Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Earthseed and Change

Lauren’s verse throughout the novel displays her religious evolution as she continues learning and growing. Chapter 12 begin’s with the verse,
We are Earthseed
The life that perceives itself
Changing. (126)
Like many of Lauren’s verse, this one includes “change.” The idea of change guides her through her entries. Following the verse are entries discussing Joanne Garfield’s acceptance to Oliver and Reverend Olamina’s disappearance. These entries represent great change, not only for Lauren, but also for the community. It is the first time in the novel that the community cannot deny the changes that are occurring around them. Although they accepted the break-ins earlier and tried to adapt within the community, it is with the first loss of an entire family and then the town preacher — arguably the most important person to the community’s unity — that they must acknowledge the impending destruction they may fall victim to (even within the walls).

Lauren constantly fights denial. With the death of her father, when her ability to reason is challenged, she still fights it. Following the unsuccessful search for him, she preaches a sermon that centers both on the “on-going search,” but also the persistence of a widow. “I’m no good at denial and self-deception. That was Dad’s funeral that I was preaching—his and the community’s” (136). Lauren contradicts herself by sustaining the bit of hope that Reverend Olamina may be alive, yet she knows she must suppress it. And she presents herself as the leader of her community, stepping forward to give them an idea of hope, that they will survive the destruction if they persist. But she does not herself believe this to be true; she believes that the only hope lies in leaving California. She lies to do the duty her father taught her, to teach and guide rather than scare. Although Lauren is young, she is quick to jump into her father’s footsteps and offer her voice to the community — a community that she believes will soon fall apart.

Lauren’s religion is defeating her desire to lead the community. She cannot teach a people that won’t accept her teachings. Joanne’s reaction of fear and shock when Lauren tried to tell her about preparing for survival taught Lauren that she cannot trust her neighbors to understand her viewpoints, that they would rather remain within the walls hoping for the worsening conditions to end — but Lauren knows they won’t. Signs that the walls of the fortress are slowly breaking down have already begun, and although the community adapts (they create a watch system), they still do not completely understand that the worsening conditions mean for the community.

But with the news that the Garfield’s are leaving the neighborhood behind, the community as a whole is soon to experience a great loss. The Garfield’s departure is significant because it is not a change to the community that was forced upon the family; they choose to leave; they acknowledge the powerlessness of the community and leave it for one they believe will be stronger. They draw the concept of the danger directly in the community; if families are beginning to leave then the danger seems more real because if the other families in the neighborhood acknowledge and credit the reasons for their departure, they must face the truth that they cannot face the danger. However, it not only makes the danger feel real, but also weakens the community because they have less allies, less watchmen, defenders.

And after the news of the loss, the community — aware of looming violence — is harshly confronted with the loss of their reverend, their guide. The violence destroys their most important figure of hope and survival. This is the strongest way that they could perceive the effects of the world outside upon their lives. It signifies the approach of great change, and it is up to them where that change will drive them. Lauren knows that she will not accept the changes that would draw the outside violence any farther into her home. Her religion is her backbone, and she must find a way to make adapt God, change. Her plans to leave the town and travel on her own towards a free land resemble that of a traveling messiah who leaves home to search for land where his beliefs stand a chance of growing despite the risks it poses to him. Her belief in change and its possibility is all that keeps her from giving up and allowing the world to knock down the walls of the tiny fortress and trample her with the community.


  1. There are several things to like here. First, I like the clarity of your views about Lauren't religious leadership; you clearly understand a religious leader as a kind of leader (species = leader, subspecies = religious), which is very fitting with Lauren't understanding of the world and herself. Second, I very much like your interest in Lauren's lies, both the community and to herself: this is a sharp insight into the text, which is actually intensely relevant to the second novel.

    While I was very interested in your understanding of the Garfields as agents of change, if this was important to you I would have liked some analysis/discussion of Lauren's fears regarding their future: Lauren and Harry both understand Olivar as a community of slaves. Now, "change" and "slavery" are not mutually exclusive - but I think your insight into the Garfields as agents of change could have been developed through Lauren't moral/spiritual critique of Olivar. Maybe it's change - but are they shaping it?

    I thought the end of the essay, while by no means terrible, was unfocused - it begins to seem that your overall argument could be clearer.

    Possible points of focus: lying and change, and the role of lying in her religion / religion in general / her leadership, etc.; the Garfields as a way of exploring the difference between change and the shaping thereof.

  2. Leah: Overall I really liked the content of your essay. However during some paragraphs I was unsure of what exactly you were trying to get out. I was not sure whether the overall opinion to be stated here was about Lauren changing and growing or not at some points, or if you meant to say this for multiple characters. In the beginning I felt like your focus was on Lauren and her Earthseed book; you were committed to Lauren’s changing. As I read on you seemed to gravitate towards other characters in the book, and at times these were unclear. For example, the fourth paragraph (about the Garfields leaving) confused me. I feel like you start off talking about change but then move on to danger by the end of the paragraph. I really like all the content you have in this fourth paragraph, but to me the flow was a bit off. I think that the idea of exploring change in multiple characters and not just Lauren is a good one, but maybe set up the beginning of your essay to make that more clear. Perhaps my favorite part of your essay was the comparison of Lauren to a messiah. I never thought of the plot in this way, and the analogy was great. The second paragraph was powerful to me. Comparing Lauren’s strengths on the outside and doubt on the inside as well as her lies was I think the strongest aspect of your essay and I enjoyed your fresh ideas there.

  3. Leah,
    I think your verse choice was a good one because it really encompassed the whole ideal of Earthseed. The second paragraph was good and proposed an interesting idea that I hadn’t thought of before. The transition between the second and third paragraphs was a little confusing because you were talking about after her father disappeared and then jumped to when her father was alive. If Lauren didn’t fill her father’s shoes until after he disappeared, wouldn’t it make sense that the community not take her seriously? It might be helpful to include an example with a textual reference from after her father’s funeral when the community wasn’t really paying attention to Lauren’s Earthseed theology. The paragraph about the Garfields made a good point, but I wish it had been applied to Lauren’s “religious evolution” so it could be a stronger argument for Lauren’s change and growth throughout the novel. The last paragraph brought in a comparison to a messiah that hadn’t been addressed anywhere else in the paper so that threw me off a little bit. I also think your last sentence was an interesting choice. I saw her belief in change not as a way of saving her community, but as a way of surviving once the walls fell (which she saw as inevitable) and as a way of changing herself and others in the hopes of rebuilding a better world.
    On a grammatical note, the quote in the second paragraph should be integrated into another sentence so it doesn’t stand alone. Also, the third sentence in the third paragraph could be split up into two different sentences for clarity. I also found starting the last two paragraphs with conjunctions made it seem like you didn’t finish your thoughts in the previous paragraph.
    Overall, I think it was a good paper! I think if you added some more quotes and applied some of your claims to Lauren’s growth as a religious leader you’d be in good shape.