Hope in Darkness

At first glance, calling Octavia Butler’s seminal 1993 novel Parable of the Sower “hopeful” might seem counterintuitive. The world Butler (1947-2006) describes is truly horrible in its complete societal dysfunction. Environmental disasters have combined with political unrest and rampant capitalist greed to create a United States in the early 2020s that is rapidly becoming a failed state - wracked by poverty, crime, and corruption. Food and water are ever scarcer and more expensive. Unemployment is rampant. Police and fire services must be paid for to be at all effective. A right-wing President has been elected promising a return to former American greatness. The book’s protagonist, teenager and preacher’s daughter Lauren Oya Olamina, lives with her family outside Los Angeles in the remains of a gated community, constantly under siege from thieves and outlaws. Lauren is a hyperempath, who feels physically and emotionally to her core the pain of others.

Parable of the sower

Lauren’s experiences and her empathy for the pain of others lead her to develop the religion of Earthseed, a faith based in the idea that “God is Change”. According to the tenets of Earthseed, humans are constantly adapting and, like seeds, can and must be planted in many places in order to grow and thrive and achieve their true nature. Followers of Earthseed recognize that they have the ability to consciously change themselves: humans shape God and the world, rather than the other way around. It is a faith of intense hope for a renewal of humanity, and as with many faiths, Earthseed thrives in the most terrible of moments. Butler’s book is a classic example of our ability to find light in darkness, optimism in despair, and continuation in catastrophe.