Friday, February 18, 2011

Parables Abound

Holy books, such as the Bible, the Qur’an, or the Torah, are often the main way of conveying a religion’s ideology. They do so in similar ways that can be considered characteristic of holy books. These characteristics are helpful in classifying books, such as Parable of the Sower, as holy books, or compilations that function as a guide to living one’s life. Parable of the Sower’s main function is to act as the holy book for Earthseed.

One of the main methods of guiding Parable of the Sower employs is through the use of parables. Each section of Lauren’s diary serves as a small parable, usually teaching a lesson or making a point about how change is exponential and reciprocal. For example, Lauren and the rest of Earthseed decide to help two strangers out of a heap of ruble after the earthquake with full knowledge that it makes their entire group a target, “Before the attack began, I knew it would happen” (234). This simple act speaks to the magnitude of the effect of change, Earthseed’s main ideology. The group changes their course and decides to help Jill and Allie which changes their lives saving them, which in turn changes the Earthseed group by causing them to be attacked in their weakened state. Lauren seems to be aware that their effect on the sisters’ lives was the main cause of their attack by connecting the two thoughts rather than seeing them independent of each other, “Helping the two trapped women had made us targets” (234). This short story exemplifies the idea that change is paramount to Earthseed. It shows that everything we affect, also affects everything around. The Bible, with focus on the New Testament, also uses parables to demonstrate important lessons central to the concept of Christianity. For example, in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13, the story of the prodigal son acts as a message of redemption. After receiving money from his father, the younger son left his home to a different city and eventually squanders away his money. He realizes he is unfit to ask his father’s forgiveness, but sets off to ask to work for his father. Upon sight the father rejoices in his return which angers the older brother who had been a dutiful son in his brother’s absence. The father explains that they must rejoice that the younger son is home again, “It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found” (Luke 15:32). This parable shows one of the corner stones of Christianity, the continuous opportunity for redemption. The Torah, like the Bible and Parable of the Sower, also uses parables to represent the core piece of their belief system. The Book of Ruth advocates proper duty through Boaz properly following Levirate Law, even with no apparent benefit to him because he allows for Elimelech’s name to remain associated with the inheritance. One of the main messages of this parable becomes clear with the genealogy of David. Instead of Elimelech’s name being part of his ancestry as the Law stated should be so, Boaz is recognized as David’s predecessor. Here, the idea of duty is reinforced by the recognition of Boaz’s sacrifice of land to be gained, thus making clear the message of the importance of responsibility and loyalty. The messages the prominent holy books convey through their parables are central to their doctrines in the same way that the lessons of the stories in Parable of a Sower express fundamental beliefs of Earthseed.

Such beliefs are further solidified in the novel through the verses weaved throughout the prose portions of the text. This is yet another feature of a prominent holy book, the Qur’an. The Qur’an is composed of around 6236 ayat, or verses, which are arranged into 114 surah, or chapters. The verses convey messages of the Islam religion. For example, the verse “So patiently persevere: for verily the promise of Allah is true; nor let those shake they firmness who have themselves no certainty of faith” (al-Qur’an 30:60) deliberately instructs on the importance of persistence and certainty according to Islam. Not only does the novel also make use of verse but it also echoes the attitude of the Qur’an, “Prodigy is, at its essence, adaptability and persistent, positive obsession …Without positive obsession, there is nothing at all” (1). The true sentiment of these statements can be shown through the scene where Lauren divulges her worries to Joanne about their current social situation. Throughout the entire conversation between the two girls, Lauren persists and continues to try and help Joanne comprehend the fragility of their community and society, “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). Here, Lauren exemplifies the persistence that is necessary for upholding one’s beliefs according the Earthseed and Islam. As such, she is characterized as a prodigy, or an exemplary pupil of Earthseed, and her actions become instructive. The verse allows the reader to make the connection between the abstract thought and the instructions that are hidden within it. The difference in the straightforwardness of the verses between the Qur’an and Parable of the Sower is a minor detail when compared to the similarities between the emphasis put on the actual messages of the verses. Parable of the Sower also uses verses to convey observations about Earthseed, “There is no end / To what a living world / Will demand of you” (137). This verse speaks to Lauren’s father’s funeral and the burning of the Payne-Parrish house. This illustrates one of the main reasons for Earthseed’s existence. The world outside of Earthseed will serve up misfortune after misfortune (like the disappearance of Reverent Olamina, the fire, and the subsequent robberies) and Earthseed is somewhere to find solace. The Bible also features verses that act as an observation of Christianity existence, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). This verse delves into the necessity for the existence of Christianity in a similar way that the Earthseed verse does by pointing out its own necessity. By describing the life without Christianity this verse paints a picture of absolute death, due to original sin, with no chance of the afterlife Christianity promises. By showing the existence those without Christianity will have reinforces the Christian belief system the same way that Lauren uses her difficulties before Earthseed to reinforce the strength she feels through her belief in change. The verses in these holy books act as a way to state a core ideal of their individual belief system that is parallel to the way Parable of the Sower employs its verses.

There are numerous parallels between Parable of the Sower and many prominent holy books, such as the use of parables to teach core lessons and the use of verses to convey important ideologies and even contemplate the importance of the existence of the belief system. These parallels between Parable of the Sower and central holy books solidifies the idea that Parable of the Sower is an attempt at a holy book for Earthseed.


Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower
King James Bible


  1. Sorry, forgot the link for the original essay!

  2. This essay was constructed very soundly, your argument was thoughtful and the connections to not just one, but several holy books made connecting to your idea easier. The beginning of the second paragraph, where you are explaining the short story from the Parable, could use a little more revision I think. The way you have those couple sentences worded is a little bit confusing. All in all I think this is a great revision.

  3. "Holy books, such as the Bible, the Qur’an, or the Torah, are often the main way of conveying a religion’s ideology." Or, alternatively, they are where the religions constitute their ideology, or one source for it.

    "Parable of the Sower’s main function is to act as the holy book for Earthseed." This is a reasonable claim, although ideally I'd like for that to lead to some additional, further conclusion.

    Now, I'll make some comments about everything else that follows from this moment. Your readings of Butler are able, but perhaps too brief. The analysis of Lauren as prodigy is good; the analysis of the encounter with the two sisters (which seems thoroughly biblical in its inspiration), while cut short, shows tremendous promise.

    While your discussions of Luke, of Ruth, and of the Qu'ran (less so than the first two) are quite able, you are at least in danger of losing the forest for the trees. I think these points of comparison to existing religions are accurate, and worthwhile at least to an extent - but rather than elaborating so much on the role of parables in existing religions, I would have rather first seen a more detailed analysis of the role of parables in *Parable*.