(Note on citations: Given that many of us will be working from very different editions of the book and given that the book is conveniently divided by date every few pages, I have elected to cite quotations not only by page number but by chapter and date in the hope that this will make the quotations easier to locate.)
Two of my discussion points are somewhat interrelated:
First, I was struck by the fact that the protagonist would have been born this year and that really brought the chronology of the book home to me. I absolutely read this as a work of near-future science fiction. I wonder to what extent it was read as near-future fiction in 1993 when 2024 was 31 years away and the rapidly approaching “new millennium” still seemed impossibly distant. I wonder how the near-ness of the books setting affects our readings now.
Secondly, I was also struck by how (disturbingly) plausible the world that Butler imagines seems to me. I certainly don’t think that things have deteriorated quite so badly, but it is a conceivable trajectory for our current state. I wonder how believable and relevant this future seemed to Butler and to her readers when it was first published. Was the book meant as a plausible extension of contemporaneous events or as a speculative response to an era of excess and plenty? How might this affect our reading of the text?
With regard to the perspectives on the 1990s presented in the book please see:
“’The nineteen nineties were crazy,’ he said, ‘but they were rich.’” (p. 211, Chp. 19 8/27/27)
“’We couldn’t see so many stars when I was little,’ my stepmother says to me…. ‘Why couldn’t you see the stars?’ I ask her…. ‘City lights,’ she says. ‘Lights, progress, growth, all those things we’re too hot and too poor to bother with anymore.’ … ‘I’d rather have the stars,’ I say. ‘The stars are free.’ She shrugs. ‘I’d rather have the city lights back myself, the sooner the better. But we can afford the stars.’” (p. 4-5, Chp. 1 7/20/24)
“’Bread and circuses,’ my father says…. Well, we’re barely a nation at all anymore, but I’m glad we’re still in space. We have to be going some place other than down the toilet.” (p. 20, Chp. 3 8/3/24)
Throughout my reading of the text (and this may vary from edition to edition, I’m using the Four Walls Eight Windows first edition from 1993) I kept noticing typographical errors. These errors mainly involved the placement of quotations and occasionally capitalization. I wondered whether this was merely editing oversight in the first edition or whether it was intentionally included to heighten the verisimilitude of the journal motif. Whether it is intentional or not, does it work? Does it make the text read more believably as a journal rather than a highly edited work of literature? In the same vein, the sentence “I bit My tongue as the pain I knew it must feel became my pain” (p.42, Chp. 1 7/20/24) caught my attention. The capitalization of “My” brought to mind Biblical capitalization where God is concerned. Do we accept this as a typographic error or is it meant to play into Lauren’s establishment as a prophet? I’m inclined toward the former, as the trope is not carried throughout; however, I wondered if anyone else made the same connection.
Finally, I was also struck by the frequent, often casual, references to rape throughout the novel. I grant that in such a society as the one Butler imagines violence of all kinds, including sexual violence, would be endemic yet I can’t help but wonder what purpose it serves. I often find myself wondering this when rape appears as a recurring event in a work of fiction. I wonder whether the possible educational or cautionary good that might do is not entirely cancelled out and perhaps greatly outweighed by the psychic harm it may cause. I don’t mean to suggest that it shouldn’t be included or that purely artistic justifications are not sufficient, but I still question it. Although I disagree on many points with Catharine MacKinnon, I do feel that a representation contains some essence of the act and so I wonder what Butler—a self-described feminist author—hoped to do with her inclusion of rape as a pervasive element of the society she imagines in Parable of the Sower.
There’s one further step that might be introduced into Prof. Swanstrom’s oracle or tripod model of information, and one that, I think, has important ramifications for Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower,” a text, after all, where the protagonist is a seeming conduit for thoughts independent of herself. To momentarily consider Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” there comes a moment, after Leontes has accused his queen of adultery, alienated his most loyal friends, and had his only surviving heir banished, that, almost as an afterthought, he thinks to consult the Oracle of Delphi.
