The Parable of the Sower tells the tale of a tremendous devastating breakdown on the once upheld social morals and political stability. This book depicts a picture of a failed nation where the societal virtues have been eroded away by a plethora of vices catalyzed by economical downfall and political instability. The poor living miserably in the streets get to feel the pinch of poverty whereas the well-off citizens lived comfortably behind the Southern California walls. The year 2025 also marks a time where a woman named Lauren made a life-changing decision of putting her best feet forward so as to lead the rest of the hapless citizens into a better and safer environment. Lauren is an extraordinary woman who has the unique capability of feeling the pain of a world that has become doubly dehumanized. Octavia Butler describes the long and arduous journey of a group of citizens who were in search for greener pastures. Moreover, the book describes the arduous task that Lauren had as a female leader who courageously led her people to migrate from California to the north which is along the dangerous coastal highways.
The Parable of the Sower depicts a scenario of the postmodern world where tradition ought to have been out-casted by modernization. Amid an array of developments, gender equality is yet to be realized. Women are still viewed as inferior beings whereas the men are regarded as being more superior. The feminist depiction of a female lead clearly portrays a modern world that is ironically characterized by gender inequality.
Feminist depiction of Lauren as a female leader
Lauren Olamina is an 18-year-old black woman with a sparked desire to assist her fellow citizens to evade injustice malpractices and harsh inhumane living standards (Butler 1). Lauren’s motive had been evoked by pain and sufferings that were being experienced by a section of California’s residents who lived in poverty-ridden regions. The daunting situation culminated into a chaotic and dystopia society where law and order were ignored by the poor citizens who were willing to do anything so as to survive in an environment where the rich hid behind the walls whereas the poor resided on the streets. The scarce resources served as the main reason for the failed state where the poor yearned but could not get a share of the insufficient resources. Aside from this, the anarchy style of political leadership frustrated a vast majority of the Californian citizens who felt that they were being dictated upon and deprived of their rights and freedom. Lauren felt the same pain that was being felt by the poor Californian citizens (Lacey 380). For that, Lauren was described as a ‘sharer’ as she suffered from an uncommon delusional condition termed as hyperempathy. It is with this profound reason that Lauren felt the need to alleviate herself and her fellow citizens from the pain emanating from inhumane treatment resulting from harsh economic, political, and social occurrences. Lauren’s efforts to deliver her fellow citizens from the jaws of countless injustices were never a piece of cake. Lauren’s quest to instill societal change was not short of dubious challenges. In a postmodern society where gender equality ought to have been embraced long ago, Lauren still faced the same kind of discrimination that existed during the ancient times. In a bid to fulfill her quest, Lauren had to conform and adapt some male behavioral traits with the key intent of effectively providing leadership to her fellow citizens.
According to the Butler, the male gender had an upper hand as they were considered to be endowed with the best leadership qualities. Men were regarded as being more superior that the females who were obligated specific roles to perform in the society. It was thereby a daring situation for Lauren to take the role of a leader. Even though it was crystal clear that Lauren had honest intentions of rescuing her fellow citizens from undeniably undesirable living conditions, she had to live a lie and neglect her feminine character. As a hyperempath, Lauren took it upon herself to implement change in a society scarred by lawlessness depicted in form of drug abuse, rape, and murder (Gale 10). In a world where gender inequality would be easily assumed as a problem of the past, this issue was still prominent within the society. In a society that supported hypermasculinity, Lauren had to forego most of her feminine traits so as to survive and fulfill her motive of not only providing leadership guidelines but also earning respect from her community. Lauren had to learn how to protect herself not as a woman but as an obligation to the few citizens she was mandated to protect. Even though the role of providing protection had always been designated to the women, Lauren was a woman of a kind as she learned and honed her skills of defense. Lauren had to adopt a masculine character by changing her communication style among other different masculine traits. For instance, Lauren had found herself being more superior to Grayson Mora who did not know how to shoot. This is depicted in the following conversation between Lauren and Grayson;
“Can you shoot?” asked Lauren.
He hesitated. “Never shot before,” he admitted, dropping his voice to a mumble.
Again I’d shamed him– this time without meaning to. “When we teach you to shoot, will you to protect the group?”
“Yeah!” Though at that moment, I think he would have preferred to shoot me.
“It hurts like hell,” I warned. He shrugged. “Most things do (Butler 342).
