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Reading Programs, Resources, and Communities: Parable of the Sower

Get the book

Paperback copies of the book will be distributed to participants at the first meeting on February 7, 2018.

Some editions of the book are called Earthseed - the Earthseed series contains two novels: Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. We are only reading the first one this semester.

Special thanks to the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and Musselman Library for providing books for readers!

About Octavia Butler

"Octavia Butler is heralded as the first African American female writer of science fiction and fantasy, also termed speculative fiction. Her published works include 12 novels, a novelette, and one collection of stories; only two of her novels (Kindred and Fledgling) were written to stand alone, with all others envisioned as part of a collection of books: the Xenogenesis trilogy, the five-volume Patternist series, and Parable of the Talents and Parable of the Sower. Butler began writing science fiction out of frustration with the genre’s glaring lack of female protagonists and ethnic minorities. Her work is acclaimed for its bold projections of future worlds driven by complex explorations of race, sexuality, spirituality, and violence as foundational in shaping people and building community."

-- from The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction, edited by Brian W. Shaffer, vol. 2: Twentieth-Century American Fiction, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011

For more information on Butler (links from Prof. Sobelle):

Questions to consider while reading (created by ENG 350 students!)

  1. Parable of the Sower is an epistolary novel, written as a diary rather than as a series of letters. What is the effect of this form? How does it track, draw attention to, and possibly even challenge the passing of time, or the notion of a past, present, and future?
  2. What does Los Angeles, and California more broadly, look like in this novel? In what ways is it a familiar image, and in what ways a surprising one?
  3. What is the role of religion in the novel, both the religion in which one is raised, and the religion that one might discover or invent?
  4. A large focus of the novel is climate change. How does Butler render environmental crisis? What are the larger social effects in the novel of environmental crisis? In what ways does the novel forecast current conversations around climate change and human agency in global warming?
  5. How does Butler treat race in the novel? Or, what role does race play in this near future that Butler has presented? How does racial identity intersect with other topics in the text, like gender, climate change, income inequality, sexuality, and disability? (You might also consider this question through the lens of WEB Du Bois's "double consciousness.")
  6. Lauren suffers from an affliction called hyperempathy; how is her disability her weakness, and how is it her strength? What caused it, and what is its deeper significance for Lauren's characterization?
  1. As the stakes of survival grow higher for Lauren’s community, how could her father’s relationship with the Baptist religion change based on the decisions he has to make in the novel (for example, deciding on the possibility of killing burglars at the end of Chapter 7)?
  2. Lauren's hyper-empathy has given her a wiser, more insightful look into the Baptist religion as well as the birth of Earthseed. However, how could Lauren's recurring dream be connected to her transition from one faith to another? How could the fire and the struggle to escape it be related to not only faith but to the struggle to survive as well?
  3. As we continue to read this novel, we see piece by piece how elements of impending "slavery" come into context. What types of slavery may this be and are they related to financial stability or race? How could the new President-elect set back the country 100 years?
  4. We have learned so far that Lauren cannot confide in even her closest friends with her views and feelings. How can Lauren's relationship with her father and the community change with the possible discovery of not only her hyper-empathy, but also of Earthseed?
  1. What shapes Lauren's compassion? How does her compassion aid in creating a foundation for her community?
  2. As the issues with arsonists and thieves continue to worsen in Lauren's community, how does her relationship to others develop, as well as her likelihood to trust in them?
  3. How does Lauren's relationship with Earthseed continue to grow and/or change as she continues to experience tragedies? What do you think is the role of her hyperempathy in this relationship? (Think especially of Ch. 14, Saturday July 31, 2027 — evening.)
  4. We know that Lauren built a survival pack in order to head up North once her family is stable again. However, whether the right time or not, Lauren is forced to use it in Chapter 14. Do you think she'll ever be able to make it up North? What factors help to increase or decrease that likelihood?
  5. As Lauren, Harry, and Zahra head up North, how do you think their mixed races will be received? Will their plan work?‚Äč
  1. Music is a large part of the Black religious experience through spirituals and gospel as well as being an integral part of Afrofuturism (Sun Ra, Parliament Funkadelic, etc). However, Earthseed doesn’t seem to have much of a musical dimension. Why might that be?
  2. One of Butler’s other series, Xenogenesis, also features a young Black woman (Lilith) leading a small group of people following a disaster, in this case a nuclear war. Unlike Earthseed, in Xenogenesis, aliens known as Oankali have altered Lilith and her group to become alien-human hybrids, and the series is focused around what exactly it means to be human. In what ways has Lauren also become alien, or in what ways does Parable of the Sower also examine what it means to be human?
  3. Family and family dynamics play a large role in the novel. How does the concept of family change throughout the novel, and how do those changes parallel how society (and the notion of community) changes?
  4. Cultural critic Kodo Eshun notes that the “futures industry” tends to see anything Black as dystopic: “African social reality is overdetermined by intimidating global scenarios, doomsday economic projections, weather predictions, medical reports on AIDS, and life-expectancy forecasts, all of which predict decades of immiserization.” Urban black neighborhoods are frequently treated in the same way. However, Afrofuturist writers work to overcome this impression, in the words of Ruth Myers, by looking “between blackness as a dystopic relic of the past and as a harbinger of a new and more promising alien future.” Is Sower a dystopic or pessimistic novel, or does it suggest a “promising” future? 
    See “Afrofuturism, Science Fiction, and the History of the Future. Socialism and Democracy Online. (Accessed 26 Feb. 2018)
  5. Butler describes Lauren’s character as someone who should not always necessarily be right. What ideologies do you think would be wrong for the world in which Lauren lives? What problems do you have with her design of Earthseed, if any? What about Lauren’s philosophies trouble you?
  6. Considering gender roles in the novel, how do the male characters treat Lauren? What are some instances that display this?
  7. Do you think Parable of the Sower is a feminist novel? Consider how masculinity and femininity function in the novel. 
  8. What role does religion, specifically Christianity, play in the novel? Consider the title of the book, Lauren’s journey, and Earthseed’s values.
  9. What is the significance of the Earthseed idea that "God is Change"?
  10. What societal commentaries were exposed to you during your reading? How do they form the concept of the novel?

Book Discussions

Five sequential meetings will be held. Please mark your calendar and do your best to attend them all!

All discussions will take place on Wednesdays, noon - 1:00 pm. Location will vary by week. Glatfelter Lodge isn't big enough for all of us!

  • 2/7/18 - introductions, book context from Prof. Sobelle, get your book. Location: Library 18
  • 2/14/18 - discuss chapters 1-7. Location: Library 18
  • 2/21/18 - discuss chapters 8-13 (end of section 1). Location: Library 18
  • 2/28/18 - discuss chapters 14-19. Location: Library 18
  • 3/7/18 - discuss chapters 20-25 (to end). Location: Library 18

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