But the Oracle himself doesn’t just appear on-stage. Two messengers are dispatched, Cleomenes and Dion, who receive the “seal’d-up oracle, by the hand deliver’d / Of great Apollo’s priest,” but never actually see it. Only after swearing that they haven’t peeked, the prophecy is handed to an officer of the guard, who reads the proclamation aloud, finding, surprise, that Leontes has been wrong all along. Leontes, however, refuses to believe the verdict: “There is no truth at all i’ the oracle: / The sessions shall proceed: this is mere falsehood.” After having already extracted sworn statements from his own messengers and from his own court officers, he is compelled to ask again “Hast thou read truth?” It isn’t merely that Leontes doesn’t agree with the oracle; it’s that he thinks something along the way has been lost in translation.
And indeed, he might have a point, for the person responsible for reading the messages from Olympus, that is, the Oracle directly, is not ultimately the party responsible for imparting them, a task which falls to a random member of the court by way of two other random intermediaries. To perhaps ameliorate my mistake from earlier, this would be akin to that submarine telegraph operator processing incoming coded transmissions in one room while some guy with an Enigma box works in the other; one is translating electronic hashes to gibberish, and the other translates the gibberish to troop movements, but their respective tasks are divorced from one another. In “A Winter’s Tale,” the process of divine translation becomes just another complication of the Shannon-Weaver model. Leontes is absolutely right to question the veracity of the officer’s reading: the poor guy doesn’t even render the thing in hexameter (actually, curiously, the Officer speaks in perfectly adequate pentameter up until this very moment, and then for some reason reverts to absolute, bottom-of-the-barrel prose).
Enormous literary digressions aside, this tension between receiving and imparting divine messages is certainly one experienced by post-Classical religions: Jesus never wrote a word of the New Testament, and the Mormon Church’s Joseph Smith claimed to be interpreting divinely-imparted plates that no one else was permitted to see. In these cases, like in “A Winter’s Tale,” the difficulty is really a “too many cooks spoil the broth” issue. Yet where all of this is made pertinent, and indeed, more interesting, is that it’s this very same process which comes to problematize Lauren’s articulation of a new faith even though the work of reading and imparting is being performed by a single person.
Despite her relatively dire circumstances, Lauren is enormously, enormously well read, and manages not only to throw out references to the Bubonic plague, but to parse political circumstances that everyone else apparently ignores, to identify an open-mouthed dog as “panting.” In other words, reading isn’t really her problem. When it comes to putting down the precise words that are intoned to her, however, is where Lauren hits a wall. Early on we’re told that she’s gone through “twenty-five or thirty lumpy, incoherent rewrites,” that despite issuing a “literal truth” of only 24 words, the task of production somehow mandates “a thesaurus;” later, these same difficulties are referred to generically as “my writing problems” (Butler 24, 25, 24, 78). What, especially, does this reliance on a thesaurus portend? Would apparently hearing “cognates” (my own quotes, not the text’s) render Lauren’s final treatise more prone to error or thereby more profound? Ultimately, since the very text itself does finally come into being, in some form at least, complete with extracted verses from “The Books of the Living,” does Lauren manage to resolve the Leontes-like tension between reception and inscription? Does this likewise mark an attempt to rectify the textual difficulties of her own Baptist upbringing? Is her account truer or falser than the Officer’s intonation, or those of Jesus, or those of Joseph Smith?
In regards to Caitlin’s point on how plausible the world seems, I would have to half disagree. At the beginning, particularly the sections taking place in the walled community, I agree that it seems very plausible. The extreme inflation and smaller issues (such as expanded racial divides) seem very real and possibly even likely. However, by the time Lauren and the others go outside and begin their journey, I feel as though at least some of the “realness” has degenerated into somewhat more typical science fiction. This is not by any means a bad thing- I liked the second half at least as much if not better than the first- but I do think there is a marked difference. A broad example of this is Laurens’ acquisition of followers. Another way to mark the divide in believability (at least for me) is when she starts acting more like a prophet than anything else.
