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Indy Study: Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler

The Parable of the Sower took me along a very different path from the previous books at which I've looked. For one, it is a piece of science fiction, a genre I don't think I've touched since I was 13 or 14. And unlike any of the other books, race does not play a defining role in terms of the lives or relationships of the book's characters.

Parable of the Sower takes place in a dystopian near-future version of California where water is more expensive than food, government has for all intents ceased to function, and the 'middle class' are those whose impoverished communities are protected from drug addicts and thieves by walls and other measures (the world she described is an exaggerated version of the post-industrail conditions of many urban centers in the 1980's. The drug epidemic described in the book is clearly meant to parallel crack, and the pro-buisness President is a thinly-vieled Reagan figure). When her village is destroyed, Lauren, a teenage girl who is developing her own religion, leads a group of survivors to better conditions they have heard about in the North.

While the world Butler describes is hardly color blind - there are references to tensions between interracial coupling and traveling in multiracial groups - the interpretation of the world we see through Lauren's diary entries does not involve race as a deterministic factor. Lauren recognizes that "people are expected to fear and hate everyone but their own kind," yet her"neighborhood is too small for us to play those kinds of games" (31). Later in the book there is a reference for it being easier for one of the white characters, Henry, to find a job because of his skin color. However, other than references such as these, race does not play a major factor. The three main white characters, Henry, Jill, and Allie, are not depicted any differently than black and latino characters of similar classes. While technically their whiteness is a property, it does not give them any advantages within the context of the narrative.

On a separate note, I would love to read this book with high schoolers. It raises a lot of interesting issues of community, resource allocation, and identity in a way that would be provocative to many adolescents. And while it is no literary masterpiece, it has enough nuance to be the source of a good analysis at the high school level.

Works Cited:
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books, 1993.

Next: The Known World by Edward P. Jones

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