes- on story,’” she said in a speech at MIT in 1998. “This was a cautionary tale, although people have told me it was prophecy.

All I have to say to that is ‘I certainly hope not’”. Her foreshadowing of global affairs, both realistic and wildly accurate, constructs a near-future dystopic society that must grapple with issues like climate change, mass incarceration, gun violence, homelessness, drug epidemics, and a broken economy driven by capitalism and wealthy institutions. In an essay commemorating the book’s 25th anniversary, Gloria Steinem said, “If there is one thing scarier than a dystopian novel about the future, it’s one written in the past that has already begun to come true”. Beyond the novel’s most obvious external conflicts, and with subtle nuance, lies a profound element of social inequality, sometimes paralleling the times of antebellum slavery and the American civil rights movement. In Parable of the Sower, the middle-class are segregated from the poor in their walled-off communities, while the rich are situated up in the hills, guarded by even bigger walls, privatized security, and government policy. “Up toward the hills there were walled estates – one big house and a lot of shacky little dependencies where the servants lived”. Later in the novel, Lauren notes that “Some upper-class men prove they’re men by having one wife and a lot of beautiful, disposable young servant girls. Nasty”. These images remain in direct reflection of plantation life in the American South where a dependence on slave labor and the perpetual abuses of slave women’s bodies were among the routine. Was Butler suggesting that the rich and powerful were the sources for class discrimination and exploitation? Or was she attempting to present a more nuanced and abstract explanation for social degradation? These questions require further review.

In Butler’s idea of cyclical history, or as Ralph Ellison refers to as a “boomerang” in his 1952 novel Invisible Man, she conceptualizes the resurfacing of violence and discrimination toward peoples, specifically relating to elements of slavery and the exploitation of labor to support capitalist agendas. In the Parable of the Sower, Butler was less concerned with portraying modern slavery as an issue of race, but more as a function of class. In the book, Lauren often evaluates the ways in which she can escape her dormant community and pave her own future, rather than the one her family seeks to maintain in Robledo. Lauren looks toward a new opportunity developing in the town of Olivar, a previously wealthy coastal town that had been privatized by a company called KSF who intended on exploiting Olivar’s farming and natural resources. In doing so, they began trading lower-waged work for the promise of security, food, jobs, and a protection against rising coastal waters. In her examination of Olivar, Lauren determines, “That’s an old company-town trick – get people into debt, hang on to them, and work them harder. Debt slavery”. With Olivar out of the picture, Lauren knew she needed change, but it would not come in the form of ‘debt slavery.’ While Lauren was motivated by change, she struggled to find people in her community, including her father, who were interested in the same things. Her father, the local Baptist minister, was persistent on staying in the safety of Robledo as he frequently challenged Lauren’s ideas of leaving town for any new opportunities. He refused to see Olivar as anything but voluntary slavery and regarded any possibility of finding a better home outside of Robledo as an act of suicide. Even one of Lauren’s closest friends, Joanne, thought she was crazy for considering a future outside their walls after attempting to persuade her on the importance of change. “People have changed the climate of the world.

Now they’re waiting for the old days to come back’. “Waiting for the old days to come back,” as Lauren puts it, reflects her understanding of the popular sentiments of her community and the rest of society in that they were very much afraid of change. Waiting for “the explosion, the big crash, the sudden chaos that would destroy the neighborhood”, or destroy the world, Butler might add. Following many failed attempts to convince her loved ones of the imminent destruction of their community, Lauren starts the creation of a new faith, Earthseed, which would ultimately guide her in leading its believers toward a new destiny. Inspired by change, Earthseed becomes Lauren’s understanding of truth and the eventual resolution to the cataclysm of her world. “All that you touch You Change. All that you Change Changes you. The only lasting truth Is Change. God Is Change”. “The only lasting truth is Change,” becomes the dominant theme throughout Lauren’s new faith. It’s the reason why she believes that resisting change, staying in Robledo for example, would only end in tragedy. Upon her anticipations, Lauren’s town is eventually burned and ravaged, and she is forced on a journey north with the only two remaining people from her town, Zahra and Harry. Fleeing Robledo and their refusal to join a privatized slave town like Olivar, Lauren and her group resemble fugitive slaves in the 19th century and their northern escape to freedom. This is especially true when you consider the racial and gendered dynamics of the group as well as Zahra’s recent liberation from a husband who bought her with money and treated her no less than a slave. The fact that two black women traveling with a white guy proved to be a dangerous move indicates the degradation of the social climate of Butler’s prophetic future.

Realizing the dangers of their multi-racial and co-gendered situation, Lauren decides to travel as a black male to increase their chances of survival. “We [Zahra and Lauren] can be a black couple and their white friend. If Harry can get a reasonable tan, maybe we can claim him as a cousin”. Lauren’s decision to change her gender not only illuminates the lack of privileges associated with being a [black] woman, but also reflects the vision of Earthseed in that “All that you Change, Changes you.” One of the greatest challenges Lauren faces throughout the novel, and one that must not be ignored when examining Butler’s thematic objective, is that her character suffers from hyperempathy causing her to feel the pain and the pleasures of the people around her. While this condition is Lauren’s greatest vulnerability and what doctors call an ‘organic delusional syndrome’, it ultimately becomes a powerful tool in her understanding of how the world could be a better place. “If everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain?” I’ve never thought of my problem as something that might do some good before, but the way things are, I think it would help”. This moment is foundational in Lauren’s character development as she begins to see the value of empathy in her world. “I wish I could give it to people. Failing that, I wish I could find other people who have it, and live among them”. Lauren’s wish ultimately becomes reality when she encounters a family of ‘sharers’ who escaped the bondage of debt slavery, accepting them as valuable contributions to her future Earthseed community. The world in Parable of the Sower mirrors an ‘every man for himself’ kind of place.

Most people refuse to trust any stranger out of fear, but Lauren leads her group in helping others who might be valued assets to Earthseed. Along her journey, she collects a diverse group of people who are all very much surprised by her generosity, a byproduct of her hyperempathy. Many of the travelers that join her pack are either prior slaves or were victims of institutional debt slavery, magnifying the extent to which Lauren’s world had declined. “So we become the crew of a modern underground railroad”, Lauren tells Bankole, a romantic partner she picks up along the way. Bankole was immediately attracted to Lauren’s group after their first encounter since, as a Doctor, he naturally shared their tendency to care for the wellbeing of others; yet another person who valued empathy and compassion toward others. “I was surprised to see that anyone else cared what happened to a couple of strangers”. Bankole plays a vital role in Lauren’s quest to spread Earthseed after she learns that he owns a large plot of land in northern California. “You could help me, build the first Earthseed community”. Bankole’s land ultimately becomes their new Earthseed home and they called it Acorn.

In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler creates a world that has far deteriorated from the one we live in today. Her dystopic future, both practical and imaginable, is polluted with human problems that provoke social injustices and political decline. Butler’s use of race relations mirroring the African American experience in a historical context suggests her sentiments toward “boomerang” slavery and a justification for social progress. Lauren’s Earthseed and Hyperempathy syndrome lay the groundwork for inspiring change, which ultimately serves in keeping her alive and providing a place for her followers to seek refuge. In an exhibit at the Huntington Library in Pasadena, California, many of Butler’s manuscripts, letters, and affirmations are featured on display. One of them in particular, a handwritten note on the back of a notecard, reads: “Tell stories filled with facts. Make people touch and taste and KNOW. Make people FEEL FEEL FEEL!” Did Butler write this note to inspire the work of Parable of the Sower? That answer may never be reveled, but surely her vision reflects the creation and development of Lauren Oya Olamina.

Works cited

  1. Butler, Octavia E. Parable Of The Sower. New York : Warner Books, [2000], ©1993. Print.
  2. Butler, Octavia E. “The Media in Transition.” The Media in Transition. 8 Oct. 2019.
  3. Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage International, 1995. Print.
  4. Steinem, Gloria. “Gloria Steinem on Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Early Bird Books, 26 Feb. 2016, https://earlybirdbooks.com/gloria-steinem-on-octavia-butler.
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Analysis of the Theme of Substance Abuse and Violence in Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler takes you to the year 2024; environmental degradation and economic collapse have all destroyed American society. Diseases like measles ravage the population, people fight and die over water, and new drugs take over the survivors. The only safety is found in closed communities like the one Lauren Olumina lives in with her family trapped where suburban families have come together to survive. This essay will discuss the struggles that substance abuse and violence cause throughout the book and in the society we live in today. Substance use disorders (SUDs) are associated with numerous medical, psychiatric, psychological, spiritual, economic, social, family, and legal problems, creating a significant burden for affected individuals, their families, and society.

Exposure to violent crime damages the health and development of victims, family members, and entire communities. Low-income communities and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected. These topics play a big role in my life, coming from a low-income community where violence and substance abuse happen daily just like in Parable of the Sower. Octavia Butler uses the theme of violence throughout the entirety of Parable of the Sower. An effective way to view the violence in this novel is to, view it in the perspectives within which Butler positions it: it can be inherently harmful, inherently beneficial, and even a necessity for survival. When it comes to illegal substances, society has determined that the use is harmful and has placed legal prohibitions on its use.

