The book displayed a use of literal gangs that are reminiscent of the gang life during the 1990s. Butler is obviously influenced by the rise in gangs in her own environment especially when Lauren talks about the gangs guarding most of the bridges around San Francisco and that they “are there to rob desperate, fleeing people of their weapons, money, food, and water” (246). Butler also seems aware of the general attitudes of gangs, most likely due to the prominence during the 90’s. Most specifically, she is aware of the issue over territories. During the 1990’s “Black gangs along with Latino gangs were no longer confined to the inner city of Los Angeles” (Alonso). As the number of gangs increased so did the breakouts of violence over territory between different gangs. This knowledge influenced Butler when Emery and Tori explained that they had intruded on the camp because the two gangs fighting over the land where they were camping “ shot at each other and called insults and accusations back and forth” (290).
The recklessness of the gangs in the 1990’s was also on the rise, increasing from “18 to 43 percent” (Maceo). Aware of the increase, Butler incorporated the danger to those in such groups and those around it. For example, the dangers were made quite obvious during the many fights that broke out around the Earthseed group as they traveled north. Lauren described the fight that killed Justin’s mother by “one group chasing the other, both firing their guns as though they and their enemies were the only people in the world” (249). Not only does her description show the carelessness with which the groups fight, having no regard for those around them or the repercussions of their actions, but it also demonstrates the dependence of the future society on guns.
Butler featured guns as the best form of protection, often having Lauren wishing for more guns or worrying about the effectiveness of a knife. This points to the rise of firearms being used in gang homicides from 71% in 1979 to 95% in 1994 to be another influence on Butler’s warning about our future selves. Butler obviously has a good grasp on how actual gangs function due to her use of gangs as one of the antagonistic forces of the outside world. She seems to understand that their danger lies within their unpredictability and their capacity to take lives to get what they want.
In the way of realistic correlations between what Butler sees in her real life during the 1990’s, she does an excellent job of showing how the gangs would translate into the future as more hostile and more extreme versions of their current day selves. Butler, however, does not only write that the gang life will become more extreme, but she also displays an evolution of what our current day gangs could become. Such examples are the police force. Butler’s service forces are ones of laziness and money. In moments of intense need people don’t even try to contact authorities because they know that it will hurt them more than help, and probably cost a lot of money. When Keith is murdered, Lauren’s family scrapes up the money to afford a police investigation. In the end, they don’t help at all, but try to accuse Lauren’s father of killing Keith. Lauren admits that the police “never helped when people called for help. They came later, and more often than not, made a bad situation worse” (114). Through this description, Butler is hinting at the similarities between the police and the gangs roaming the cities. The gangs acted as one of the largest oppositions Lauren faced when she was on the road north, making the bad situation of traveling so much worse. When Lauren is living inside the walls she has the police to contend with (a type of societal gang) and outside she has gangs warring over territory to deal with. The most obvious connection between the gangs and the police force is when Lauren is talking about the gangs guarding the bridges, asking for tolls. She also includes the police in the list of people looking for payment to cross the bridge and those who killed the travelers who could not pay. Lauren blatantly says at one point that the police “were no better than gangs with their robbing and slaving” (317). Butler is warning her audience about the possible outcomes for the current system of gangs in society.
Continuing with the growing severity of the groups, the Paints also show Butler’s envisaged evolution of the gangs of today. They exemplify the recklessness and potential impact of such gangs. When the community is burnt down, for example, it is done so by the Paints. High on pyro, they burnt down the community for no reason other to watch it burn. The unpredictability of this group contributes to sheer terror of the group. Lauren does not know what to expect when she attempts to go back to her neighborhood, “Do they hang around after their fun to steal whatever’s left and maybe kill a few more people?” (158). Her question also portrays the haste with which the Paints act, Lauren is not even sure that they will stay to steal and have a cause for burning down her cul-de-sac. The impact the Paints has on the community was also and evident impact on Lauren’s life and many others. The Paints represent the ultimate form of fear because they have no reason for their fires, which means it could happen to anyone.
It is interesting to note who these gangs consist of, or rather, who they do not consist. Lauren, Bankole, and the majority of the Earthseed community are at least somewhat educated, being able to read, write or do both. The gangs are comprised of uneducated, lower socioeconomic status who are frustrated with their place in society. Their frustration finds an outlet in the violence they believe will bring them to their rightful place in society. The police, once highly educated, seem to be anyone who can get their hands on a gun and a badge. The badge, at least in Lauren’s eyes, is nothing other than “a license to steal” (316) rather than a sign of trust and service. The Paints are said at one point to be affluent young adults who were bored and got addicted to pyro, at other times it seems like they are a type of sociopathic Robin Hood, in either case the truth about the Paints never is known. The pattern, at least with the gangs and the police, seems to be lack of education. The Earthseed group represents the ideal, it represents people willing to learn more and change based on what they learn. The gangs, police, and Paints have no desire to learn and instead are obsesses with territory, power, or drugs. Butler seems to be suggesting a return to the basic principle of survival: knowledge.
Butler’s use of the gangs evident in her environment translated into Parable of a Sower through the blatant connections between our common ideas of gang activity and the gangs represented in the novel. Butler ventures to go one step further and shows what the gangs of the 1990’s could evolve in to: the paints and the broken down police system. Her use of gangs is a deliberate critique on the way our society has turned away from seeking knowledge as a basic need of life and has instead focused on power and technology.
Alonso, Alejandro. "Black Street Gangs in Los Angeles: A History." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Jan 2011.
Maceo, Brenda. "Rise in Gang Violence." USC News 10/05/95: n. pag. Web. 28 Jan 2011.