Another point that struck me about the society within the walled communities is the frequency of young marriages (at least young by our standards) as well as young pregnancies. For example, the beginning of Chapter 8 discusses Bianca Montoya who is seventeen, pregnant by a member of the community, and ends up marrying him. As Lauren says, “A couple gets married, and if they’re lucky, they get a room or a garage to live in…” (87).
Although part of this fits very well with the community’s situation (people not living as long and a lack of other occupation for some), another potential reason is to make the story reminiscent of something Biblical. The story is, after all, an origin story for what the reader can assume will one day be a large religion. Other elements, such as the journey to a “promised land” (or, farm) also reference Biblical stories. If there is a question here, it would be, what other Biblical elements are there to the story?
A point related to the young marriages is the way almost all the major players pair off rather quickly, for example, Harry and Zahra- sleeping together a few chapters from starting their journey with Lauren, and Lauren’s own rapidly developed attraction to Bankole. My first reaction to all the couples was the same as Lauren’s: “…how in the world can anyone get married and make babies with things the way they are now?” (87 again). Is it, however, more likely that, in such a situation, people might romantically attach themselves to others quickly, for comfort in trying times?
Working off of Caitlin’s reference to rape in the book, I was struck by the desensitization to violence evident in the book. At one point, Lauren describes a scene where there is yet another gun fight off in the distance from where she and her fellow travelers are camping out for the night. Describing the scene, she says “Strange how normal it’s become for us to lie on the ground and listen while nearby, people try to kill each other (269).” This comment reminded me of the recurring discussion on the influence of violence in our world. Obviously, compared to our present world, the world Butler portrays is more of an extreme situation where everyone is struggling to survive and doing what violent acts they must to do so. But it made me think about the degree to which the prevalent presence of violence in the world numbs us to the pain of others. At what point do our own survival needs trump the value of another’s life? In Butler’s world, is killing really forgivable and a necessary part of human survival?
In one way, I think it all goes back to the heavy presence of the concept of empathy – or lack thereof –in the book. In one sense, Lauren’s hyperempathy (and the fact that up until her journey she’s never met anyone similar to her) could be reflective of the deterioration of her society and how so few people actually care deeply for others. Because everyone is desperate to survive, they often forget the concept of community in favor of individualism. Is this what’s to become of a world where violence is increasingly “someone else’s problem” or where its commonness makes us seek other novelties?
Another theme I found interesting was the concept of trust in the book. Who can you really trust in situations of disaster? Can you trust those you’ve grown up with in your neighborhood or those who are employed to protect you (the police)? Can you trust your close friend to keep your secrets?
This question arises when Lauren tells her friend Joanne about her intention to leave their neighborhood when the time is right, and her intention to learn to survive for herself. When Joanne tells her mother, though, the trust bond is broken. The lack of trust that ordinary people had for the police was also interesting. Today there are often claims of police corruption and bias, however, I would argue that the public generally has more faith in the police force than the people in this book.
So one can see that trust in a sense has deteriorated in Butler’s world, yet one can also see that even in this frantic situation there is trust to be had, sometimes in the most simple of ways. For instance, the shelter and food help Lauren and her fellow travelers to gain the trust of other people on their journey. Offering someone food or a space around their campfire helps to break down barriers, proving that even in these tough times, humans still have basic human needs and bonds.
I am mostly interested in Lauren’s two secrets: her hyperempathy and Earthseed, and their roles in the context of the story.
While we had briefly established in class that Lauren is a prophet, I am wondering if anyone else sees her hyperempathy as a Jesus-like quality. She understands the pain and hardship of all people, and her initiative leads her to the role of a savior with the words in Earthseed. (And a name like Natividad clearly has roots in the nativity)
Lauren is naturally a teacher, as she says, “teaching is what I would choose to do” (124). She is seeking truth in Earthseed, a truth (125) reaching for a higher sort of expression, a means to permeate change (26, 76, 77, 116, 195, 218 etc.) into the minds of the suffering. She wants to show her the means to survival, in a much more logical and plain sense than the philosophies or abstractions of other religions. Her sermon on perseverance (136) at her father’s funeral is a further example of her ability to reach the masses. I am wondering if anyone else sees this journey as a religious pilgrimage as she describes gaining converts and wanting to start the first Earthseed community?
