Character Analysis in The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler
Humankind seeks for security, desires stability and longs for predictable future for itself and its descendants. Unfortunately, for many people these desires and hopes are unlikely to ever be fulfilled. The world is full of expeditious and frequently dangerous changes. People can easily become victims of accidents, violence, natural disasters and horrible diseases. The harsh wind of change in economic and social spheres threatens the financial stability of the world. Terrorism and wars endanger the structure of the society and make the certainty people search for even more unreachable. Hence, uncertainty is a way of life.
All these problems of the modern society are perfectly described in the novel The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler. The author demonstrates and criticizes the social crisis and moral degradation of the modern world. She argues that people demolish their lives by ignoring moral and spiritual values. They expand inequality among people and destroy the environment. Butler shows the connection between moral principles, environmental disasters, social degradation and the lack of stability. She states that nowadays the society has already excessively victimized the weakest groups of it, such as the poor, racial minorities and women. Moreover, she reveals that some roots of social injustice lie in the moral and spiritual inequality. In her novel, the author describes the time of the economic collapse of the United States. Butler demonstrates the difference in people’s behavior in the same environment. The goal of this essay is to analyze and deconstruct one character from The Parable of the Sower by using four different lenses, such as humanism, pragmatism, moralism and deism, and argue which lens offers the most accurate reading of that character. For this purpose, the paper will analyze the main character of the story Lauren Olamina and provide definitions of each lens.
The first lens to be applied is humanism. Humanism is a “system of values and beliefs that is based on the idea that people are basically good and that problems can be solved using reason instead of religion” (“Humanism”). In other words, humanism is the basis for morality. The second one is pragmatism. Pragmatism is “a reasonable and logical way of doing things or of thinking about problems that is based on dealing with specific situations instead of on ideas and theories” (“Pragmatism”). It implies an idea that the main thing in life is to survive, no matter what it might take. The third lens is moralism. It is the practice of moralizing, especially showing a tendency to make judgments about others’ morality. It is believed that moral and ethics are the most important components of decision-making. The last lens is deism. It is the belief that God created the universe, but remained indifferent to it since then.
Lauren is an African-American girl. She is well educated and smart. At the beginning of the novel, she is only fifteen years old, but she already has her perception of life and cares for herself. From the humanistic point of view, she is an extraordinary person who physically feels the pain of people next to her. Lauren’s “hyperempathy” in the story symbolizes her sympathy for others, even though sometimes she has to act cruelly. Despite the horrible environment that Lauren lives in, she does not lose her humanity. Unlike many people around her, she does not only focus on her safety and surviving, but wants to help others and build a new community based on humanity.
At the beginning of the story, Lauren learns to shoot. “Because I can shoot a bird or a squirrel doesn’t mean I could shoot a person – a thief” (Butler 4). In this part of the story, the author demonstrates Lauren’s “hyperempathy” and the soft side of her being. Furthermore, Lauren shows sincere love and care for her family when her brother Keith escaped from home. The author states in her book that she hates her brother for what he is doing to the family, especially to their father (Butler 10). As the story goes on, and Lauren’s family is killed, the girl has to face the horrible reality of the life all by herself. She got a gun and shot a man who had attacked her without any hesitation. Even though, from the human perspective, it might characterize her as a violent person, later in the story the girl demonstrates much sympathy and care towards complete strangers. She states that the best way to help her emotional and physical condition is to help others and share their pain and troubles. It is an excellent concept because helping each other to solve problems makes the latter look much less significant.
It does not take much effort to be kind, caring and sympathetic towards others in a nice and peaceful environment. However, it takes much courage and humanity to be able to stay sympathizing and care about others during the troubled time. This quality makes Lauren Olamina an extraordinary person from the humanistic point of view.