This is to both protect individuals’ well being and shield society from the costs involved with related healthcare resources, lost productivity, the spread of diseases, crime, and homelessness. The abuse of illegal substances has a direct connection with the violence. For example, the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment noted that more than 75 percent of people who begin treatment for drug addiction report having performed various acts of violence, including mugging, physical assault, and using a weapon to attack another person. This shows that substance abuse affects the mental state of individuals and causes them to act in poor ways. In Parable of the Sower, there is a drug that makes individuals start fires in the community bringing them to destroy the homes of many families causing them to either end up homeless or dead.

The two types of drugs in the novel are, pyro and parateco. In the novel, these drugs are believed to cause extreme pleasure which makes it difficult to quit. According to the author, Pyro makes it better than sex to watch the fire burn. Keith, Lauren’s brother, explains his close experience with pyro with his family, ‘Hey, I saw a guy get both of his eyes gouged out. After that, they set him on fire and watched him run around and scream and burn’. The addicts of the drugs are known as ‘paints’ because they ‘shave off all their hair – even their eyebrows – and they paint their skin green or blue or red or yellow. They eat fire and kill rich people’. Even Keith, who Lauren views as a psychopath, thinks that pyro is a bad drug that affects people negatively. The social importance of the paints killing rich people feeds into the division between the wealthy and the poor and the animosity that these breeds. The other drug is, Parateco – This drug is the reason for the hyperempathy syndrome that Lauren, Emery, Grayson, and other members of the community have. Called the ‘smart pill’ or ‘the Einstein powder’, Lauren’s mother used it in graduate school. It became the status quo for students to use the pill because it made it easier to learn and retain knowledge. Only later did the bad side effects of the drug come out. Lauren’s mother died while giving birth to her, and it is postulated that Parateco might have been the reason.

Arguably, the pivotal event of Butler’s novel is when Lauren’s community is destroyed and almost everyone is killed. During this event, everyone but Lauren and two other residents are brutally killed by either gunshot or fire, leaving their neighborhood in shambles. Butler uses this scene to help portray the harmful violence that occurs throughout the novel. Zahra Moss, one of the survivors, describes to Lauren about how she was raped before she was able to escape. Those that destroyed the community were on the drug Pyro. Another instance of harmful violence related to drugs occurs when Lauren describes her brother’s death. “Someone had cut and burned away most of my brother’s skin. Everywhere except his face. They burned out his eyes”. When Keith decided to go beyond the gate, he got into dealing with these harmful drugs. His family suspects that he was tortured and killed by other drug dealers that saw him as a competition. These events show that the drugs are the basis of the harmful violence found throughout the novel. Another perspective portrayed in the novel is that violence could also be beneficial for some individuals.

After Lauren’s community is destroyed, she returns to find many of the street poor scavengings through the empty houses and stealing things from the corpses. Not everyone is able to live within the safe, gated communities; therefore, they are able to benefit from the violence that was imposed onto communities by stealing from people’s bodies or the houses. Another example of violence being beneficial for some is the idea that violence can be used to end the pain. When Lauren and some others from her neighborhood go shooting one day with her dad, they come across some dogs that are potentially dangerous. After her dad shoots one, it doesn’t completely die. Lauren can feel its pain, and it becomes too much for her so she herself ends up shooting it. This can be seen when she states “With my right hand, I drew the Smith & Wesson, aimed, and shot the beautiful dog through its head.” Lauren only uses violence here to end her own pain and suffering, as well as that of the dog.

All things considered, substance abuse and violence in different communities affect the way the community functions and the way families work together as well. As explained before, exposure to violent crime damages the health and development of victims, family members, and entire communities. Low-income communities and racial and ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected. Although a large number of people may believe that violence and substance abuse only affect the people who are engaging these activities, substance abuse and violence affect everyone who is being surrounded by this activity as well. In addition to this, people who witness violence, whether it is hearing, seeing, or experiencing it, are at higher risk of PTSD.

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Analysis of Literal and Figurative Concepts in Parable of the Sower by Octavia. E. Butler

January 12, 2021 by Essay Writer

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.

Works Cited

  1. 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.
  2. 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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The Symbolism of Water in Parable of the Sower

July 8, 2019 by Essay Writer

Water is the most abundant source of life on this planet. Not only did the first living beings emerge from its depths, but it also possesses the ability to keep every living thing alive. Powerful as it is, water takes on whole new meanings in Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower. In this novel, the journal entries of Lauren Olamina tell her story as she, literally and figuratively, navigates the world around her. The dystopian America Lauren lives in is practically void of a reliable source of water, especially in Lauren’s case as she lives in southern California, an area known for its long periods of drought. These circumstances highlight the symbolism of water in the novel. In Butler’s Parable of the Sower, water represents wealth, life, and safety.

There are many instances in this novel where water is a symbol for wealth. The setting of this story is one where a majority of the population is extremely impoverished. Due to this and the inflation of the failing economy, water has become an expensive necessity, and clean water a luxury. According to Lauren, “water now costs several times as much as gasoline” and “is as good as money” (Butler 18, 201). Only those who have money are able to drink water, and that water is not guaranteed to be safe unless it is from a commercial water station. As a consequence of this, people that have the ability to afford water are considered wealthy, and usually despised. Lauren explains that“[y]ou’re supposed to be dirty now. If you’re clean, you make a target of yourself” (18). To the poor and thirsty people around Lauren, if one has the option of cleaning themselves with water, they are trying to show off how much better and wealthier they are than the people around them.

Water is also a symbol for life. Heavy themes such as poverty, racism, and violence are all prevalent during this novel. However, there are certain times when lightheartedness and general liveliness can seep into the story, usually attached to scenes concerning water. For instance, when it begins to rain, after raining for six years, Lauren describes how she feels when the rain hits her skin: “It was so wonderful. How can [Cory] not understand that? It was so incredible and wonderful” (48). Lauren is characterized as a serious and intelligent girl, yet in this moment, seeing the water outside her house, she becomes a new person. Disregarding the consequences and disobeying her stepmother, Lauren stands outside until she is soaked in dirty rain water. These actions are not indicative of someone who is trying their best to be seen as an adult and to survive in a dangerous world, they are the actions of a teenager who wants to enjoy her life. A similar event occurs later in the novel when Lauren, Harry, and Zahra are at a beach. They are completely surrounded by potentially dangerous strangers in unknown territory, but this is the first time any of them had seen the ocean, so again Lauren disregards the consequences of her actions and actually lives her life. Her and Zahra, neither knowing how to swim, walk into the ocean and “threw water on each other…let the waves knock [them] around, and laughed like crazy people,” Lauren even claims it was the “best time [she’s] had since [they] left home” (206). Both these scenes are instances where characters that are usually burdened by countless tragedies and traumas are able to enjoy their life, surrounded by water.

In the novel, water additionally represents safety for the characters. Until the end of the story, the characters are never in a place completely void of danger. However, there are certain points where the characters are in places of temporary tranquility, places that are associated with water. The first place is the ocean. When the group arrives there, Lauren describes the scene:

…the narrow strip of sand was crowded with people, though they managed to stay out of each other’s way. They had spread themselves out and seemed far more tolerant of one another than they had during our night in the hills. I didn’t hear any shooting or fighting. There were no dogs, no obvious thefts, no rape. Perhaps the sea the cool breeze lulled them. (205)

This scene is a deep contrast to the night the group experienced on the hills, where there was shootings throughout the night and fighting constantly. But, at the ocean, there is an odd sense of understanding among the various groups, as if no one wants to disturb the peace the water created. Consequently, the characters feel safe here, safe enough for them to play in the ocean and enjoy themselves. The other place the characters experiences some safety was at the lake. Once they arrived at the lake, Lauren remarked that none of the people living there shot at them or bothered them at all as they made their way to a campsite (259). Additionally, the group was able to find a remote campsite where they could relax safely. Lauren even had the opportunity to spend all day “talking, writing, reading, and making love to Bankole” (268). Both the time spent at the ocean and the time spent at the lake are indicative about how being surrounded by water calms even the most barbaric people, creating a safer environment.

The symbol of water in Parable of the Sower represents a variety of positive and life-sustaining factors. Because of its high price, those that can afford the basic necessity of water are seen as wealthy. Moreover, the tranquility created by water allows for the characters to relax safely and enjoy themselves. Not only is water essential to survive, but to these characters, water is essential for doing anything more than surviving. Throughout the story, the water presents the characters with outlets to escape the severity of the world around them and just live.

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Writing and Language in Parable of the Sower

June 19, 2019 by Essay Writer

Even before there were written words, people communicated through gestures and images in order to explain important things in their lives, attesting to the social importance of clear communication. Language helps us track human progress through history, as language evolves just as complexly and quickly as human culture and society does. Through changes in language, we can observe the way our world has grown and developed over time and learn new things about human behavior. We use language not only to teach and protect but to share feelings, express thoughts, and spread ideas from one person to another. In Octavia Butler’s 1993 novel Parable of the Sower, language is a crucially important element to the story. In a dystopian future wrecked by chaos and destruction, most people struggle to find basic necessities like food, water, and shelter. From inside a walled community, Lauren, a young woman, observes the disparity of her situation. Although she is safer than the average person, she has no prospects from inside the walls and finds herself positioned against her devout father when she no longer wants to follow his religion.

