Friday, January 21, 2011

Adaptability & Persistent, Positive Obsession

Octavia Butler’s novel, Parable of the Sower, features Lauren Olamina, a young black girl trying to figure out what she believes despite the world dying around her. Lauren keeps a journal about the daily on goings of her life, and of budding ideas about her own personal philosophy. Lauren starts her journal with some of her thoughts that eventually shape her belief system, Earthseed:

Prodigy is, at its essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession. Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment. Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism. Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all. (1)

This theory is illustrated when Lauren confides in Joanne and through the repercussions that follow Joanne’s betrayal of Lauren’s trust.

When Lauren divulges her worries to Joanne about their current social situation, she exemplifies the sentence “Without persistence, what remains is an enthusiasm of the moment” (1). Lauren first broaches the subject by talking about what is going on in other parts of the country, “And there’s a blizzard freezing the northern midwest, killing even more people. In New York and New Jersey, a measles epidemic is killing people” (54). Joanne does not fully understand how serious these problems are to Lauren and does not find them worth her attention, “She sounded almost bored” (54), most likely because she feels ineffectual, “We can’t do anything about it” (54). Throughout the entire conversation between the two girls, Lauren persists and continues to try and help Joanne comprehend the fragility of their community and their ability to make a difference. Becoming frustrated, Lauren persists and delves into what she really thinks is going to happen to the neighborhood and what she believes the community should be doing about the inevitable invasion, “ I’m trying to learn whatever I can that might help me survive out there” (58). Lauren’s persistence lends to the idea that she represents the concept of prodigy presented in the opening theory of the book. If Lauren did not exhibit such persistence in her theory of Earthseed and preparedness, then all she is left with is a momentary enthusiasm. Lauren could have backed off her idea that the wall was penetrable or the need for emergency packs as soon as she heard Joanne’s skepticism; however, Lauren persevered and kept trying to reach Joanne. Her dedication to her cause became tangible when she offered her father’s book to Joanne as a way to educate herself. In the face of a doubting friend, Lauren remains strong in her belief of Earthseed, continuing her attempts to help Joanne. Her persistence is one of the key components to the positive obsession and prodigy referenced in the opening quote.

The conversation between Lauren and her father following Joanne’s betrayal of Lauren’s trust exhibits another piece of the Earthseed verse, “Without adaptability, what remains may be channeled into destructive fanaticism” (1). When Lauren is first approached by her father for scaring Joanne, she stubbornly maintains her message of survival; she refuses to adapt, “I wouldn’t promise. I couldn’t” (65). Her refusal to adjust her method demonstrates what Earthseed claims will happen without adaptability, destructive fanaticism. Lauren was willing to risk giving her father’s book to Joanne in order to help her begin to understand some of the Earthseed philosophy. She did this with no thought to how the loss of the book would impact her own family. Furthermore, she scared Joanne into not believing, “‘I said I don’t believe you’” (60). If Lauren continued in the direction she started Earthseed, there would have no doubt been a mass panic in the neighborhood, and Earthseed would have had to been abandoned. It becomes clear, however, that Lauren does contain the capacity for adaptation when she starts to consider some of her father’s suggestions. For example, he suggests putting “together a class for older kids and adults” (66) and searching out a teacher for martial arts. Lauren realizes for her message of preparedness, and eventually Earthseed, to take root she must adjust for the audience at hand. In this case, she must find a way to prepare the neighborhood without telling them the world is ending. Lauren adapts her destructive fanaticism into positive obsession that can be used for good.

Lauren’s persistence plays a part in the obsession part of “positive obsession”. She is fixated on the worst case scenario during her conversation with Joanne, “‘We’ll be hit and hit and hit, then the big hit will come. And if we’re not ready for it, it will be like Jericho’” (55). This preoccupation with the destruction of everything she knows does not seem positive until one considers that Lauren’s true goal is to prepare for what could happen in the hopes of a better after. As opposed to those who are living in the past or those who have accepted the finality of their society, Lauren sees the possibility for a good life if they can survive the here and now. Her obsession with planning for the worst to survive for an improved future is the cornerstone of Earthseed. Without the wherewithal to hope for a better tomorrow and the persistence and adaptability to back it up, “there is nothing at all” (1).

1 comment:

  1. As an early aside -the first paragraph doesn't actually have a function here.

    Your verse is interesting, and well worth exploring; the obvious initial fact that Lauren is overwhelmingly characterized by persistence is central to her character. Questions: why is she persistent? What is she persistent in? Are there others who share her persistence?

    I had to read through this a couple times, which probably goes back to the introduction - because you aren't actually setting out a particular goal in the intro, you leave it entirely up to me to figure out where you're going.

    At first, I thought Joann was supposed to serve as a negative model (of the lack of persistence, etc.) in this discussion, which didn't make much sense to me. Eventually I got the point that you understand the verse as being Lauren't critique of Lauren - she is analyzing herself, valuing her persistence, questioning a moment of destructive fanaticism. I like teh argument, and I wonder if other verses might fall into this category of self-critique (that's one way the essay could be expanded). I also wonder if you might be able to say more about the role of Lauren's father in Earthseed -- if Earthseed is all about self-critique, and that's where she learned self-critique from, maybe there's more to be said about his influence on her?

    Short version: I thought the content here was pretty good, and has great potential. The structure was weak, especially the empty introduction which doesn't even articulate an argument, even though you have a good one.