The first half of the book takes place within Lauren’s gated community, and this immediately brings to light the importance of exclusion. As the United States becomes increasingly brutal and apocalyptic, people are more and more desperate to close themselves off from the violence and destruction taking over the country. Whereas the very rich are able to live safely within highly-securitized communities and can flee dangerous areas via helicopter, middle-class people like Lauren and her family attempt to secure themselves within gated communities. However, it is made clear throughout the book that these attempts are inevitably futile. Part of the reason for this futility is practical; people like Lauren’s family simply do not have the resources to effectively secure and defend themselves from the violence that exists beyond the neighborhood gate.
The other reason why attempts to find safety through exclusion are doomed to failure is because, as Lauren points out in her diary, excluding people from a community breeds violent resentment among the excluded. Simply the fact that Lauren’s neighborhood exists puts the neighborhood in danger. Although the reality is that almost everyone in the gated community is poor and unemployed, the fact that the community is sequestered off from the outside world creates the impression that the people living within it have wealth or resources that they want to safeguard. The violent destruction of Lauren’s neighborhood—and the massacre of its residents—is thus presented as an inevitable (if deeply tragic) event.
The book’s account of how the United States descended into an apocalyptic state also emphasizes the connection between exclusion and destruction. Lauren indicates that the history of racial and socioeconomic inequality in the US led directly to the dystopia of the 2020s, suggesting that excluding groups of people based on their race, gender, and class from mainstream society creates a climate of violence and destruction.
Despite the problems associated with exclusion, however, the book also suggests that exclusion is often necessary—both as an essential (if unreliable) way of staying safe, and as a way of building community. Exclusion and inclusion—rather than cancelling one another out—work together in order to form social units such as Lauren’s family, her neighborhood, and the Earthseed community. Throughout the narrative, Lauren describes the difficulty of navigating the line between exclusion and inclusion in order to form bonds and stay safe. In the neighborhood in which Lauren lives at the beginning of the novel, the residents support one another and share resources, thus helping each other to survive through a structure of mutual dependence.
However, this policy of inclusion and support is flawed by the fact that not everyone in the neighborhood is trustworthy. Lauren admits: “There are other people in the neighborhood whom I don't like. But I don't trust the Payne-Parrishes. The kids seem all right, but the adults. . . . I wouldn't want to have to depend on them. Not even for little things.” Even within the hyper-inclusive environment of her gated community, Lauren maintains a carefully exclusionary attitude in order to keep herself (and the people she does trust) safe. She carries this same attitude forward after the neighborhood is destroyed, using it to decide who to trust on the walk north and who to include in the growing Earthseed community.
Themes of inclusion and exclusion are also explored through Lauren’s hyperempathy, a condition that means she feels other people’s pleasure and pain. As a result, Lauren does not have the same psychological and bodily boundaries that naturally separate people from one another. This forces her to be especially vigilant about who she excludes and includes—both in the sense of building the Earthseed community and in her personal proximity to other people. However, as much as having hyperempathy can be dangerous for Lauren, it is also part of what makes her such a strong and exceptional person. She is (literally) personally implicated in other people’s wellbeing, and is automatically disinclined from violence. For this reason, early in the novel Lauren mentions that she wishes she could live in a community among other people with hyperempathy. This dream in part becomes a reality when the formerly enslaved Emery, Tori, Grayson, and Doe join the Earthseed community, as all four of these characters also have hyperempathy.
Inclusion vs. Exclusion ThemeTracker
Inclusion vs. Exclusion Quotes in Parable of the Sower
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.
The Garfields and the Balters are white, and the rest of us are black. That can be dangerous these days. On the street, people are expected to fear and hate everyone but their own kind, but with all of us armed and watchful, people stared, but they let us alone. Our neighborhood is too small for us to play those kinds of games.
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.
I'm trying to speak––to write––the truth. I'm trying to be clear. I'm not interested in being fancy, or even original. Clarity and truth will be plenty, if I can only achieve them. If it happens that there are other people outside somewhere preaching my truth, I'll join them. Otherwise, I'll adapt where I must, take what opportunities I can find or make, hang on, gather students, and teach.
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?
"We're a pack, the three of us, and all those other people out there aren't in it. If we're a good pack, and we work together, we have a chance. You can be sure we aren't the only pack out here."
"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."
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.