When Lauren is forced to venture out into the world, she begins to build a new religion, Earthseed, and harnesses the power of storytelling to create a set of ideals that other people can believe in as well. Lauren realizes that though the world is a harsh and unforgiving place, each person deserves the chance to have their voice heard as everyone has experienced things in a different way. In Parable of the Sower, Butler repeatedly uses the words “write” and “stories” and other allusions to writing and reading to convey the importance of the individual in telling their own story or perspective on life, and how the power of language can bring together people of varied and diverse backgrounds. Within a society where there is little government and barely any laws saying what people can and cannot do, power is incredibly sought-after. To live a comfortable life in the world of Parable of a Sower, characters must accumulate enough power to get the things that they desire.

Language is one form of power that people can harness. Those who can read and write have control over others, and because they are more educated they have more opportunities in life. According to Lauren Lacey, “To work with power rather than be controlled by it, Butler’s protagonists engage in a constant process of adapting and becoming.” Lauren knows that she has to adapt to her new world in order to gain power, and she does this through her grasp of language. By creating a new religion and writing scripture, she harnesses language in her favor and becomes a leader to many people. Her mastery of the written word proves that she is smart and capable, and because of this people trust her to make good decisions. She describes people by saying that “They have no power to improve their lives, but they have the power to make others even more miserable. And the only way to prove to yourself that you have power is to use it” (Butler 143). In a world where education and literature have become less important due to people’s focus on survival necessities like food and water, the ability to read and write has become less common. Harnessing that, Lauren gains immense power as she now stands out as an individual. Through Earthseed, she can now tell her story and help other people tell theirs, and they will know that their history will not just be lost in time because it will be written down and preserved forever.

In this case, Lauren acts as the hero of her own story, a concept that has slowly gotten lost as the world deteriorated. She states that “my grandmother left a whole bookcase of old science fiction novels. The company-city subgenre always seemed to stay a hero who outsmarted, overthrew, or escaped “the company”…And what should I be doing? What can I do?…To begin Earthseed, I’ll have to go outside…Next year when I’m 18, I’ll go. That means now I have to begin to plan how to handle it” (Butler 123-124). Lauren realizes that she has to take control of her story is she wants to accomplish her goals, and she does this by using her religion to tell her story and the stories of those she meets. The accessibility of the language is what enables Lauren to be successful in her endeavors, and without it she would likely never have made it past the walls.

Language also has a considerable influence over how we react to catastrophic events. When terrible things happen humans find comfort in sharing their experiences with others, and through reassurances that life will go on and things are going to be okay. After tragedies, there is often an increase in the amount of art, literature, and music that gets produced. This is because our reaction to negative events is to share our feelings with the world, and we couldn’t do that without language. According to Jerry Phillips, “Lauren’s Books of the Living strongly assert the value of a transcendent consciousness, which sees hopeful possibility in the deadliest of seemingly arrested states….Nonetheless, in its indictment of existing barbarism, Parable of the Sower does offer a vague blueprint of what, ideally, ought to be.” Bad things are certainly happening in Lauren’s world, but she knows that she needs to respond to them in a positive way. She states that “The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren’t any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees” (Butler 263). Although her circumstances are not ideal, Lauren uses the power of storytelling to rebuild after the chaos. By creating Earthseed, she is providing herself and others with something to hold on to in a world that is often unpredictable. Only through language could Lauren turn the catastrophe of her world into a bright light and example of greatness for the future.

Community, as a value, is also very important to Lauren. When her home is destroyed and her family is killed, she feels that she has nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Venturing out with strangers, she is forced to forge new bonds with other survivors and find a new place where she can thrive. Having support from her newfound community is what allows Lauren to successfully create Earthseed, as she has people to talk and discuss with. She gets to see other people’s opinions and experiences as well as her own, and by bringing together the stories of all her community members she gains a more well-rounded perspective on what her religion should be. Mathias Nilges argues that “the ideal upon which Lauren founds a new, progressive community is the the conscious interdependence and agreement of its members, who must know, trust, and be able to work with each other.” While many of the people Lauren encounters throughout the book do not agree with her views about life and spirituality, they recognize that she is doing good work by engaging the community and giving people something to believe in. Lauren states that “I’m trying to speak-to write-the truth. I’m trying to be clear. I’m not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them. If it happens that there are other people outside somewhere preaching my truth, I’ll join them. Otherwise, I’ll adapt where I must, take what opportunities I can find or make, hang on, gather students, and teach” (Butler 125). Without the ability to communicate through language, teaching would be nearly impossible. Lauren knows that through her teaching of Earthseed, she can connect with other people out in the world who are also struggling with their spirituality.

Through Earthseed and her storytelling capabilities, Lauren is able to easily connect with others and form a new community even after her old one is destroyed. People are willing to follow Lauren because they trust her; she offers something of value to them, and they can tell that she is an honest and good person because she is trying to spread her teachings to others in order to help them. Without a community, Lauren’s language would not be able to take her very far. But by using it to connect to others and build trust, she becomes more enlightened than ever. Besides the challenges that come from her environment, Lauren also faces other unique struggles due to her standing as a black women. In the novel, women are often taken advantage of for sex, and Lauren is wary of men who might be able to overpower her. She is also a racial minority, which makes it difficult for her to be taken seriously by many people. Others see her as weak not only because of her hyperempathy and her femininity but because of her blackness. Her father was a powerful religious figure and a black man, and although she disagreed with his religious views it seems like Lauren admired her father for his conviction and for his strong and influential presence in their society. Inspired by her father’s passion and his conviction to have his voice heard, Lauren often reminisces about her home and her family after they are killed. After going back to her old house and seeing the burned remains of her community, Lauren says that “I have to write. I don’t know what else to do….There’s nothing familiar left to me but the writing. God is change. I hate God. I have to write” (Butler 158). Through her writing, Lauren makes sure that her lineage and the story of her past and her ancestors will not disappear. Although the place they once lived is gone, she and her family can live on through Earthseed.

The idea of being able to create something special and unique to you is prominent in the novel, as Lauren is always searching for a religion that she can truly connect to. Madhu Dubey writes that “Parable of the Sower similarly exposes the hollowness and duplicity of recent American ideologies of urban development. The novel takes as its point of departure an uncannily credible future in which ideals of the American city as a consumption artifact have devolved into a precarious urban order founded on economic and racial inequality.” Lauren proves that although there is no longer an “urban order” as Dubey puts it, she can share her ideologies and help other minorities like Zahra and many more women and people of color that she encounters. In a future where men hold much of the power, Lauren’s conviction and belief in her own power are a big part of the reason why she is able to survive and build a new life for herself. Earthseed is her way of saying “this is who I am,” and people grow to respect her despite the fact that she would be socially unequal to them. All people use one form of language or another to communicate with those around them. Whether it be verbal, physical, textual or any other form, language is a key part of existing in today’s society. One way that language is most influential is how it allows us to relate to other people through the sharing of stories, both personal and impersonal.

In Parable of the Sower, Butler presents Lauren as a storyteller-turned-savior; she has the power to rescue and rehabilitate others through her use of written language and the creation of her religion, Earthseed. By showing others the importance of having their story told, she reminds those in dark times that their voices matter just as much as anyone else. In a world where people are fighting for the most basic of survival, knowing that you will make a lasting mark on the world gives people the hope that they desperately need. Through her building of power, use of community, and self-reliance and confidence given to her by language and writing, Lauren becomes a leader to many and an inspiration to those she meets.

