The novel consists of a series of diary entries by Lauren, and thus the entire narrative is mediated by the act of writing. Although her diary entries are highly detailed and seemingly comprehensive, Lauren draws attention to the gaps and biases within them. For example, the entry for Wednesday 26th August 2026 is only one line long: “Today, my parents had to go downtown to identify the body of my brother Keith,” and in the next entry four days later Lauren admits: “I haven’t been able to write a word since Wednesday.” Sentences like these remind the reader that although Lauren makes an effort to accurately capture the world around her, her writing will never provide a truly objective picture.
One of the most important thematic questions in the narrative concerns the extent of the power of writing, books, and scripture, particularly in the context of a chaotic, brutal environment. What is the place of the written word in a world where most people must focus all their energy on surviving each day? Can writing and literature have any impact on such a world? For Lauren, the act of writing helps her to make sense of the world around her. After Keith dies, she writes: “I don't want to write about this. But I need to. Sometimes writing about a thing makes it easier to understand.”
Reading literature also helps Lauren and other characters navigate their way through the horrifying and often bizarre reality in which they live. Lauren notes that her grandmother left a bookcase of science fiction novels when she died, explaining that these novels help her to understand certain aspects of 2020s America, such as the “company-city.” Of course, this passage contains a clever twist, as The Parable of the Sower is itself a science fiction novel which in reality was written during the time Lauren’s grandmother is supposed to have lived. Through meta-fictional gestures and references to real works of literature, Butler blurs the line between fiction and reality. The world in which Lauren lives was considered to be the stuff of fantasy by the generations preceding her, and this acts as a warning that the real world could in turn come to resemble the dystopia depicted in the novel.
Scripture also plays an important role in the novel, and is particularly relevant to the question of the power of the written word. Although Lauren has renounced Christian belief, Biblical passages feature prominently in her thoughts, conversations, and diary entries. The most obvious example of this is Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, which appears in both the title of the novel and on the last page. There are many other Biblical references scattered throughout the narrative, suggesting that even as Christianity becomes less and less relevant to the characters’ lives, the Bible continues to play an important role in how they understand themselves and the world around them. In this sense, the Bible appears as a cultural object as much as a religious one, and Biblical references help illustrate the way the dystopia of 2020s America came to exist.
Even more important than Biblical passages, however, are the Earthseed scriptures which Lauren composes herself and eventually decides to call Earthseed: The Book of the Living. The fact that Lauren scatters passages from the Book of the Living throughout her diary entries gives this book a sense of authority, despite the fact that Lauren wrote it herself. Just as people quote Biblical passages in other pieces of writing, so does Lauren quote her own words as a kind of counterpoint to her diary entries.
At the same time, Earthseed scripture also differs significantly from the Bible and sacred texts of other religions. Whereas sacred texts tend to prominently feature stories, Earthseed scripture has no narrative elements. It is written in the style of poetry and is straightforward in both its informational and instructive aspects. Another distinction between the Book of the Living and mainstream religious texts is that Earthseed scripture is notably abstract. While this at times makes it seem vague and confusing, it also means that Earthseed scripture can be considered “literally true” in a way that is not possible for other religious texts. In this sense, the novel suggests that there is a kind of higher truth to poetry and literature that is not the case for other forms of communication. Writing, books, and scripture help people to access the truth not through their comprehensiveness or detail, but rather through an abstract and poetic form of honesty.
Writing, Books, and Scripture ThemeTracker
Writing, Books, and Scripture Quotes in Parable of the Sower
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
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.
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.
In order to rise
From its own ashes
"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.