The characters are minimized to their basic human instincts and needs. Fire, as one of four classical elements, is used in this book as a sort of drug (p. 111) equivalent to sex in its ability to inflict human passion. We see that people are brought back to such natural elements as fire in order to receive gratification and pleasure, and ultimately wreak havoc (246). In a similar vein, reading and writing (practices we take for granted) are once again prized skills as seen with Keith and Zahra. The characters are forced to scavenge, steal, and rob, yet at the same time Olivar (corporate America-esque) serves as a beacon of hope. It is as though the country were just beginning. Maybe this is a natural cycle of human and societal regeneration from modernization to utter poverty (on a much grander scale) that only time will reveal, as Lauren says, “the world goes crazy every three or four decades…” (229).
The deterioration of society has brought people back to their basic human needs and away from the walk-in tv windows and the excesses that had become integral aspects of their life. Butler’s characters hold on to basic facets of survival on their journey from clean water to planting seeds for food (322). Does Earthseed hold the secret to survival through concrete change, as Lauren describes throughout, or is it another abstract notion of hope to grasp onto? Is the medium of Earthseed effective in conveying and relaying her mission? As Lauren says, “my heaven really exists, and you don’t have to die to reach it” (222).
I often judge a book by how eager I am to share it with others. In my case I have several young cousins who are about Lauren’s age at the start of the novel. As I read I found myself thinking about them and Keith’s relationship with his father, and his eventual fate. Needless to say the novel contains graphic content. I ask myself how would I share this novel. Would I pass this on to my middle/high school aged cousins? I find myself considering Cory’s perspective, the impulse to shield and protect one’s child from the horrors of reality. Is it so different from a parent’s impulse to shield a child from the horrors of fiction? Our society encounters this theme in every generation. Books are banned, video games now have ratings like movies, and even CD’s with “explicit content” must be labeled. How should we share this story?
Brandon has referred to Lauren as “a conduit for thoughts independent of herself”, like the oracle of Delphi. I wonder however about the basis is for this comparison. To me, Lauren’s beliefs seem a product of her circumstances and her hyperempathy, not at all “independent of herself.” Instead, I think of Lauren like the messengers in Winter’s Tale. Instead of the Oracle at Delphi, Lauren is a Cassandra, who has the gift of prophecy but is cursed by Apollo so that no one would believe her.
As has already been established, Lauren is clearly a prophet. The development of her religion, Earthseed, provides this novel with one of its central arcs, and as Rebecca pointed out, there are clear parallels to be drawn between Lauren and Jesus, her literal hyperempathy providing an important example. Considering how many biblical references Butler makes throughout this work (…the Book of Job  and the Parable of the Sower itself  as just two instances), to what degree can we discuss this novel as a Christian work? I don’t mean to suggest that Butler is trying to propagate any specific Christian morality or spiritualism, I simply think that were this novel written with no reference to Christ or the bible, it would be a much different piece of fiction. Does a prior familiarity with these biblical elements help to enhance our understanding? Do we consider an allegorical interpretation helpful or limiting when searching for some broader message?
Beyond the religious component of this work, I was also impressed with the depth and variety of historical references Butler makes. From the Black Death to turn of the century factory towns, I think placing this imaginative future on a very solid base of historical reality does much to heighten the sense of terror in Butler’s bleak vision. Does this feeling of reality help to communicate some sort of warning? How would this book be different if Butler had taken more opportunity to provide a fictional past?
Despite of its graphic and depressing tone, I enjoyed this novel very much. I’d have to say an interesting aspect of this novel was how the characters depended on love-relationships and religion in order to survive in this chaotic, dystopian setting. While the society was in chaos and although it was hard, people managed to get a hold of basic amenities such as food and water in order to survive. But I feel as if the main things that kept these individuals sane were faith from religion and trust from their loved ones.