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“Earthseed”: Reinscribing the Body in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower

May 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

In an interview conducted by Marilyn Mehaffy and AnaLouise Keating, Octavia Butler was prompted to discuss the importance of bodily inscription in writing, to which she replies that the body is “all we really know that we have…all we really know that we have is the flesh.”(Mehaffy and Keating, 59) Butler’s concern in salvaging the “flesh” through writing is a persistent theme in her novel, Parable of the Sower. It chronicles protagonist Lauren Olamina, as she leads a community of individuals up the Pacific Coast while writing and teaching a religion based on the acceptance of change and difference as God. Lauren authors Earthseed: The Books of the Living, through short, philosophical passages that are dispersed throughout the novel; “I wrote, fleshing out my journal notes,”(Butler, 216) narrates Laura, as her writing encompasses both the female mind and body. Earthseed, the fictitious religion introduced by Butler, encapsulates a discourse that is innately female; this concept of “fleshing” and the epistolary style that Butler utilizes are simultaneously compatible with Helene Cixous’ manifesto for ecriture feminine, “The Laugh of the Medusa”, an exhortation to a “feminine mode” of writing. The narrative embodiments of Butler’s fiction advocate a spiritual reclamation of “flesh” as a primary site and signifier of knowledge and communication, both personal, as Lauren’s journals suggest, and collective, as her doctrine function to socially congregate her followers; both material and narrated. Butler acknowledges the exploitative narrative uses of what she labels, “body knowledge,” which does not necessarily or literally entail renouncing the flesh, but, rather, reinventing and reassembling it within an ethics for survival.Parable of the Sower is in essence an analogy drawn between the cultivation of Earthseed, which Lauren applies fastidiously to her experience, and the grand narratives of Christianity and Capitalism, which are rigorously applied to our own. Each is a manner of giving form and significance to existence in the same way as narrative itself tends towards a similar ‘fictitious’ ordering of experience. Butler positions herself in this analogy through the act of ‘writing’ herself into the SF literary economy and giving agency to the underrated female voice in that economy. Thus, Butler alludes to a conceivable reality but at the same time contests the validity of the forms we use to give shape to it.Helene Cixous aimed at rendering literal the figures of femininity in the theory of écriture and exploring the consequences of that lateralization. She did not simply privilege the “female” half of an existing binary opposition between “male” and “female”; like other theorists of écriture, she questioned the very adequacy of logics to name the complexity of cultural realities. Her essay opens didactically, as she instructs female writers to inscribe themselves into text:Woman must write herself: must write about women and bring women to writing, from which they have been driven away as violently as from their bodies—for the same reasons, by the same law, with the same fatal goal. Woman must put herself into the text—as into the world and into history—by her own movement. (Cixous, 1942) The act of a woman “writing” herself is applicable in both a fictional sense and an authorial sense; while Butler utilizes her novel as a platform for female activity and empowerment, Lauren, in a metafictional sense, designates her own writing as a platform for her religious teaching. One of her doctrinal passages narrates: “We are Earthseed. We are flesh—self aware, questing, problem-solving flesh….We are Earthlife maturing, Earthlife preparing to fall away from the parent world.”(Butler, 151) Lauren entitles her creed as “EARTHSEED: THE BOOKS OF THE LIVING”, which accentuates the corporality associated with the teachings of Earthseed. The passage encapsulates the “essence” of Earthseed; the pronoun, “we”, represents the communal aspect of a reinscription of the body into religious doctrine. When Butler’s passage is read in conjunction with Cixous’ proposition, similarities arise: firstly, Butler and Cixous are inherently concerned with community and collective thinking, secondly, both consider the oppressive context in which they are writing. Cixous acknowledges the patriarchal dominating force that has plagued her literary space, as she is “driven violently away from the body”; whereas, Lauren constitutes Earthseed as a deviation from the “parent world” that has ravaged her own community.The concept of écriture describes everything about writing that can neither be subsumed into an idea nor made to correspond exactly to empirical reality. It encompasses the “textuality” of all discourses, and Helene Cixous can be credited as responsible for discourse inherently unique to women. Cixous does not privilege the “female” half of an existing binary opposition between “male” and “female”; much like her contemporary theorists of ecriture, she questions the adequacy of said opposition to label the complexity of cultural realities. Cixous mitigates this opposition in the following excerpt:I maintain unequivocally that there is a such thing as marked writing: that, until now, far more extensively and repressively than is ever suspected or admitted, writing has been run by a libidinal and cultural and cultural—hence political, typically masculine—economy…(Cixous, 1945) It becomes evident that an inconsistency lies at the core of Cixous’ work: her insistence on the two incompatible logics within ecriture feminine. Primarily, Cixous claims that écriture feminine is characterized by the explicitly female body parts that had been repressed by traditional discourse, and must be expressed by the woman writer. However, she also promotes the use of ecriture feminine for both men and women. It is perhaps more appropriate to interpret Cixous’ “body”, as that of any transgressive or desiring individual; it is conceivably her interpretation of the body itself, that has been repressed. The “body” may not even be a physical body, but rather figurative bodies that possess power or cannot possess power. Traditionally, power, authority, and law have conjectured the male body; but, in consideration that no actual body is represented, both men and women would have access to comment on the body. By writing as if the female body could be asserted, Cixous’ ecriture feminine frees it from invisibility and, simultaneously, does not make it into a new model for the universal human being. The new opposition is not between male and female, but between a logic of the One and a logic of heterogeneity and multiplicity.Considering Cixous’ contemplation of “oneness” and “multiplicity”, Lauren’s Earthseed can be analyzed through this dichotomy. In regards to community, Lauren writes the narrative of Earthseed as follows: “Civilization is to groups what intelligence is to individuals. It is a means of combining the intelligence of many to achieve ongoing group adaptation.”(Butler, 101) Earthseed hinges on the necessity for collective support; communal participation, as in most doctrines, is necessary for the maintenance and survival of the discipline. Lauren, by inscribing corporeality into her dogma, enables the spiritual process to be applicable to any body. Her narrative explicates:Earthseed. I am Earthseed. Anyone can be. Someday. I think there will be a lot of us. And I think we’ll have to seed ourselves farther and farther from this dying place…I’ve never felt that it was anything other than real: discovery rather than invention, exploration rather than creation.(Butler, 78)Earthseed is inherently malleable, though not vulnerable to manipulation. Lauren is resistant to the patriarchy that prevails in her community, to which she refers as “ a dying place.” Lauren’s language is not demanding or didactic, rather, as Cixous theorizes, “Her, (women in general) language does not contain, it carries; it does not hold back, it makes possible.”(Cixous 1955) These ramifications on language resonate with Cixous, as Lauren characterizes her religious discourse as a means for “discovery rather than invention, exploration rather than creation.” Followers of Earthseed, according to Lauren, are already implicated as both agents and objects in the spiritual hierarchy that saturates her community.Regarding the function of religion in the secular literary space, Butler, in the interview, comments on the function of Earthseed: “Lauren uses religion as a tool. So I use that tool as something that she can use to help people who follow her…”(Mehaffy and Keating, 62) Butler utilizes, to her advantage, the metafictional conventions of SF; Butler situates Lauren as a vehicle to deliver the material of Earthseed, in order to showcase her own spiritual and literary agenda. Gregory Jerome Hampton, in his publication, Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens and Vampires, examines the significance of religious doctrine and the “body,” in Butler’s fiction, wherein he states: Religion is a tool intended to critique the real world in the unbounded laboratories of our imaginations…By mixing SF with religious themes, Butler’s fiction encourages readers to question social values that mark marginalized bodies. (Hampton, 84)In the context of Lauren’s religious writings, and by extension, Butler’s contribution to SF, it is apparent that the novel Lauren, as both the architect and advocate for Earthseed, must rhetorically advertise her doctrine in a way that persuades her follows of thinking beyond the “parent world”. The epistolary style that structures Butler’s novel enables the narrative to embody both Lauren’s thought processes and the doctrinal material, rendering them accessible only to the reader. It is assumed that minor characters are not given the same insight, which provokes such dialogues as the one that occurs between Lauren and Harry. Harry is skeptical of Lauren’s religious fabrication, but more significantly, of her own identity:Then let me read something. Let me know something about the you that hides. I feel as though…as though you’re a lie. I don’t know you. Show me something of you that’s real. (Butler, 195)Harry, in requesting to read Lauren’s journal, assumes that Lauren’s identity “hides”, or is encoded in her writing. Identity, or “truth” as Harry suggests through classifying Lauren as a “lie”, is revealed in the embodiment of writing; Cixous asserts this inscription of “truth” when she argues “by writing herself, woman will return to the body which has been more than confiscated from her, which has been turned into the uncanny stranger on display.”(Cixous, 1946) Butler herself, in the interview, affirms the correlation between inscription, body, and perceivable identity:One’s body can only be known through language or some other medium of representation. The body, is a thing, in other words, which only language and narrative can bring to life and make known to ourselves or to others. (Mehaffy and Keating, 59)Essentially, literary composition alleviates the display of “strangeness, or uncanniness” that outsiders, such as Harry, perceive. Lauren’s physical body and presence cannot be properly or accurately comprehended as “real”, and sequentially, identity remains obscured; narrative embodies that which is “real”, and for Lauren, it is quintessential in preserving and advancing Earthseed. The “libidinal economy” that Cixous positions in opposition to female writing refers to the system of exchanges having to do with sexual desire, which it is predominantly characterized as inherently masculine, to the extent that it is active, not passive; consequently, only one desire can function at a time. This type of economy can be applied to various social systems, such as the literary economy in which Butler is writing, or the clerical economy that pervades Lauren’s gated community in Los Angeles. Cixous elucidates the privileging of masculinity in such economies:Sexual opposition, which has always worked for man’s profit to the point of reducing writing, too, to his laws, is only a historico-cultural limit. There is, there will be more and more rapidly pervasive now, a fiction that produces irreducible effects of femininity. (Cixous, 1949)Lauren operates under similar circumstances before departing north, as her community, particularly females, experience oppression under Richard Moss’ religious movement:Richard Moss has put together his own religion—a combination of the Old Testament and historical West African practices. He claims that God wants men to be patriarchs, rulers and protectors of women, and fathers of as many children as possible. (Butler, 36)Moss possesses authority in the “libidinal economy” precisely because he is a male; his religion is dependent on the “dying”, “parent world” concepts that Lauren innately opposes, and subsists in the “historico-cultural limit” of West African practices. Likewise, Lauren opposes conventional presidency that permeates her depleting society; she complains that, “Donner’s just a kind of human bannister…like a symbol of the past for us to hold onto as we’re pushed into the future. He’s nothing. No substance.”(Butler, 56) Male influence and agency, though unethical and socially unproductive, take precedence in the political systems that structure the novel. Lauren’s opposition is provoked in two ways; firstly, her religious discovery is futuristic, flexible and progressive, and secondly, because the masculine corporeality is absent. The male body does not require representation in a patriarchal space because it is innately superior, whereas, the female body relies on narrative embodiment for representation and tangible recognition.Earthseed, initially, features a “genderless” God; rather, a God that symbolizes change, discovery and self-reflexivity. Lauren claims “Earthseed deals with ongoing reality, not with supernatural authority figures.”(Butler, 219)Whether conscious or not, she disregards the gender construction that frequently accompanies religious figures and focuses on an applicable version of God that any follower can relate to. In conversing with fellow travellers, Zahra and Natividad, Lauren is disconcerted with the question regarding a “gendered” God: Zahra and Natividad got into an argument about whether I was talking about a male god or a female god. When I pointed out that Change had no sex at all and wasn’t a person, they were confused, but not dismissive. (Butler, 220)Lauren regards “Change” as sexless because it is dependent on a “body”, whether female or male, to flourish. Change is motivated by a concept Butler introduces as “body-knowledge”; the supposition that social and political relations can potentially undergo a de-hierarchization, or re-hierarchization based on genetics. Butler accounts for this conception in her interview:What’s made of genetics—body knowledge—is what’s important. What’s made of biology is what the people who are in power are going to figure out why this is a good reason for them to stay in power.(Mehaffy and Keating, 58)Butler theorizes on “body-knowledge” because it encapsulates the current status of social and political structures, both in the SF literary economy and the economy of the novel, and this realization enables female writers to speech. Butler also contends with “the science that makes sociological connections”; she questions: “Consider the fact that women are better with verbal skills: why isn’t the popular perception, then, that they would make better diplomats?”(Mehaffy and Keating, 58) The contention arises because “body-knowledge” is essentially a paradox; it oppresses the inferior gender, or population, while the realization of the oppression enables them to recognize their bodies and experience movement through the hierarchy. Hampton, in reference to the religious content of the novel, also comments on the necessity for corporeality:What’s made of genetics—body knowledge—is what’s important. What’s made of biology is what the people who are in power are going to figure out why this is a good reason for them to stay in power.(Mehaffy and Keating, 58)Lauren’s interpretation of God, possessing no shape and every shape, no gender and every gender, is not the rigid and strictly dogmatic God that authorizes other religions. God, for Lauren, is like “body-knowledge” for Butler; both give manner and form to an ordering of experience, particularly repressive experience. In the dystopian situation, every “body” is oppressed and seeks an instrument or tool for fermenting identity and agency; Earthseed and SF are the narratives by which Lauren and Butler render a legitimate “voice” in their corresponding “libidinal economies”.The narrative embodiments of Butler’s fiction sanction a spiritual reclamation of “flesh” as a fundamental site and signifier of knowledge and communication, both personal, as Lauren’s epistolary style suggests, and collective, as her doctrine function to socially congregate her followers; both material and narrated. Butler acknowledges the exploitative narrative uses of what she labels, “body knowledge,” which does not necessarily or literally entail renouncing the flesh, but, rather, reinventing and reassembling it within an ethics for survival. Earthseed, the fictional, theological verse that Lauren Olamina commits to writing over the course of Butler’s novel, is an appropriate candidate for the ideas that Cixous introduces in her essay. The theory is compatible with Earthseed in terms of intention and text content; Lauren is a woman who “fleshes” her emotions into her journal and into passages of Earthseed, producing a document that is innately “feminine” and engages in inherently female ideologies. Parable of the Sower is in essence, an analogy drawn between the cultivation of Earthseed, which Lauren applies fastidiously to her experience, and the grand narratives of Christianity and Capitalism, which are rigorously applied to our own. Each is a manner of giving form and significance to existence in the same way as narrative itself tends towards a similar ‘fictitious’ ordering of experience. Butler positions herself in this analogy through the act of ‘writing’ herself into the literary economy and giving agency to the underrated female voice in that economy. Thus, Butler alludes to a conceivable reality but at the same time contests the validity of the forms we use to give shape to it.Works CitedButler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Grand Central, 1993. Print.Butler, Octavia, Marilyn Mehaffy, and AnaLouise Keating. “”Radio Imagination”: Octavia Butler on the Poetics of Narrative Embodiment.” MELUS 26.1 (2001): 45-76. JSTOR. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of the Medusa.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch. 2nd ed. New York: Norton, 2010. 1942-959. Print.Hampton, Gregory Jerome. “Religious Science Fiction: Butler’s Changing God.”Changing Bodies in the Fiction of Octavia Butler: Slaves, Aliens, and Vampires. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2010. 83-98. Print.