Octavia E. Butler in her story The Parable of the Sower describes Lauren as a noble character from the pragmatism perspective. Throughout the story, the girl shows her pragmatic understanding of what it takes to survive. Even at young age, she demonstrates her ability to understand what things are the most important in the people’s struggle for life. She judges her neighbors’ wedding: “She and her sister are busy altering their mother’s old wedding dress, and everyone’s cooking and getting ready for a party as though these were the good old days. How can they?” (Butler 8). She does not understand how people can do something like that during the hard time instead of not focusing on the achievement of their main goal – to survive.
By the same token, she kills people who threaten her life and then takes whatever values they had for the sake of surviving. After leaving her neighborhood, she does not trust anyone she meets, whether it is a woman with a child or a man. She is very careful in choosing people to join her. That is why she does not mind Zahra joining her because the latter knows how to survive in the wilds of the streets. Lauren uses her logic and pragmatic thinking in making decisions. It characterizes her as a pragmatic person.
In spite of the fact that Lauren kills without second thought anybody who threatens her life, she tries to avoid meeting dangerous and suspicious people. As a real leader who sticks firm to her moral principles, she teaches her company to follow them. She says, “We don’t have to hurt anyone unless they push us into it” (Butler 16).
Since her childhood, she has been demonstrating her morals. She prefers having a clear conscious to being rich and dishonest. When one of her neighbors who lived alone died, everybody went to that woman to take whatever was left after thieves, but Lauren and her family only took what they needed. “We didn’t take her furniture or her rugs or her appliances. We aren’t thieves” (Butler 4). Later, when her brother had abandoned the family and joined a gang, she refused to take any money from him. She knew that even though her brother had not robbed anybody, his gang had and the money that he wanted to give her belonged to other people. This decision clearly demonstrates her high moral principles, which are a result of being grown up in the Baptist family. Sometime later, she admits it herself: “I grew up trying to set a good example for my brothers and trying to live up to my father’s expectations” (Butler 15). Throughout the novel, the young girl has never betrayed her moral principles. It represents her from a moralism perspective as a typical moralist.
In the novel The Parable of the Sower, Lauren Olamina might be seen as a perfect example of deism. Even though her father is a minister in a Baptist church, the girl does not share his beliefs because she cannot understand how God can allow people to suffer so much. She cannot adjust what she sees and experience with what she has learned from the Bible. Lauren is looking for the explanation and the truth that would keep her going forward and fight to survive. She does not deny the existence of God, but she does not believe God is involved in people’s lives any longer, which is the main concept of deism. Thus, Lauren creates her own god and calls him “Change”. She characterizes her god as the power that could not be defied by anyone or anything (Butler 18). She states that her god can be shaped according to what people want. For instance, if people suffer, it means that they had shaped their god the way that lets them suffer, but if people prefer to fight for surviving, they had shaped their god differently. She says that the image of her god is everywhere and in everything that surrounds people. It is very similar to the description of God in deism.
Lauren calls her religion “Earthseed” and bases it on love, respect and empathy, which is typical for deism as well as for humanism. Her religion concept lies in people’s responsibility for creating their own moral principles, which have to be founded on sympathy and reasons. Throughout the novel, the more Lauren shares her religion with others, the more it is getting shaped. In the beginning of the story she has not established yet what God means to her, but by the end of it, she is able to teach others about her perception.
Looking at Lauren Olamina from the lenses of different ideologies, it is possible to say that deism offers the most accurate reading of her. This ideology can be called the basis for humanism and moralism. Without deism Lauren would be unlikely to stick to her moral principles and demonstrate much humanity. It is only “Earthseed” that kept her moving forward, and only its concepts helped her to overcome all losses and troubles she had. On the other hand, if her main characteristic was pragmatism, she would be unlikely to remain the same person from the emotional and spiritual perspectives as she was in the beginning of the story. She used a specific name for her religion as a symbol of life on Earth, which can be saved and transformed into a better environment. It was her main goal, not only to survive, but to be able to build a new and better society, which does not match the concept of pragmatism. Since the rules of her religion are very similar to the rules and conceptions of deism, it is evident that among the four ideologies that were analyzed in this work, deism characterizes Lauren Olamina the best.