In the dystopian novel Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamine is a young African-American girl living with her family just outside of L.A. Octavia Butler’s novel begins when Lauren is 15 and just beginning to form her own philosophy to describe the chaos of life.
The U.S. is poor and arid, crowded with roving homeless people and drug addicts. If they can afford to, people live in walled communities and only venture out in large, armed groups. The ability to go out to work is almost nonexistent. People who go out sometimes disappear, which is what eventually happens to her father. Gas is so expensive that it is only used by addicts to burn houses, as the drug they use makes them want to see things on fire. Water is so expensive that it has to be carefully rationed.
Lauren suffers from hyperempathy syndrome, a genetic disorder that makes her experience the pain of others as her own. She dreams of a better world and so develops her own philosophy/religion.
When she is 18, Lauren’s community is attacked and overrun. She decides to walk north with what is left of her family in hopes of founding a community that will follow her in her beliefs.
The dystopian part of the story is interesting, especially as it is all too easy to see the seeds for Octavia Butler’s dystopian vision of a possible future, especially since it was written in the 1980’s. However, I have less patience with the religious slant of the novel. My understanding is that the ideas Lauren evolves during the novel are those of Butler herself. Perhaps that is not relevant, but it explains their prevalence in the novel. I feel that the interest in the novel lays with the vision of the future and the suspense of what will happen to the main characters on their journey, but the novel dwells on the religious angle a little too heavily.