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What Will Love Need Tomorrow?

April 10, 2019 by Essay Writer

In the late 20th century, a push and pull existed within the black community, the likes of which had rarely been seen before. People were celebrating the successes of the civil rights movement and the end of Jim Crow, but oppression and racism still ran rampant throughout the country with no sign of subsiding any time soon. Faced with a present still discouragingly marred with oppression and suffering, many black luminaries of the time turned to the future through writing about prophesy. Prophesy’s function within black art and culture has been outlined perhaps best by Dr. Cornel West, an American theological philosopher and activist who also focuses on race and class. On the subject of prophesy, he writes “Prophetic modes of thought and action are dotted across the landscape of Afro-American history. these modes consist of protracted and principled struggles against forms of personal despair, intellectual dogmatism and socioeconomic oppression that foster communities of hope” (West 38). Using West’s definition, and keeping in mind the circumstances of the black community during the 1970’s, it becomes clearer why the black community turned to prophesy. The prophetic modes of thought West discusses are especially apparent in books and albums from late 20th century black luminaries such as Stevie Wonder, Toni Morrison, Marvin Gaye, and Octavia Butler, whose works carry on the African-American prophetic tradition in their implementation of hope, despair, God, love, and liberation.

Toni Morrison begins her 1977 novel Song of Solomon with a prophecy that not only sets the tone for the rest of the work, but succinctly communicates the work’s purpose. As the book opens, she writes “The North Carolina Mutual life Insurance agent promised to fly from Mercy to the other side of Lake Superior at three o’clock” (Morrison 3). The opening lines are highly detailed, but wholly unhelpful as far as understanding the text is concerned as the reader does not know who the insurance agent is, where or what Mercy is, how the agent is flying, which direction over Lake Superior they are flying in, or even what day at three o’clock the agent intends to fly on, rendering the one concrete detail offered in the first sentence useless. The reader is given no other information to contextualize the novel’s opening lines and is instead forced to grapple with being thrown into the vivid world Morrison has begun to paint. However, the in medias res opening Morrison employs to begin the story firmly establishes it as a work of fiction that deals with prophesy and borders on magical realism, as the opening lines read as a literal prophecy. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a prophecy as “An instance of divinely inspired speech or writing; a revelation from God or a god; a prophetic text” (OED 1b) and also as “The interpretation and expounding of the Bible” (OED 5b). Morrison’s cold open satisfies both definitions, as only the omniscient 3rd person narrator knows what the first lines mean upon first encountering them, making them seem divinely inspired, and the opening lines necessitate the reader stopping to make an attempt at interpretation. Beginning the novel with a prophecy immediately immerses the reader into a world that is simultaneously clear and also impossible to fully grasp, which is an atmosphere Morrison carries throughout the rest of the novel, therefore making the lines both literally prophetic in terms of the events of the novel and tonally prophetic in terms of the direction the novel will take.

