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Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Octavia E. Butler

Octavia E. Butler was an only child. Her mother was a maid and her father was a shoeshine man who died when Butler was seven. Her family were devout Baptists, and were very poor. Butler showed an early interest in science fiction and began writing in childhood. She attended Pasadena City College at night, graduating with an associate of arts degree in History. She later enrolled in writing classes at Cal State LA, UCLA extension school, and the Clarion Science Fiction Writers Workshop. In 1984, Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds” won the Hugo Short Story Award, and the following year her collection of short stories, Bloodchild, won the Nebula and Hugo Awards as well as other prizes. In 1995, Butler won a MacArthur Fellowship. Many of Butler’s novels—including The Parable of the Sower, its sequel The Parable of the Talents, and the neo-slave narrative Kindred—are considered to be among the most important works of 20th century American literature. Despite this, Butler spent most of her life in poverty and was forced to work several jobs in order to survive, waking up to write in the middle of the night. She also suffered from depression. She died suddenly from a fall at only 58; it is not clear whether the cause of her death was a stroke, whether she died as a result of head injuries from the fall, or whether it was a combination of both.
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Historical Context of Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower is set between the years 2025-27, and thus the world events that occur in the novel range from the historically accurate to the speculative. One of the most important historical events in the novel is the system of chattel slavery that existed in America between the 17th-19th centuries. Lauren makes many references to slavery throughout the novel, noting that several elements of society in the antebellum era (such as anti-literacy rules) have returned in the 21st century United States. The book also highlights the fact that even after the formal abolition of slavery in the United States in 1863, various forms of legalized or unofficial slavery continued to be in operation. For example, Bankole mentions the fact that debt slavery—which is widespread at the time the narrative is set—also existed in the 1990s (when Butler was writing the novel). One of the most fascinating things about reading The Parable of the Sower in the present is the extraordinary extent to which Butler predicted many of the issues afflicting the contemporary United States. In the novel, the US is struck by extreme weather events induced by climate change, as well as corresponding outbreaks of disease. And in The Parable of the Talents, a new presidential candidate, Andrew Steele Jarret, sparks a violent movement centering around his promise to “Make America great again.”

Other Books Related to Parable of the Sower

The Parable of the Sower is one of many science fiction novels that explores the possibility of what life would be like in an apocalyptic landscape. One of the most similar texts to Parable is Nalo Hopkinson’s Brown Girl in the Ring, which—like Butler’s novel—tells the story of a young black girl living in a dangerous, barren landscape, and who possesses a powerful religious intuition. Other science fiction texts that explore life in an apocalyptic environment include Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren, Walter Mosley’s Futureland, and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death. Marge Piercy’s He, She and It depicts a future in which corrupt corporations have taken over cities; it is plausible that this novel could be among the old science fiction books that Lauren discusses when she learns about the KSF takeover of Olivar.
Key Facts about Parable of the Sower
  • Full Title: The Parable of the Sower
  • When Written: 1989-1993
  • Where Written: California, USA
  • When Published: 1993
  • Literary Period: 20th century American Fiction
  • Genre: Apocalyptic Science Fiction
  • Setting: Robeldo, a fictional city in California; various locations along the coast of California; Mendocino, California
  • Climax: When Lauren’s neighborhood is set on fire and its residents massacred; the mass funeral at the end of the novel
  • Antagonist: To some extent, the many different violent groups of people who repeatedly attack Lauren and her group—in particular pyro addicts—are the antagonists of the novel
  • Point of View: Lauren Olamina (writing in her diary)

Extra Credit for Parable of the Sower

Unfinished business. The Parable of the Sower was supposed to be the first book in a trilogy. However, after publishing the second book in the series, The Parable of the Talents, Butler found the research for the final one so demoralizing that she abandoned the project altogether.

Lone wolf. Butler was extremely shy as a child, and as an adult described herself as “solitary” and “a hermit.”