The book is set in a climate of extreme destruction. Struck by environmental and political disaster, the United States has descended into an apocalyptic landscape, which—despite the promises of President Donner—seems largely unsalvageable. This absolute sense of destruction is encapsulated by the fires that rage across the country, which are propelled in part by a new drug most commonly known as “pyro.” The drug leads people to arson and causes them to experience a powerful sense of desire and satisfaction when watching fire burn. Several characters in the novel compare this desire to sexual lust, suggesting that in the doom-laden world of 2020s America people have come to have a visceral appetite for destruction.
At the same time, one of the most important thematic elements of the book is the idea that the seemingly unstoppable destruction is not necessarily absolute or permanent. While one world is certainly ending before the characters’ eyes, others are being created. There are many examples of different ways in which the characters cling to a sense of hope for creation in the midst of destruction. For example, Lauren notes that in her neighborhood there is a strong pressure for young people to marry and have children. Although Lauren herself deliberately avoids this fate, choosing not to marry Curtis and using contraception when she has sex with both him and Bankole, there are other reminders of the ongoing creation of new life, such as the children Lauren helps to teach in her neighborhood or Travis and Natividad’s baby, Dominic. While dystopian science fiction often depicts an end to human reproduction (either by necessity or choice), babies and children remain a central part of the world of the novel.
Where destruction is symbolized by fire, the creation of new life is symbolized by acorns. There are several scenes in which Lauren eats acorn bread, a type of food which her father notes was previously only consumed by Native Americans. Similarly, when the Earthseed community hosts the mass funeral at the end of the book, Lauren comes up with the idea that each person should plant an acorn, which will grow into “live oak trees [dedicated] to our dead.” Indeed, planting an acorn—a symbol of new life—in honor of the dead highlights the significance of rebirth. Of course, the notion of planting the seed of new life is also at play in the book’s title and the name “Earthseed.” The Biblical Parable of the Sower—which is quoted at the end of the novel—emphasizes the importance of planting seeds in “good ground,” as this is the only way to ensure that new life will spring forth from them.
The Parable of the Sower is thus directly related to Lauren’s plan of founding “Earthseed Communities” that will eventually grow into a new population of people who “take root among the stars.” Although it may appear that there is very little “good ground” left in which to plant the seeds of a new community, on a metaphorical level the group of people who become the first Earthseed congregation are the equivalent of this fertile earth. On the walk north, Lauren carefully chooses people she can trust and who appreciate Earthseed’s message. It is also significant that when the community decide to stop walking and settle, it is to begin a farm—another connection to the practice of sowing seeds, and thus to the themes of creation and rebirth amidst destruction.
Creation, Destruction, and Rebirth ThemeTracker
Creation, Destruction, and Rebirth Quotes in Parable of the Sower
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
To the adults, going outside to a real church was like stepping back into the good old days when there were churches all over the place and too many lights and gasoline was for fueling cars and trucks instead of for torching things. They never miss a chance to relive the good old days or to tell kids how great it's going to be when the country gets back on its feet and good times come back.
To us kids––most of us––the trip was just an adventure, an excuse to go outside the wall. We would be baptized out of duty or as a kind of insurance, but most of us aren't that much concerned with religion. I am, but then I have a different religion.
"You don't know that! You can't read the future. No one can."
"You can," I said, "if you want to. It's scary but once you get past the fear, it's easy.”
Well, today, I found the name, found it while I was weeding the back garden and thinking about the way plants seed themselves, windborne, animalborne, waterborne, far from their parent plants. They have no ability at all to travel great distances under their own power, and yet, they do travel. Even they don't have to just sit in one place and wait to be wiped out. There are islands thousands of miles from anywhere––the Hawaiian Islands, for example, and Easter Island––where plants seeded themselves and grew long before any humans arrived.
I am Earthseed. Anyone can be. Someday, I think there will be a lot of us. And I think we'll have to seed ourselves farther and farther from this dying place.
There was another robbery last night––or an attempted robbery. I wish that was all. No garden theft this time. Three guys came over the wall and crowbarred their way into the Cruz house. The Cruz family, of course, has loud burglar alarms, barred windows, and security gates at all the doors just like the rest of us, but that doesn't seem to matter. When people want to come in, they come in.
Maybe Olivar is the future––one face of it. Cities controlled by big 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. That's the way it is.
In order to rise
From its own ashes
I have to write. There's nothing familiar left to me but the writing. God is Change. I hate God. I have to write.
Some kind of insane burn-the-rich movement, Keith had said. We've never been rich, but to the desperate, we looked rich. We were surviving and we had our wall. Did our community die so that addicts could make a help-the-poor political statement?
"I wasn't crying about that fire. I was crying about our fire and my Bibi and
thinking about how much I hate people who set fires like that. I wish they would burn. I wish I could burn them. I wish I could just take them and throw them in the fire… like they did my Bibi."
"Change does scare most people."
"I know. God is frightening. Best to learn to cope."
"Your stuff isn't very comforting."
"It is after a while. I'm still growing into it myself. God isn’t good or evil, doesn't favor you or hate you, and yet God is better partnered than fought."
"Your God doesn't care about you at all," Travis said.
"All the more reason to care about myself and others. All the more reason to create Earthseed communities and shape God together. 'God is Trickster, Teacher, Chaos, Clay.' We decide which aspect we embrace—and how to deal with the others."
“Now is a time for building foundations––Earthseed communities––focused on the Destiny. After all, my heaven really exists, and you don't have to die to reach it. ‘The Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars,’ or among the ashes.” I nodded toward the burned area.
God is neither good
God is Power.
God is Change.
We must find the rest of what we need
in one another,
in our Destiny.
So today we remembered the friends and the family members we've lost. We spoke our individual memories and quoted Bible passages, Earthseed verses, and bits of songs and poems that were favorites of the living or the dead.
Then we buried our dead and we planted oak trees.
Afterward, we sat together and talked and ate a meal and decided to call this place Acorn.
A sower went out to sow his seed:
and as he sowed, some fell by the
way side; and it was trodden down,
and the fowls of the air devoured
it. And some fell upon a rock; and
as soon as it was sprung up, it
withered away because it lacked
moisture. And some fell among
thorns; and the thorns sprang up
with it, and choked it. And others
fell on good ground, and sprang up,
and bore fruit an hundredfold.