Stevie Wonder begins Songs in the Key of Life in much the same way Toni Morrison begins Song of Solomon: setting the tone for the rest of the work by leading off with a prophecy. His lead-off track, “Love’s in Need of Love Today” opens with an acapella gospel choir, which conjures the feeling of being in church and establishes Wonder as a priest-like figure. The first lyrics of the song and the album read “Good morn or evening friends / here’s your friendly announcer / I’ve serious news to pass on to everybody. / What I’m about to say / could mean the world’s disaster / could change your joy and laughter / to tears and pain” (Wonder 1976). The song is already rooted in religion through the gospel choir, so the charismatic “friendly announcer” as well as the high-stakes of the news bringing the “world’s disaster” is highly reminiscent of a preacher reading from the biblical book of Revelations, an entire book which prophesizes the end times. It is also important to note that the opening lines of “Love’s in Need of Love Today” transcend time, as Wonder makes sure to wish the crowd a “good morn or evening” and much like Morrison’s first lines, he does not specify a day, so the song, and moreover the song’s prophetic message, exist outside of concrete time. It makes sense that both artists begin their works with literal and tonally prophetic messages with ambiguously positive and negative implications as they were both writing at the nexus of new black liberation and continued oppression that existed in the mid to late 1970’s. Laura Dubek notes the temporal importance of Song of Solomon’s publication date in writing “It is into this space—a crossroads in the freedom struggle—that Morrison’s Song of Solomon enters” (Dubek 91). While the opening lines of Song of Solomon appear to simply be predictive of a future where a man will potentially fly, they in fact describe the suicide of Robert Smith. The lines are do not inherently carry any negative implications, but they are eventually tainted by the tragedy that follows, just as the socio-political atmosphere of the time was simultaneously positively and negatively charged. Wonder’s opening lines depict a world on the brink of ruin, but his prophecy is conditional, as he makes it clear that is prophecy “could be the world’s disaster” implying it also might not be, and also includes the lines “Hate’s goin’ round / breaking many hearts / stop it please / before it’s gone too far,” suggesting that it is still possible to reverse the process of love dying (Wonder 1976). In both cases, the unsolidified implications of their opening lines draw several connections to the state of the black community at the time. While the civil rights movement of the 1960’s had enjoyed much success, progress towards equality and liberty was (and still is) desperately needed. The content of Song of Solomon and Songs in the Key of Life reflect Morrison and Wonder’s respective attempts to reconcile those optimistic feelings of forward momentum and progress with a society that was by no means socially aware when it came to issues of racial injustice. The reconciliation is significant because as both works begin, prophesy functions as a way to acknowledge the good and bad aspects of the time in order to continue to work towards continuing positive social change.

Using prophesy as a jumping off point, Wonder’s next song discusses the importance of recognizing a higher power being at work in the universe and submitting to it. In the chorus of “Have a Talk with God,” Wonder suggests to the listener, “When you feel your life’s too hard / just go have a talk with God” (Wonder 1976). Through the song, Wonder returns to the religiosity he conveyed in “Love’s in Need of Love Today” but rather than returning to a prophetic warning about the state of the world, he steers the listener towards the solution to the problem. As biographer James Perone points out, “The lyrics suggest that prayer to ‘the only free psychologist that’s known throughout the world’ can help one through any problem” (Perone 65). In asking the listener to turn to God to help them through their problems, Wonder encapsulates the optimism and realism of the time into a singular message: there are problems in the world, but everything is possible through the supernatural, and more specifically through God. It is imperative that Wonder establishes God as a force in the universe for his message relies on keeping faith to get to the other side of difficult times, which he implicitly posits is possible. The possibility of full belief and acceptance of prophesy is also predicated on the acceptance of some kind of supernatural power, so opening the listener’s mind to God inherently also opens the listener to Wonder’s messages and prophesies. Similarly, Morrison builds her argument that healing during difficult times is possible through prophesy and the supernatural, but she makes the opposite case from Wonder’s. Rather than suggesting that turning to God or the spiritual can help, Morrison contends that people are simply lost without their spiritual side. Though she does not admonish those who are not spiritual, she simply does not entertain any sort of atheist or aspiritual ideas. Morrison’s strongly held convictions are made clear in the scene when Milkman is talking to Freddie about how Freddie’s mother died. Milkman asks “’How’d she die?’ ‘Ghosts.’ ‘Ghosts?’ ‘You don’t believe in ghosts?’ ‘Well’—Milkman smiled—’I’m willing to, I guess.’ ‘You better believe, boy. They’re here’ (Morrison 109). Milkman laughs the encounter off, but given the elements of magical realism found throughout the rest of the novel, Morrison makes it clear that Milkman is foolish to ignore Freddie’s warning. By extension, Morrison communicates to the reader that prophesy, another supernatural force, both as a source of hope and as a precautionary device, is at the very least worth noting and should never be dismissed, even though it requires a leap of faith.

Faith is an important aspect of Cornel West’s outline of the function of prophesy within Afro-American art, but it is worth noting before continuing the discussion of faith that West believes faith is predicated upon the presence of love in one’s life. He leaves his definition of love open-ended, writing “Love—the foundation upon which faith and hope must be built. Love—as basic as the birth of a new day, yet as complex as the varied conditions under which we find God’s children living today” (West vii). The looseness of his definition is important as it allows for faith to be predicated on any form of love, be it familial, romantic, platonic, or spiritual. He implies that without love, even having faith in something as easily anticipated as a sunrise is impossible. To West’s point, in order to further illustrate prophesy’s importance within society, and specifically black culture, Morrison and Wonder both turn away from the spiritual in favor of showing prophesy’s role in love. In Song of Solomon, Morrison explores love through the parable of the snake that Macon tells Milkman with regards to Pilate. Macon tells Milkman there was once a man who “saw a baby snake, bleeding and hurt… The man felt sorry for it… and took it home. And he fed it and took care of it until it was big and strong… Then one day the snake turned on him and bit him.” He goes on to say that the man asked the snake why the snake bit him, to which the snake replies “But you knew I was a snake, didn’t you?” (Morrison 54-55). Macon Dead uses the parable in an attempt to convince Milkman that Pilate is a bad influence on him, not because of any particular action she might take or words she might say, but simply because it is in her very nature to betray (as far as his experience is concerned). The prophecy turns out to not apply to Pilate as Macon intended; however, several characters in the book do follow the course of the prophecy and “bite” those closest to them. Guitar ends up betraying Milkman because his ideals drive him to turn against a friend, and Milkman turns against Pilate in trying to get the gold. The parable delivered by Macon may not come to pass the way he envisioned it coming to pass, but it holds true nonetheless, indicating that prophesy transcends the will of man and functions as a pseudo-omniscient force within the novel and in life.

Stevie Wonder’s song, “Summer Soft,” tells the story of lovers who were not meant to be together and at different times betray each other, showing the transcendental nature of prophesy in a similar way to how Morrison shows prophesy through the snake story. In the lead-in to the first chorus, Wonder sings “And so you wait to see what she’ll do / is it sun or rain for you? / but it breaks your heart in two / when you find it’s October / and she’s gone” (Wonder 1976). Wonder’s use of the present tense throughout the line coupled with his knowledge of what will happen before it happens establishes his prediction as prophesy. The woman will inevitably not stay with the man, and he will be ruined. Though the man’s fate is still unclear to him, it is not unclear to Stevie Wonder. As the song continues, Wonder returns to the same line, but in the inverse. In the lead-up to the second chorus, Wonder sings “And so you’ll wait to see what he’ll do / is it sun or snow for you? / But it breaks your heart in two / ‘cause you’ve been fooled by April / and he’s gone” (Wonder 1976). The change in weather patterns from “rain” to “snow” and the temporal displacement between the two sections, with the latter taking place six-months later, as far away on the calendar as possible, indicates that even the force of time, which is typically depicted as being all-powerful particularly through its ability to heal all wounds, is no match for the power of prophesy. Much like the snake story, the inevitably of heartbreak that comes through Stevie Wonder’s prediction adds a certain amount of dread to the idea prophesy. While in earlier parts of the album, prophesy as been discussed in terms of healing love or healing through God, here the listener understands that it can have a destructive nature as well. The duality of prophesy’s powers (that it can have a constructive and destructive role in the world) is significant because it again shows Wonder reconciling the good and the bad to show both sides of the all-powerful, and moreover, both the good and the bad felt by the generation.

Stevie Wonder’s song “As” brings the listener to the climax of the album in an all-encompassing seven-minute jam that covers the inner-workings of the universe and leads into the very message of the album. He opens with a vow reminiscent of a wedding vow and in some ways seemingly more powerful, but still quite separate, as he sings “As around the sun the earth knows she’s revolving / And the rosebuds know to bloom in early May / Just as hate knows love’s the cure / You can rest your mind assure / That I’ll be loving you always” (Wonder 1976). The vow from Wonder captures the might of prophesy he discusses throughout the album through the imagery of universal forces like the planets’ pull on one another and the inevitability of springtime. It is at this point in the album that Wonder has truly found a compromise between the unstoppable and seemingly supernatural forces in the universe and the positive and negative forces at work therein. The unstoppable nature of time he points out with the line “the rosebuds know to bloom in early May” also carries with it the beautiful imagery of a flower. There has been a push and pull throughout the album over the devastating potential prophesy has as well as the extraordinary potential for good it carries, but the first section of “As” is the first time both forces are seen working together in harmony. As the song continues, Wonder delves into laws of nature that his love transcends, going even beyond comparing it to naturally occurring unstoppable forces. In reference to loving the person in the song, he sings, “Until we dream of life and life becomes a dream / Until the day is night and night becomes the day / Until the trees and seas just up and fly away / Until the day that 8x8x8=4 / Until the day that is the day that are no more” (Wonder 1976). At this point, rather than just falling in line with the already impressive laws of the universe, Wonder predicts that his love will now and for all time break boundary between dream and reality, day and night, and mathematical laws to boot. Towards the end of his climactic song “As” Wonder distills the album’s meaning to him as much as possible. He takes on a much deeper voice to set this new speaker apart from the lover he plays in the earlier part of the song and sings, “We all know sometimes life’s pains and troubles / can make you wish you were born in another time and space / but you can bet your life times that and twice its double / that God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed” (Wonder 1976). By taking on the role of a different speaker with a raspier, seemingly aged voice, Wonder establishes with some dominance that the message he is conveying through the lines are worth being noted well. He invokes God for the first time since the second track on the album, which is particularly powerful to the listener as it becomes clear that the balanced and unstoppable ebb and flow of the universe that Wonder has been commenting on throughout his album is perhaps God. Wonder has purposefully not personified God until this moment so that the listener may understand his vision of who God is rather than letting their previous knowledge of God influence how they listen to the album. The line “God knew exactly where he wanted you to be placed” also brings the question of predestination into the fold, but in a way that suggests it is a positive force only meant to help those who feel lost. Within the scope of the entire album, bringing God back into the fold serves as a comment on the condition of the black community, specifically as a message to keep faith and know God has a plan.

