She jumps on me for sharing pain with the living, but she tries to share it with the dead.
Cory, Lauren's stepmother, is horrified when an elderly neighbor kills herself. Cory and Lauren's father have always encouraged Lauren to hide and control her hyperempathy, her ability to literally feel the pain of others. However, Cory is devastated by the suicide of Mrs. Sims. Lauren sympathizes with her stepmother, but also finds this rather ironic.
In Lauren's world, it may be safer in some ways to share pain with the dead rather than the living. This is a world in which an injured person may be used as bait for thieves, who will rob the first person who tries to help the wounded person. However, Lauren's ability to share pain with the living might be part of creating a better world, one in which empathy and compassion rather than selfishness become the principles that guide society.
In the book of Job, God says he made everything and he knows everything so no one has any right to question what he does with any of it. Okay. That works. That Old Testament God doesn’t violate the way things are now. But that God sounds a lot like Zeus – a super-powerful man, playing with his toys the way my youngest brothers play with toy soldiers. If they’re yours, you make the rules. Who cares what the toys think. Wipe out a toy’s family, then give it a brand new family.
Lauren ponders the terrible suffering that goes on in her world, and thinks about the Book of Job, the portion of the Bible that deals with the terrible suffering of a righteous man named Job. God tests Job by inflicting all sorts of miseries upon him, but Job does not curse God. When he questions God, however, God confronts Job and demands Job explain why he thinks that he can demand or question an omnipotent deity.
Lauren is deeply critical of this kind of personification of God. She is also very dismissive of one of the traditional religious responses to undeserved suffering: that it is the will of God. Instead, her belief system advocates taking charge of the changes in one's life rather than passively accepting them. Still, she is influenced by her father, a Baptist minister; she has learned his religion well, which makes her rejection of it all the more potent.
But this thing (This idea? Philosophy? New religion?) won't let me alone, won't let me forget it, won't let me go. Maybe.... Maybe it's like my sharing: One more weirdness; one more crazy, deep-rooted delusion that I'm stuck with. I am stuck with it. And in time, I'll have to do something about it. In spite of what my father will say or do to me, in spite of the poisonous rottenness outside the way where I might be exiled, I'll have to do something about it. That reality scares me to death.
Lauren has begun to write down observations, musings, and poetry in her notebooks, along with a journal of current events. It is the first glimmer of the ideology that will come to be called Earthseed.
Lauren never feels as though she is making this all up as she goes along, like a writer with a novel. Nor is she channelling messages from God. However, she knows that it is true, and she also knows that she must share it. Lauren's ambitions surrounding her new philosophy go beyond the personal: it is not that she wants to share it; it is that she has to share it. This belief will eventually be the thread that leads her out of her small, stifling community.
Richard Moss lets his wives and daughters pull things like this. He works them like slaves in his gardens and rabbit raising operation and around the house, but he lets them pretend they’re ‘ladies’ when it comes to any community effort.
Richard Moss is a neighbor in Lauren's small walled community; he follows a mixture of Old Testament beliefs and West African practices, and he has three wives and many children. He refuses to let his wives take part in the neighborhood night watch, which causes tension in the community.
This quote, among many others, speaks to the important theme of gender in the book. Richard Moss is actually doing his wives no favors: by forbidding them to participate in the life of the community (even if it means something as unpleasant as joining a neighborhood watch), he is denying them any opportunity to make alliances or friendships outside of the household, thus isolating them within the odd world that he has built. Eventually, when one of his wives (Zahra) joins Lauren's group, she proves to be infinitely more resourceful and intelligent than her late husband; she could easily have helped conduct a night watch.
I think he was killed by monster much worse than himself. It’s beyond me how one human being can do that to another. If hyperempathy syndrome were a more common complaint, people wouldn’t do such things. They could kill if they had to, and bear the pain of it or be destroyed by it. But if everyone could feel everyone else’s pain, who would torture? Who would cause anyone unnecessary pain? I’ve never thought of my problem as something that might do some good before, but with the way things are, I think it would help. I wish I could give it to people. Failing that, I wish I could find other people who have it, and live among them. A biological conscience is better than no conscience at all.
After Keith's violent death, Lauren ponders over the factors that put him in that situation. She also meditates on what it might mean for her and her future plans to spread Earthseed.
Lauren is beginning to see how her hyperempathy – which she has always believed to be a problem – might actually be a tool to create a better society. Lauren’s thinking on this topic is still limited (hyperempathy is still a “complaint,” for example), but she is beginning to grow into the leader she needs to become to survive. She is also coping with the violent, ugly death of her estranged brother, an event that has pulled her family apart. Lauren mourns him but is also conscious of the role that his own choices played in his death: Keith was violent, cruel, and selfish, and it was through his own actions that he put himself in danger.
