The Parable of the Sower Book summary

Octavia E. Butler



Parable of the Sower is the first book of the two Earthseed books that were published by Octavia E. Butler. The second book in the series is the Parable of Talents. The author's notes indicate that she had intended to write several more additions to this series. The book to follow Parable of the Talents was to be a book titled Parable of the Trickster. Notes and manuscripts recovered from the author after her passing indicate that she had begun and discarded several drafts for the third book. Octavia E. Butler is credited for being one of the initial proponents of Afrofuturism in Literature. Afrofuturism is a term coined by cultural critic, Mark Derry, in the 1990s in an essay titled 'Black to the Future'. It is a movement concerned with the place of science fiction and Technology in Black culture. At the time, Science Fiction was almost systematic in its exclusion of black people.

Octavia E. Butler herself defined the Eartseed books as being a part of the 'If-this-goes-on' genre of Science fiction. The parable of the Sower extrapolates from the social conditions prevalent during the time of its writing. Most prominently, it highlights the concerns that people had about global warming, an increasing level of violence, and drug use, all of which were mainstream discussions in the 1990s.


Plot Summary

Lauren Oya Olamina lives in the fictional town of Robledo, California, and we encounter her in the year 2024, the night before her 15th birthday. Lauren is the daughter of Reverend Olamina, who is a college professor and a baptist priest. Lauren's world has seen significant deterioration since the glory of the 20th century. Climate change has wrecked weather patterns, and government institutions have failed to maintain law and order. People have to live in communities guarded by walls to keep out criminals and homeless people. Crops like wheat and rice have become too expensive, so Lauren and her community mostly rely on things they can grow on their land. Utilities like electricity and water are expensive, and so most people avoid taking regular showers.

The day after her birthday, Lauren goes to a fortressed church outside the walls of her community for her baptism along with other teenagers. She has trouble looking at the injured and emaciated homeless people because of her unique condition. Lauren's mother had abused a drug called 'Einstein powder' which caused Lauren to be born with Hyperempathy syndrome. Lauren's condition forces her to experience the pain and pleasure of the people around her, and looking at serious injuries can cause her to feel debilitated. Her mother passed away in childbirth, so Lauren now lives with her father, stepmother, Cory, and her stepbrothers. She is the eldest child, and Keith is the second eldest. He is also obsessed with guns and wants to go to LA to make it big. Although Lauren grows up in a devoutly Christian household, she doesn't believe in Christianity, instead, Lauren has been secretly developing her religion since the age of 12. She calls it Earthseed, and it describes God as being Change. Lauren doesn't believe that God should be worshiped but rather shaped with focussed action. She believes that the destiny of mankind is to move away from the dying earth and settle on other planets in the universe.

Lauren's father is a proponent of guns and training teenagers in their use, to ensure they are all capable of defending themselves against criminals. He periodically leads a group of children above 15 outside the walls for target practice. On one such excursion, Lauren kills a feral dog to stop sharing the dog's pain after her father shoots it for approaching them. Lauren observes the worsening situation of her world and concludes that her neighborhood cannot remain unharmed. She cautions her friend Joanne about the possibility of an attack and attempts to encourage her to learn of things that could help her survive outside the walls. Lauren tells her of the increasing incidences of Cholera and measles and about the drug that causes people to set fires. Joanne becomes scared and talks to her mother, who shares Lauren's words with her husband, and he tells Lauren's father. Reverend Olamina confronts Lauren about what she had told Joanne, and Lauren confesses her fears to her father. He tells her that it is easier to share information with people through teaching rather than through fear. He accepts some of Lauren's fears as valid and advises her to prepare an emergency pack for disasters.

Lauren's father leads teenagers out of the walls for another target practice session, and Keith had insisted that he be allowed to accompany the group. Their father refused because the community is strict about the age at which target practice is allowed, and Keith is only 12. When Lauren and her father return, they discover that Keith had gone outside the walls alone. They are all worried for him, but Keith soon returns, beaten and naked except for his underwear. He had been robbed and beaten by five thugs. The thugs had also taken the key to the community gate that Keith had been carrying. Keith explains that he was trying to show his father that he was a man. The reverend forces Keith to apologize to the congregation during the next mass, but his desire for proving himself doesn't diminish. His parents give him a BB gun for his birthday, and soon afterward, Keith leaves the walls again. This time he doesn't return immediately but stays outside for a couple of days. Keith comes home a couple of days later, without a scratch on him. The reverend beats him bloody when he returns home and breaks Keith's BB gun. Keith leaves again for the last time but steals his mother's gun before leaving. Keith doesn't return for quite a while. Later, he starts visiting his family home regularly, but he is always careful to ensure that he never comes when their father is home. He brings money and expensive gifts and is always dressed in new clothes. Lauren knows that there are no truly honest ways of making money in the outside world, and assumes that her brother is involved in crime. Keith confides in Lauren and cautions her about the harshness of the outside world. He casually tells her of the people he had shot and stolen from but expresses no remorse. Sometime later, Keith is found tortured to death by the police.

Their neighborhood begins to experience regular break-ins, and one day, Lauren's father disappears on his way back from work. The whole community sets out to search for him, but they find no trace of him. Lauren's family is forced to conclude that he has died. The neighborhood is then attacked by Pyros, addicts who take a drug that causes them to experience pleasure from setting fires. Lauren is the only survivor of her family. Harry and Zahra, are other people from her neighborhood that manage to escape from the attack. The three of them set out North to find a place where they can find cheaper water and better economic prospects. Lauren cuts her hair and presents herself as a man, and the three of them join the river of people walking the freeway north.

Lauren wins over the trust of a young interracial couple, Travis and Natividad, after she rescues them from a pair of thieves, and their baby from a feral dog attack. The group grows larger, as they rescue two sisters, Allie and Jill Gilchrist, from a wrecked home after an earthquake. They also include a black middle-aged man called Bankole. He also rescues a three-year-old, Justin, after his mother is killed by a stray bullet. The group slowly makes their way North, they avoid the Bay area, after Lauren learns of the worsening law and order situation in the area. Bankole and Lauren become a couple, and Bankole discloses that he is heading towards a piece of land he owns in the hills. He invites her to bring her congregation and set up the first Earthseed community. By this time, most of the people in the group are aware of Lauren's religion and have almost begun to believe in it. Lauren's group is then joined by a group of former slaves, Emery, her daughter Tori, Grayson Mora, and his daughter Doe. The group survives an attack from bald people, but Jill Gilchrist dies during the gunfight. The bald men, who are Pyro addicts, start a fire, and the group has to walk throughout the day and night to keep ahead of the fire.

Lauren and her group finally arrive at Bankole's land to discover the ash and skeletons, and they assume that Bankole's sister has been killed along with her family. In the end, all of the members decide to remain on Bankole's land and try to build on it the first community of Earthseed. Lauren names their home Acorn, and they all plant trees in remembrance of their dead.

  • Author(s)

    Octavia E. Butler
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Novel, Fiction


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