Referring to the significant role of religion in this book, Butler portrays this through various and interesting ways. At first I felt as if Butler’s idea of Earthseed disregarded religion since Lauren constantly questions her father’s religion/God throughout the book. But I realized that Butler only introduced Earthseed to emphasize the significance of the role religion/faith plays in our society. First, Butler puts Lauren in a household which revolves around Christianity. Her father who not only was her role-model was also the pastor of their community. His position and faith helps her achieve the knowledge she has of the Parable of the Sower which is referred from the bible (328, 329). Also, with her religious background was she enlightened to start her own “religion”—Earthseed. I also believe that her Christianity background gave her the moral foundation she seemed to hold onto throughout the novel. She clearly believes in a “God” figure since all of her poems include “God” in the context. I realized that Butler’s portrayal of religion and love can be perceived either way. Does anyone think otherwise?
One thing that is touched upon throughout the novel is the lack of and often uselessness of technology in this future. Part of this that is particular interesting is the lack of modern means of communication. Towards the beginning of the novel, Lauren talks about one of her neighbor’s huge television set that was pretty much their neighborhood’s only source for images of the outside world. When that television set dies Lauren notes, “All we have left now are three small, ancient, murky little TV sets scattered around the neighborhood, a couple of computers used for work, and radios. Every household still has at least one working radio. A lot of our everyday news is from radio.” (19). Why, then, is the death of this one television set so important? What does it say that she then travels to the other side of the “window”? Does starting over in the end with a small community in a completely rural area with no technology signify a true end to different mediums used for communication? While they do not get much mention throughout the novel, their very absence speaks to many more important issues in this fictional future. This is a future that has reverted back to the past, communication technology just one of many ways. Most news is passed on through word of mouth, with communication taking place among smaller groups. Every new law is a rumor, and direct conversation in which a person is the only medium for delivering a message is essential. This is complicated, though, by the concept of Earthseed. Lauren claims that the ideas behind Earthseed are not her own, but she still often seems to be the sender of the message to people. If Earthseed is the message, is Lauren both the sender and medium? Sticking to the theme of my questions, I have been wondering about Earthseed in the context of communication. Is there ever a need to communicate without change involved in some way? Even if just to say that yes, everything is the way it was a moment ago, this is still acknowledging the possibility of change.
Like Rebecca N., I’m more inclined to view this novel in the context of history. I apologize for overusing this quotation, but I think it illustrates the point: “The world goes crazy every three or four decades. The trick is to survive until it goes sane agan” (229). It seems as if the characters are forced, as Rebecca said, to revert to focusing exclusively on their basic human needs. The society reflects Hobbes’ philosophy, in a way: When man exists simply in the state of nature with no established civil society, life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” To this end, the characters seem to have returned to tribal practices. Lauren establishes allies for purposes of safety amid the ruckus (207). But by no means does she attempt to follow any moral code during her travels north; she and her “group” still look out for their best interests only, continuing to steal and murder although they know their actions are barbaric.
While reading, I also observed Butler’s continued mention of “twelve.” Keith is introduced as his mother’s favorite as a twelve-year-old boy Lauren dislikes (9); the only time Lauren saw her dad angry was when she was 12 (97); the first time Lauren had sex was when she was twelve (106), and after confessing this fact to Keith she justifies it by saying, “Twelve can be a dumb age (107); Lauren says Cory described Robin Balter, a “bright, sharp, great little kid, all serious and knowing” found in corpse form, “twelve going on thirty-five” (163); etc. I don’t know whether the number twelve has any significance (perhaps, as Dan suggested, reading this a religious text would help answer that question) but I thought it might be interesting to analyze what Butler does by applying one age, one stage of life, one assumed mindset to such a wide variety of experiences–being a parent’s favorite, witnessing an angry parent, losing her virginity, being dumb, being bright and serious. I feel as if Butler throws around this age to represent youthfulness in the most normal sense of the term (all of the above-mentioned experiences are relatively “normal” things to associate with age 12–well, maybe except for the sex, but hey, it’s 2024). Lauren seems to have collected many memories from that specific age; she used it as a means of reflection on parent-child relationships, romance, and the beginning of personality formation. Lauren also places emphasis on she and Joanne being mature enough to prepare to flee at fifteen (55) and her desire to go on watch at eighteen. In these cases, age seems to be a large factor in Lauren’s perception of identity. But later, as she journeys with Harry and Zahra, rushing to protect a stranger’s baby (207), the significance of age seems less important. Everybody is responsible for everybody else, no matter how old.