Morrison likewise carries the theme of God’s plan, or predestination, through Song of Solomon in the form of the characters’ names and the impact their names have on their destinies. For instance, Milkman, whose nickname came about because he was being breastfed longer than people thought he should have been, struggles throughout the entire book with uncovering his family history in order to discover more about who he is. In other words, he feels malnourished and disconnected from those who came before him and struggles with identity, like a child weened too early. Milkman’s name also evokes the historically promiscuous archetypal image of the milkman, a situation described as “A woman cheats on her husband with the milkman, or some other man who visits her home on a regular basis… The image of the milkman was very popular in older works, and persists even though in many places milk has not been delivered to people’s homes in decades” (TV Tropes). Just like the archetypal image of the milkman, Milkman struggles with monogamy throughout the novel, and although Morrison never explicitly treats his name as a prophetic device, the course Milkman’s life takes seems too fitting for his name (bestowed on him very early in life) to have not influenced it or been prophetic in some way. It is no coincidence that Milkman’s name bears prophetic significance in his life, as Milkman is not the only character whose name has a prophetic function in the novel. Guitar’s nickname came from him always having wanted to play the guitar, but he never learned, showing the reader that his soul is lost, or that he never really found his true calling. Ruth, whose name is literally a synonym for mercy, is one of the few characters who is kind to Milkman during his early childhood, and Pilate, the most powerful female character in the novel, shares her name with Pontius Pilate, the man who infamously killed Jesus Christ. Negative connotations aside however, it would take a powerful man to kill the son of God, and strength Pilate shows through the novel aligns with the symbol of strength Pontius Pilate can be made out to be. With every main character in the novel, their name holds a special prophetic significance in their life, and through their prophetic names Morrison communicates the importance of identity and understanding one’s self in the present before one can hope to understand the future. However, while identity and the present are paramount as a foundation in prophesy, equally as important is the imaginative aspect of prophesy. The prophesy Morrison deals with in Song of Solomon is effective in understanding the present, but the present often leaves a great deal to be desired. This is especially true for the African-American community in the 1970’s, which had suffered a great deal already, and though it had enjoyed a few recent triumphs, it was still largely oppressed and in need of liberation.

On the subject of understanding the future through prophecy, scholar Michael McCormack writes “black artists and intellectuals have dared to imagine, and at times, “prophesy” alternative futures. Indeed, such work has been and remains of critical importance for African American and diasporic communities” (McCormack 10). McCormack’s point is crucial in understanding prophesy’s role in the African-American community, as oftentimes, unlike what was seen with Songs in the Key of Life and Song of Solomon prophesy can be used in an imaginative way, not necessarily for fixing the present or healing from the past, but inventing a better a future. As Cornel West continues his writing on the function of prophesy in black art and literature, he outlines a cycle which he believes encapsulates its progression through various works. West defines the cycle of black prophetic practices as “initial moralism, inescapable opportunism, and combative pessimism” (West 48).

If Song of Solomon and Songs in the Key of Life focused on God, love, and hope, then Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On and Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower complete the cycle West writes about by centering around the socioeconomic oppression, intellectual dogmatism, and despair West believes leads to combative pessimism. However, it is important to note that despite the shift in focus from hope to despair, from love to death, and from liberation to oppression, West maintains the works are equally valid, and praises both sides heartily. He writes “What’s Going On… set standards of Afro-American popular music that remain unequaled. Only Gaye’s marvelously talented pupil, Stevie Wonder, has attempted to exceed such standards by fusing the spiritual richness of Afro-American music, the sense of social engagement, and the love ethic of Jesus” (West 175), showing that despite their, at times, contradictory points of view, West puts them on equal footing because both works are rich in terms of their inclusion of and deep respect for the spiritual and prophetic.

Marvin Gaye leads off his seminal and critically-acclaimed 1971 album What’s Going On with the titular track, “What’s Going On?” Leading off with such an all-encompassing question is highly effective in dropping the listener into a world of confusion and disorientation. By shaking the listener’s sense of stability, Gaye forces the listener to immediately question their own futurity. After all, if the present is so turbulent and unknowable, what could the future look like, and will it even arrive at all? After establishing the present as a murky and opaque place, Gaye delivers a few words of clarity, singing “You know we’ve got to find a way / to bring some lovin’ here today” (Gaye 1971). Gaye’s simultaneous diagnosis of and prescription for the situation plaguing the nation is that the country has become loveless, and consequently, using Cornel West’s definition of faith, has become Godless as well, as love is the foundation of faith. Gaye goes on to sing “Talk to me / so you can see / what’s goin’ on” (Gaye 1971), establishing himself as a prophet who is not only able to see “what’s going on” but spread the message of the solution, which in this case is faith. His lead-off track is not only recognized as one of the greatest songs of all-time, but it is an extremely effective beginning to his concept album as he is able to succinctly communicate the problem and effectively establish himself as a prophetic figure all in a three-minute period.

Octavia Butler opens Parable of the Sower in a similarly effective way and also immediately establishes the speaker of her novel as a prophet. Before the actual text of the story begins, the reader is presented with the lines “All that you touch / You Change. / All that you Change / Changes you. / The only lasting truth / Is Change. / God / Is Change” (Butler 3). Redefining God within the first few lines of the story certainly stands out, and also instantly establishes the book as having elements of the prophetic as it has historically been the prophet’s job to not only interpret the word of God, but God Himself. The reader soon learns that Lauren, the protagonist of the novel, is the author of the inscriptions at the beginnings of chapters, and understands that Lauren is not only a prophet, but a powerful one capable of redefining the Judeo-Christian conception of God in only a few short lines. It is also significant that Lauren defines God as change. Change is oftentimes viewed with at least some degree of fear and trepidation because people tend to crave some semblance of stability, but the fact of the matter is change is neither good nor bad; it simply is. If change is neither good nor bad, and God is change, then according to Lauren’s opening assertion, God is neither good or bad. This conclusion draws a stark contrast to the classic refrain which summarizes western notions of God “God is good all the time; all the time, God is good” but firmly establishes the world Lauren lives in as being very different from the present and makes it clear to the reader that she is not bound by any tradition that has come before. She truly is a trailblazer and a prophet.

As What’s Going On continues, Gaye further cements himself as a prophetic figure, but distinguishes himself from traditional prophets as well. The second song on the album, “What’s Happenin’, Brother?” tells the story of a veteran of the Vietnam war returning home only to find most of the familiar elements in the life he once knew have been stripped away and the quality of life in general in the states is either just as bad as or worse than how he left it, leading him to question why the war was worth it in the first place. In one of the song’s opening lines, Gaye sings “I’m just getting back, but you knew I would” (Gaye 1971). Underneath the line’s machismo (inherent anytime one presents their return from war as inevitable) is the idea that Gaye knew all along his fate was to return from Vietnam. Furthermore, his return conjures images of the prodigal son, but in the inverse. Rather than leaving of his own volition and being pleasantly surprised upon returning that he is still welcome, he was likely drafted and forced to leave, and upon returning he is shocked to find that America is still a far from ideal place. However, where Stevie Wonder offers a solution (i.e. having a talk with God, focusing on love) Marvin Gaye is a total loss, as the song’s title “What’s Happenin’, Brother?” suggests. It is not a mere greeting; Gaye literally does not know what is going on. The combination of his lack of solution and reversed biblical role despite already having been established as a prophet leads the listener to question their own futurity, falling in-line with the combative pessimism Cornel West talks about in his prophetic cycle.

Butler similarly takes away the reader’s sense of security and forces them to come face to face with the reality of the situation through the observations of a prophetic character without that character necessarily offering a solution. At one point in the book, while contemplating a nearby city that has become privatized, Lauren thinks “Maybe Olivar is the future – one face of it. Cities controlled by companies are old hat in science fiction. My grandmother left a whole bookcase of old science fiction novels…In real life, that’s the way it will be” (Butler 124). Through this passage, Butler instills a sense of despair in the reader by invoking cyclical time. She allows the reader to believe that cities like Olivar are only possible in science fiction, when in actuality coal-mining cities that function in similar ways to Olivar were present in the US over one-hundred years ago. Even though the concept is presented as a dystopian future, in reality America has already gone through it. In presenting an aspect of the past as science fiction, Butler shatters the illusion of the novel and takes away the sense of security that that comes with reading science fiction. Because Lauren has already been established as a prophetic character, the reader feels a certain degree of despair knowing that the situation has come to pass before and will likely come to pass again. Butler uses Lauren’s prophetic status to alert the reader of the danger that lies ahead should society not change its course.