Aside from Lauren assimilating her behavior to that of a male leader, the author has used her delusion condition as her weakness. Even though hyperempathy is a common disorder that is indiscriminative of gender, the author regards this as a feminine kind of condition. Although a hyperempath person is simply described as one who is filled with empathy, the author regards this as a sign of weakness. The Parable of the Sower describes Lauren as a leader who yearns for a great transformation in the society. In spite of her tremendous efforts to change her society, her leadership skills are not top notch as the author views hyperempathy as a limitation rather than an advantage. Lauren’s father disregards Lauren’s condition as he regards it as weakness which Lauren may simply overcome. This is depicted in the following conversation; ‘You can beat this thing. You don’t have to give into it.” said Lauren’s father (Butler 9). Lauren’s father disregards the stereotypic fact that women are more emotional in comparison to the men who are ashamed to display what they feel. Even though the society ought to view this condition as normal, hyperempathy has been regarded as an undesirable trait (Crow 133). In spite of this, Lauren utilizes her unique condition to feel the suffering of her fellow people and empathize with them. Lauren’s hyperempathy syndrome pushes her to seek better social reforms where both she and her people would reside a peaceful and happy life. Lauren’s emotional strength is what motivated and drove her to embrace stellar leadership qualities needed to transform the society. In spite of the fact that Lauren’s hyperempathy condition adversely reduced her physical strength, Lauren developed the zeal and energy to guide her people away from the trouble lands of earth to a better resourced and safe environment.
Additionally, the author uses ‘hyperempathy’ as a measure to differentiate a female leader from a male leader. A male leader is often considered as having certain key leadership qualities that showcase bravery (Allen 1358). A male leader is able to do utterly anything in a bid to fully protect his territory and people from any harm even when the option is to kill the enemies. However, Butler utilizes ‘ hyperempathy’ as Lauren’s weakness so as to provide her a feminine trait of being less effective as a leader in comparison to her male counterparts who have less or zero empathy when taking someone else’s life. It is with profound reason that Lauren could not fully protect her people from the fatal enemies who yearned for their blood. Lauren could not kill a fellow human being inclusive of well-known enemies simply because she would feel as much pain and sorrow as that which would be felt by the person whom she would have killed. This was clearly depicted when Lauren failed to shoot her enemies when her people were under a gruesome attack.
“I knew at once I’d hit him. He didn’t fall, but I felt his pain, and I wasn’t good for anything else for a while.” (Butler 296).”
In addition, hyperempathy condition made her perform inhumane acts. This is because Lauren shared the pain felt by another person. At one instance when Lauren’s people were attacked, Lauren defended her people by hitting one of their enemies on the head. Even though the blow was eminently effective, the attacker had not died, Lauren felt the need to kill him before he gained consciousness. Lauren saw this as the only primary solution for her to evade the same pain that would have been otherwise felt by the attacker. It is with this profound reason that Lauren chose to kill the attacker in cold blood by slicing the individual’s throat as she watched him bleed to death.
“The other one’s dead,” Harry said. “This one. . . .Well, you caved in the back of his head. I don’t know why he’s still alive.” “Oh, no,” I whispered. “Oh hell.” And then to Harry. “Give me the gun.” “Why?” he asked (Butler 224).
“I went to my pack, struggling to navigate without throwing up. I pulled it away from the dead man, groped within it, and found my knife. It was a good knife, sharp and strong. I flicked it open and cut the unconscious man’s throat with it. Not until the flow of blood stopped did I feel safe. The man’s heart had pumped his life away into the ground. He could not regain consciousness and involve me in his agony (Butler 226).”
In conclusion, it is clear that gender discrimination remains to be a problem even in the postmodern era. Lauren, a female leader, is required to embrace a masculine trait in order to be respected as a leader. Sadly, masculinity has been set as the best standard for leadership. Thus, the author utilizes feminism as a weakness and limitation for any woman to serve in the leadership position. It is with this profound reason that Butler regards the feeling of empathy as a feminine trait that is itself a limitation to proper leadership. In my view, a woman just like a man is equally equipped to lead and serve her/his people effectively without any limitations. It is true to say that as much as men are physiologically, biologically and mentally distinct from the women, both are equally capable of serving in any leadership position.
Lacey, Lauren J. “Octavia E. Butler on Coping with Power in Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents, and Fledgling.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 49.4 (2008): 379-394.
Gale, Cengage L. Study Guide for Octavia Butler’s “parable of the Sower.”. Detroit: Gale, Cengage Learning, n.d.. Print.
Allen, Marlene D. “Octavia Butler’s Parable Novels and the” Boomerang” of African American History.” Callaloo 32.4 (2009): 1353-1365.
Crow, Charles L. “Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler.” Western American Literature 30.1 (1995): 121-122.
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. Vol. 1. Open Road Media, 2012. http://bestettler.com/EBooks/eBooks/Butler,%20Octavia/Butler,%20Octavia%20-%20Parable%20of%20the%20Sower.pdf