Maybe Olivar is the future – one face of it. Cities controlled by companies are old hat in science fiction. My grandmother left a whole bookcase of old science fiction novels. The company-city subgenre always seemed to star a hero who outsmarted, overthrew, or escaped ‘the company.’ I’ve never seen one where the hero fought like hell to get taken in and underpaid by the company. In real life, that’s the way it will be.
In her novels, Octavia Butler frequently treats history as a boomerang of sorts - what has happened before comes around again. Company towns - towns in which the employees of a company lived, in which the company controlled all aspects of life - were a relatively common feature in many parts of America, such as the coal mining regions of West Virginia. These towns became infamous for abuses: underpaying employees so that they went into debt with the company, providing unsafe working environments, and even physically abusing workers.
Now, in Lauren's world, it seems as though this relic of the past has again emerged in a world of desperate economic straits, in which the millions of unemployed will leap at any chance to earn cash, even if it means turning themselves over to the mercy of a faceless company.
We have God and we have each other. We have our island community, fragile, and yet a fortress. Sometimes it seems too small and too weak to survive. And like the widow in Christ’s parable, its enemies fear neither God nor man. But also like the widow, it persists. We persist. This is our place, no matter what.
Lauren’s small community is plunged into mourning at the disappearance of her father, one of the most respected members of the community. Lauren bravely preaches at his funeral, speaking the words above.
Despite her brave words, Lauren is also certain that the neighborhood is doomed to fail. She is, in a sense, lying to people, but she does so in service of a greater cause. She knows that they need to stay strong as a community to survive, and she is doing her part to make sure that they do. It is this dedication to her people that will make her into an important leader.
'My mama took drugs, too,' she said. 'Shit, where I was born, everyone's mama took drugs - and whored to pay for them. And had babies all the time, and then threw them away like trash when they died. Most of the babies did die from the drugs or accidents or not having enough to eat or being left alone so much.' [...] She took my hand and held it. 'You ain't got nothing wrong with you, Lauren - nothing worth worrying about. That Paracetco shit was baby milk.'
When Lauren hesitantly informs Harry and Zahra about her sharing abilities, Zahra explains her own background growing up in the slums. The poverty and degradation she endured was horrible, but she pulled through it and now has the skills to survive in this dangerous world.
This quote illustrates the violent and savage nature of some of the communities outside the wall - communities in which Harry, Zahra, and Lauren will have to survive, and in which Lauren will try to plant the positive message of Earthseed. It seems nearly impossible to bring any kind of goodness or happiness to such people, and yet that is exactly what Lauren will try to do. Additionally, Zahra is the first person to tell Lauren that her hyperempathy isn't necessarily a problem - instead, it's yet another random feature of this drug-addicted world.
There's hope in understanding the nature of God - not punishing or jealous, but infinitely malleable. There's comfort in realizing that everyone and everything yields to God. There's power in knowing that God can be focused, diverted, shaped by anyone at all. But there's no power in having strength and brains, and yet waiting for God to fix things for you or take revenge for you. You know that. You knew it when you took your family and got the hell out of your boss's house. God will shape us all every day of our lives. Best to understand that and return the effort: Shape God.
Natividad and Travis have recently joined Lauren's little group, and Lauren is talking to all of them about Earthseed. Travis is particularly interested but also very skeptical, so Lauren uses his own background to explain the religion to him.
The Earthseed belief that it is one's duty to shape God informs Lauren's determination to eke out a way of survival for herself and her friends. Unlike the people of her now-destroyed community, Lauren understands that the nature of the world is change and she prepares herself for it accordingly. Unlike the gangs and violent criminals, she does not do this by harming others. However, neither does Earthseed mean passively rolling over and just accepting whatever comes. Instead, Earthseed advocates an engaged, empowered way of being.
The world is full of painful stories. Sometimes it seems as though there aren't any other kind and yet I found myself thinking how beautiful that glint of water was through the trees.
After Bankole tells Lauren about how his first wife died after she was violently beaten by thugs, Lauren muses about the suffering and beauty in the world.
Lauren has heard no end of painful stories, yet she remains committed to her message and mission of Earthseed, which might be the only thing to bring some hope to the world. While she is aware of this suffering, she also focuses on the beauty of life - she continues to see the beautiful water through the trees, so to speak. She is also beginning to fall in love with Bankole, which informs her state of mind.
Parable of the Sower Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Parable of the Sower is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.