Marvin Gaye furthers the sense of despair he established through the first two songs on the album by prophesizing the inevitability of pain with “Flying High in the Friendly Skies”. He writes about the ultimate futility of using drugs as a means of escape, singing “Flyin’ high in the friendly skies / without ever leaving the ground. / Rest of the folks are tired and weary / and have laid their bodies down. / I go to the place where danger awaits me / and it’s bound to forsake me” (Gaye 1971). Gaye’s stance on escaping danger is pessimistic to say the least, and contrary to Morrison and Wonder’s focus on the cessation of suffering, Gaye predicts it as natural law. He even compares it to the inevitability of day turning to night through the lines “In the morning I’ll be alright, my friend / but soon the night will bring the pain” (Gaye 1971). Gaye is again much less focused on a solution, and more focused on spreading word of their being a problem. His focus is equally as valid as Morrison’s or Wonder’s; it simply fulfills the last step of West’s prophetic cycle.

Although Parable of the Sower and What’s Going On? focus more on the negative aspects of the present and future through their prophetic messages, it is important to note that change is possible rather than precluded through their apparent negativity. Earthseed as a text stems from a post-apocalyptic landscape and is rooted mostly in Lauren’s observations, so the ideas in Earthseed would in theory be rather dire. However, in discussing the negativity around her, Lauren writes that it “won’t let me alone, won’t let me forget it, won’t let me go… And in time, I’ll have to do something about it… In spite of the poisonous rottenness outside the way where I might be exiled, I’ll have to do something about it. That reality scares me to death” (Butler 26). Even though Lauren is acutely aware of her awful circumstances, and is perhaps too aware given her hyperempathy syndrome, it is through this awareness that she predicts that she will be able to create tangible and positive societal change. In creating a character who generates change through awareness, Butler is able to further her own beliefs about humanity’s direction and point out the importance of spreading awareness. As scholar Marlene Allen posits that “Butler connects Lauren to the long line of black heroes and heroines in African American literature beginning with the earliest slave narrators and simultaneously advocates for the enlightenment and insight that science fiction can provide as a prophetic tool for change” (Allen 1354-1355).

Despite the fact that Parable of the Sower paints a hopeless picture for the direction of the nation, it does not paint a hopeless picture for the future of the nation, and prophesizes that from the ashes of the old, something new and conceptually better can rise, specifically through the phoenix metaphor surrounding Earthseed, as Lauren’s original community was literally burned down by pyros, but as tragic as it was, it was the only way Earthseed could have ever come to fruition. What’s Going On?, despite the harsh picture of reality it conveys, has also been lauded for raising awareness in an attempt to create a better future. Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me” outlines catastrophic environmental issues years before they were even popularized in the scientific community, including massive fish die-offs, smog, birth defects, and landfills. At one point in the song, Gaye sings “How much more abuse from man / can she stand?” (Gaye 1971). Again, he does not necessarily offer a solution to the problem, but the foresight required to raise such issues years before they became issues is prophetic in and of itself. Even though Gaye does not present a solution to the problem, going through the trouble of writing and recording an album about the state of the world and the necessity of change itself reflects going back to the beginning of West’s prophetic cycle, initial moralism. Gaye finishes his album with his most all-encompassing and dire warning yet in an attempt to again generate change through the power of prophesy. In the final track of his album, “Save the Children,” Gaye sings, “When I look at the world / it fills me with sorrow. / Little children today / really gonna suffer tomorrow. / Oh, what a shame. / Such a bad way to live. / Who is to blame / when we can’t stop livin’?” (Gaye 1971). The lines read as the combative pessimism Cornel West writes about, and while they do prophesize about the future, the prophecy does little more than to bemoan what Gaye perceives as humanity’s fate. However, he later follows these lines with “There’ll come a time / when the world won’t be singin’ / flowers won’t grow / bells won’t be ringin’ / who really cares? / Who’s willing to try? / To save a world / that’s destined to die?” (Gaye 1971). The lines are presented as an almost defeatist prophecy about the path the world is on. In a combination of his warnings through the rest of the album, Gaye predicts the ecosystem will fail and society will become loveless and in-turn, faithless. However, rather than the lines being a defeatist prophecy, they can just as easily be read as a form of Socratic prompting. Through his prophecy, Gaye is asking the listener “who is willing to try” not rhetorically, but Socratically, hoping to prompt the listener to say that they are willing to try. By presenting saving the world as a challenge worth taking up rather than an inevitability, Gaye returns to the first part of West’s prophetic cycle and opens the door for prophesy to not only effect the present, but to potentially save the world.

In what are now considered to be some of the greatest works of literature and music of the 20th century, Toni Morrison, Stevie Wonder, Octavia Butler, and Marvin Gaye demonstrate how prophesy can be used to overcome despair, dogmatism, and even oppression of the mind and body in order to imagine a better tomorrow. They effectively communicate prophesy’s function within the African-American community by illustrating its power over and impact on religion, love, identity, the environment, and society’s concept of the future. Furthermore, they illustrate the prophetic cycle outlined by Dr. West and in doing so collectively prophesize that if anything is assured about the future, it is that people will always be looking ahead and speculating their own futurity, as well as mankind’s. Together they posit that prophesy is not only inevitable, but necessary in order to properly chart a course to a destination that may not ever be known, but will continually be an improvement over the last.

Bibliography

Allen, Marlene D. “Octavia Butler’s Parable Novels and the ‘Boomerang’ of African American History.” Callaloo: A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, vol. 32, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1353-1365. Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Four Walls Eight Windows, 1993. Casey, Jeanette L. “The Sound of Stevie Wonder: His Words and Music.” Notes, vol. 64, no. 1, Sept. 2007, pp. 81-83. Dantley, Michael. “Critical Spirituality: Enhancing Transformative Leadership through Critical Theory and African American Prophetic Spirituality.” International Journal of Leadership in Education, vol. 6, no. 1, Jan. 2003. Dubek, Laura. “‘Pass It On!’: Legacy and the Freedom Struggle in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” The Southern Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 2, 2015, pp. 90-109. Fletcher, Judith. “Signifying Circe in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” Classical World, vol. 99, no. 4, 2006, pp. 405-418. Gaye, Marvin. What’s Going On. Motown Records. 1971. Keizer, Garret. “Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone.” Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 89, no. 4, Fall 2013, pp. 44-59. Kenan, Randall. “An Interview with Octavia E. Butler.” Callaloo: A Journal of African American and African Arts and Letters, vol. 14, no. 2, 1991, pp. 495-504. Lieb, Michael. The Visionary Mode: Biblical Prophecy, Hermeneutics, and Cultural Change. Cornell UP, 1991. Mazama, Ama. “Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye.” African American Review, vol. 40, no. 2, Summer2006, pp. 378-379. McCormack, Michael Brandon. ““Your God Is a Racist, Sexist, Homophobic, and a Misogynist … Our God Is Change”: Ishmael Reed, Octavia Butler and Afrofuturist Critiques of (Black) American Religion.” Black Theology: An International Journal, vol. 14, no. 1, Apr. 2016, pp. 6-27 Middleton, Joyce Irene. “Orality, Literacy, and Memory in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” College English, vol. 55, no. 1, Jan. 1993, pp. 64-75. Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. Vintage Books, 2016. Morrison, Toni. “Rootedness: The Ancestor as Foundation.” 1983. Rpt. in Toni Morrison: What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Ed. Carolyn C. Denard. Jackson: UP of Mississippi, 2008. Neal, Mark Anthony. “Trouble Man: The Art and Politics of Marvin Gaye.” Western Journal of Black Studies, vol. 22, no. 4, 1998, pp. 252-259. Perone, James E. The Sound of Stevie Wonder: His Words and Music. Praeger, 2006. Phillips, Jerry. “The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 35, no. 2/3, Spring/Summer2002, pp. 299-311. Pramuk, Christopher. “‘The Street Is for Celebration’: Racial Consciousness and the Eclipse of Childhood in America’s Cities.” Merton Annual: Studies in Culture, Spirituality and Social Concerns, vol. 25, 2012, pp. 91-103. “Prophecy” Oxford English Dictionary. TV Tropes. “Cheating with the Milkman.” TV Tropes Visvis, Vikki. “Alternatives to the ‘Talking Cure’: Black Music as Traumatic Testimony in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” African American Review, vol. 42, no. 2, 2008, pp. 255- 268. Werner, Craig. A Change Is Gonna Come Music, Race and the Soul of America. Canongate, 2002. West, Cornel. Prophetic Fragments: Illuminations of the Crisis in American Religion and Culture. W.B. Eerdmans, 1993. Wilentz, Gay. “Civilizations Underneath: African Heritage as Cultural Discourse in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon.” Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon: A Casebook, Jan (ed. and introd.) Furman, Oxford UP, 2003, pp. 137-163. Casebooks in Criticism (CCF). Wonder, Stevie. Songs in the Key of Life. Motown Records. 1976.

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