Thank you Ester for pointing out the importance of love relationships as a survival mechanism. Indeed I think it’s the most life affirming aspect of the book. It’s an interesting irony that people survive by trusting each other- in order to defend themselves from other people. Needless to say the characters take great leaps of faith in this regard.
Luria I think your question answers itself. The very need to communicate entails a kind of change. In the post Industrialized era- nearly every major scientific achievement has either directly or indirectly been born out of an effort to enhance our communication- only technologically speaking, that is to say this is not an evaluation of our mediums of communication. Like Lauren’s struggles to find the right words for her feelings, we are constantly engaged in a kind of uphill battle to improve the quality of our communication. Butler is not the first to envision a world where virtual reality is a commercialized item. And yet Lauren gives her faith a name reminiscent of how plants scatter their DNA to the elements so that some might find hospitable soil. It seems arcane, too random. On page 157(July 31 2027) Lauren first uses the phrase “Godshaping” In her own words “poor Godshaping. If in this Earthseed Gospel we are the shapers of divinity and yet were are powerless to stop change. So what does this say about our agency as individuals?
1. Lauren’s hyperempathy causes her to feel the pain of others, but in order to not be killed by this pain herself, she must kill anyone she attacks in defens: “… to me pain was the evil. Death was an end to pain” (198). What does this duality posed by Lauren’s hyperemathy symbolize in the novel? What does it suggest about the world Butler created?
2. Why is the new drug of choice “pyro” which, as described in the novel, makes causing and watching fires better than sex? What does it mean that in this new America, burning things down is better than an act that has the potential to create a new being? What does it mean that part “painted people’s” prerogative for causing fire is to hurt the rich and avenge the poor?
3. Lauren says that “God is Change” and “‘The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars’” (222), yet Bankole makes the point that “‘If you get people to accept it [Earthseed], they’ll make it more complicated, more open to interpretation, more mystical, and more comforting’” (262). Lauren’s religion is based in science and introspection, yet teaching it to the world would distort it. How does the idea that anything communicated will be distorted, fit into the greater story of the novel?
4. Lauren is very set on the idea of shaping change, instead of letting change shape your world. Yet, it could be said that the people causing fires also shape their world, in a terrible way. How does the idea of shaping change manifest itself in other people in novel besides Lauren?
5. Most people surviving on the road survive through taking from others, or at least scavenging, therefore benefitting from others’ pain. On the other hand, Lauren is hurt by other people’s pain. Everyone in the novel is extremely distrustful of everyone else, and even in Lauren’s first community it was religion, and deeper fear of others, that kept people united. What does it mean that in this future America people can only trust themselves? Does that strengthen or weaken Lauren’s Earthseed ideas?
Most of my questions are related to the plot more than the themes, and since I don’t have the Internet at home (I know, I know), I have yet to read the responses above…but I will do so now and re-post if I can.
What caused the destruction of American society? Some specific force, or is it left a pseudo-mystical demise on purpose? (That seems like a parable-type aspect of the book; we could read in any reason relevant to our contemporary lifestyles for the end of the nation/world.)
