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“Parable of the Sower” is our future if we don’t act

Malcolm Streitfeld

Anchor Staff Writer

Photo by Malcolm Streitfeld

Ever since I began taking a Sociology class at Rhode Island College, reading post-apocalyptic, alternate history and dystopian novels has become a new passion of mine. Octavia E. Butler’s stark odyssey, “Parable of the Sower,” is one that I struggle to define as “dystopian” or “post-apocalyptic,” however.


“Dystopian” is defined by Oxford Languages as “Relating to or denoting an imagined state or society where there is great suffering or injustice.” Likewise, “Post-apocalyptic” means “Denoting or relating to the time following a nuclear war or other catastrophic event.” Both of these meanings allude to stories that often take place in our world in the distant future.

Therein lies the issue. “Parable of the Sower” is not the future of human society. This tragedian tale is sadly already starting to become a reality.


The setting for “Parable of the Sower” is in California during the year 2025. The Golden State now has walls that separate its upper and lower class communities. Rising sea levels have left some vulnerable areas underwater. Amidst the tumult of a broken state, 15-year-old Lauren Olamina’s family struggles to make a living. Is the stuff I’ve mentioned so far starting to ring any bells?


Alongside “Parable of the Sower,” I also read passages from Greta Thunberg’s “The Climate Book.” Each section on climate change was written by a different expert. Katherine Heyhoe, endowed chair and distinguished professor at Texas Tech University, presented an alarming statistic in her essay called “Heat.” The statistic reads, “Unchecked, human-caused climate change could lead to the extinction of a third of the plant and animal species on the planet by 2050.”


We have just 27 years to reduce our impact on the planet before it really starts to become irreversible. Now returning to the novel, “Parable of the Sower” is also terrifying on a far smaller personal level. This is a world where acts of compassion and empathy are few and far between, to the point that Lauren’s “hyperempathy,” which makes her feel the exact same pain as those around her, is seen as a rare gift.


Butler is not just warning against climate change, she’s gently reminding her readers to not lose themselves to cruelty and hatred. Today’s society has become so mired in cynicism and senseless violence that sometimes it can be hard to see any idealism in people. This has happened to me a few times and it’s made it difficult for me to keep my optimistic outlook on life. To quote Jane Goodall, “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when they’re empowered to take action.”


Butler wasn’t trying to scare the world when she wrote “Parable of the Sower.” She was trying to teach everyone that at the core of every human being isn’t fear or resentment or envy or hatred – it’s love. The love and perseverance that brings people together when it hits the fan and things seem bleak. That is something that nobody should ever forget.

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