History will tell that the United States of America faced a crippling Crack epidemic from 1985-1990: “The Crack epidemic hit the United States full force, resulting in escalating violence among rival groups and crack users in many U.S. cities. By 1989, the Crack epidemic was still raging and drug abuse was considered the most important issue facing the nation” (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency). During this era Crack-related crime was all too frequent; according to the, U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, “The Crack trade had created a violent sub-world, and crack-related murders in many large cities were skyrocketing…On a daily basis, the evening news reported the violence of drive by shootings and Crack users trying to obtain money for their next hit” (U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency). In Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler metaphorically illustrates the negative impact that Crack had on the United States; Butler illustrates the lack of control that authorities put around the epidemic and shows how the epidemic highlighted economic division.
Though the setting of Parable of the Sower took place several years into the future, it appears to be reminiscent of the infamous crack epidemic of the 1980s and early 90s. In the novel Crack addicts are represented by poor, scavenging “Pyro” addicts. In regards to the Crack epidemic, several economists “suggest that Crack Cocaine was the most prominent factor contributing to the rise and fall of social ills in the African-American and Latino communities…distribution of the drug occurred mainly in low-income inner city neighborhoods” (Wikipedia). In my opinion, Butler illustrates this decline in the African-American and Latino communities by showing how Robledo, a prominently African-American and Latino community, was destroyed by “Pyromaniacs”.
Although the vast majority of Crack users were of low economic status—just as Butler portrays Pyro users to be of low economic status—citizens of higher economic status were negatively affected by Crack-related crimes such as robbery and homicide. Butler shows how the crack epidemic contributed to social division and tension among poor and wealthier citizens: “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?” (Butler, 163). Additionally, Butler illustrates economical divide as the rich community had the most protection from drug-related crime: “…although perhaps with their [the rich] big guns, private armies of security guards, and up to date security equipment, they’re better able to fight back. Maybe that’s why we’re getting so much attention. We have a few stealables and we’re not that well protected” (Butler, 117). To an extent, this illustrates how the less wealthy communities were more adversely impacted by the Crack epidemic than more wealthy communities.
Through the metaphorical use of “Pyromanics”, Butler does an amazing job of portraying the real life addictiveness of crack and the sociopathic behavior of crack addicts. She portrays the typical “Pyromaniac” as a desperate addict whose sole concern is just to get high on fire: “Sometimes the paints like the fire so much they get too close to it. Then their friends don’t even help him. They just watch them burn. It’s like…I don’t know, it’s like they were fucking the fire, and like it was the best fuck they ever had” (Butler, 111).
Octavia Butler seems to critique the lack of control that authority figures had over the Crack epidemic by showing the lack of control and concern that authorities had over “Pyro”-related crime. Throughout the novel the police and firefighters were either unresponsive or extremely slow when responding to emergencies: “There were no unburned houses back in the neighborhood, although some were burned worse than others. I don’t know whether police or firefighters ever came. If they had come, they were gone when I got there. The neighborhood was wide open and crawling with scavengers.” (Butler, 158). This may be textual evidence which demonstrates Butler’s criticism of the lack of authority or governmental control over the crippling Crack epidemic.
Although Robledo was a middle class community where there were probably no “Pyro” users, it was still destroyed by the “Pyro epidemic”. I believe that Butler was attempting to illustrate the effects that the Crack epidemic could have potentially had on the United States as a whole, that despite the fact that the epidemic had began in low-income neighborhoods its damaging effects would trickle up and adversely impact the entire nation. Butler metaphorically demonstrates that financial status, in the form of a gated community, would fail to protect from the Crack epidemic; the following passage expresses this idea: “We found the cold remains of a fire with a human femur and two human skulls lying among the ashes. At last, we came home and wrapped our community wall around us and huddled in our illusions of security” (Butler, 133).