What does Lauren/Octavia Butler/the narrative mean to say about current, contemporary religions? Anything coherent? Particularly as concerns the development of ritual and belief, the book seems to propose that clarity is more important than the social traditions that grow up around established religions; Lauren focuses on this when she’s speaking with Bankole about Earthseed, and she regularly comments that she’s only trying to be clear, true to the truth she sees, rather than evangelizing.
Lauren has created an evangelical religion, in a way, since she’s telling others and refers to them as “converts” – she’s also creating a potentially imperialist religion, since she’s saying it’s Earthseed’s destiny to “take root among the stars.” What if those stars are occupied? Could her religion be made to serve the usual agenda of empire (if American empire still existed in the book)?
How do the book’s themes relate to the Christian Bible’s “parable of the sower”?
What about the outside world and her experience there causes Lauren to slowly loosen up and decide to start taking on extra people – helping people on the road and agreeing to allow them to travel with her group, and eventually to band together into a new community?
Here are some running themes that I have noticed throughout the book:
Use of sight, being watched, being the silent watcher
Youth (reference to it at the beginning and the end)
Fire—meeting of earth and hell (this runs into the theme birds and phoenix)
Birds—phoenix, flying, feeling, (4, 153, 37)
Journey to the North—slavery, freedom (there being no place of freedom, only perhaps an illusion to freedom)
The first thing that I would like to talk about are these images that Butler gives us on sight, rather being watched and being the watcher and not to mention youth. One of the first longer elusions to sight is on page ten. Butler writes:
“…Theirs kids were wide awake and watching us this morning. I feel sorry for the little ones, but the ones my age and older make me nervous. We ride down the middle of the crack street, and the kids come out along the curb to stare at us. They just stand and stare…I try not to look around at them, but I can’t help seeing—collecting—some of their general misery” (10-11).
What does it mean for Lauren to have the power of sight? In the act of looking, for Lauren, she is able to exist in two worlds, because of her ability to feel. She can know what is feels like to be within the confines of her walled community and at the same time know what it feels like to be a member of the youth on the outside. Lauren is able to collects the feelings, the grief, and the isolation, and in the process of collecting, her understanding of humanity broadens (broadens beyond the self). It is interesting that she cannot help reciprocating the children’s look/ stare. Later in the book we learn that she allows families with children into the walking community. On page 321 Butler writes, “Children were the key to most of the adults present…A community’s first responsibility is to protect its children-the ones we have now and the ones we will have”. Why is it that youth is a topic throughout the book—Lauren’s youth (her relations with Bankole), the children within the growing community, abandonment, not having a youth…Something worth thinking about.
Something else that seemed to be interesting was the dichotomy of earth and heaven…I felt that Earthseed is something that could be considered a heaven but I am not sure if that could be considered a part of the ever growing battle between the preservation of earth and the upheaval caused by the fires of hell. The fire within the book seemed to engulf and collapse existence (re-creating humanity). In the same breath though readers are given the images of a phoenix and in being given the images of the phoenix there are new images of re-birth on a pure level. In Laurens Earthseed: The Book of the Living she writes (page 153), “In order to rise—From its own ashes—A phoenix—First—Must—Burn”. What does the fire mean in terms of humanity—does the fire resemble the re-birth of earth, the outward battle between good and evil (death and life—sacrifice)? In thinking more specifically about the phoenix, what could flying represent (flying and birds in general are mentioned through out the book—Lauren’s inability to kill them, Lauren in a way envying them).
A couple of questions that I would want to ask more generally:
Why is it so important for Lauren to have empathy and what does it make her less of a “prophet” when we find out that other people she is connected with have it? Lauren, because of her empathy (or what she calls a disease) she has “died” and come back multiple times, in being in a way resurrected: what do you think this does for her in terms of earthseed or her vision of God and humanity?
The journey North, quite obviously, is an important theme through out the book, in a way resembling a parallel journey of slavery. In their travel north both in slavery and in 2026, they were both uncertain of what would lay ahead for them in the north. What is the importance of traveling north on opposing tracks from slavery? What does it mean to be taking this journey, to be walking, to be walking along with water, the absences of water?