Contemporary Poverty In The Parable Of The Sower

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In a destructive post-apocalyptic world, the book, the Parable of the Sower, tells the story of a teenage girl with hyperempathy syndrome named Lauren Olamina and her life growing up in a gated community in southern California called Robledo. Throughout the whole plot of the novel, the author, Octavia Butler, creates an intricate narrative revolving around the basis that poverty is apparent and widespread all over the region and especially beyond the gates of Lauren’s humble community, Robledo. Through the perspective of the novel’s heroine, Lauren Olamina, poverty is first seen as a severe threat to her and her family, especially being that Robledo had been robbed multiple times by menacing thieves. As she witnessed individuals suffering from poverty inside the marginally secure walls of Robledo, Lauren always feared of becoming one of them someday. This fear served as a foreshadowing instance for Lauren. As the plot thickens, it turns out that Lauren ends up agglutinating with the unfortunate circumstances of poverty after her community is burned down by nefarious Pyro addicts. With the integration of poverty in Lauren’s life, Butler accommodates her audience with the potential possibilities of a not so distant reality. With this being said, Butler uses aspects of modern-day poverty to argue that the destitutes of our society materialize from middle class lives, serve as perilous threats to other individuals, and display actions that are only of their own benefit.

As a simple, logical explanation, the novel presented a valid point that people suffering poverty were once individuals who lived in the middle class. Butler proves this logic by making an example out of Lauren. In the novel, when Lauren is forced to leave Robledo with Zahra Moss and Harry Balter, she comes to the realization that “I am one of the street poor, now. Not as poor as some, but homeless, alone, full of books and ignorant of reality. Unless I meet someone from the neighborhood, there’s no one I can afford to trust. No one to back me up” (Butler 156). Lauren, who was once an individual of the middle class, has now entered the malevolent macrocosm of poverty. This part of the story depicts the interesting phenomenon of crossing economic class divides, which completely changes Lauren’s life. Butler, from the point of Lauren’s class transformation, shapes the story to follow her new experiences outside the gate. When she lived inside the secure gates of Robledo, Lauren always imagined herself leaving and heading north to spread her provocative religion rightfully known as, Earthseed, but after witnessing the terrifying destruction of her community, Lauren said that “without warning, I felt a pang of loneliness for the burned neighborhood. It was almost a physical pain. I had been desperate to leave it, but I had expected it still to be there–changed, but surviving. Now that it was gone, there were moments when I couldn’t imagine how I was going to survive without it” (Butler 185). Poverty is now seen as the only means to survive for Lauren from the moment she was stripped away from her family and community. Butler, through the abhorrent events in Lauren’s life, is ultimately pointing out that poverty can happen to anybody at any time and, because of this possibility, to cherish what you have, whether it be family, friends, or symbolic items. She reinforces the idea that poverty changes an individual through the adjustments in habits and survival tactics. A human being struck by poverty is one bereaved of a sophisticated life that everyone equitably deserves.

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Through the various demeaning actions of many poverty stricken individuals in the novel, Butler provides the belief that all people suffering poverty are a direct threat to other individuals. The novel explains countless murders done by arsonists and individuals outside Lauren’s community who have weapons. The murders in the novel went as far as a whole family dying in a house set on fire by an individual addicted to Pyro and a young, innocent girl, Amy Dunn, dying from an accidental gunshot to the head by individuals beyond the wall. While Lauren was living in Robledo, she meditated about a reality where it would be “crazy to live without a wall to protect you. Even in Robledo, most of the street poor—squatters, winos, junkies, homeless people in general—are dangerous. They’re desperate or crazy or both. That’s enough to make anyone dangerous” (Butler 10). The wall serves as the only protection against the dangers of poverty. At this point in the novel, Butler makes it limpid that she does not romanticize the street poor. An author who would romanticize the street poor would argue that the street poor are mostly made up of honest, hard working individuals who are missing some sort of justice or charity, but Butler believes in the exact opposite. Butler has created a reality where, the protagonist, Lauren, witnesses many poverty stricken individuals doing anything to survive, whether it be through murder or theft. With this in mind, Lauren comes to the conclusion that most homeless individuals are very dangerous to her and the people around her because of their tendency to act crazy and desperate. As a result, Butler manipulates this idea the moment Robledo is destroyed and Lauren ends up on the streets. With Lauren making her way north, escaping the destruction of Robledo, while gathering street poor who she deemed worthy to join her Earthseed community, there were always instances when the group had to lay low from random gun battles that would occur as they traveled. As Lauren observed the beauty in the environment, especially in the trees and the cool breeze, she thought “it looked so peaceful, and yet people out there were trying to kill each other, and no doubt succeeding. Strange how normal it’s become for us to lie on the ground and listen while nearby, people try to kill each other” (Butler 269). Lauren is ultimately confused how the social norm in her apocalyptic world has come down to the very essence of “survival of the fittest”, where most, if not all, poverty afflicted individuals are murdering each other for resources and continuity. Keeping this in mind, Butler is critiquing our modern world and how there are still cases of mindless murders and thefts occurring on regular basis. Fundamentally, Butler is making a connection to the modern-day individuals who are stuck in poverty and the opinions formed of them. She believes that many people in modern-day society see homeless individuals as a threat. Although this is not entirely true, Butler simply wants to get the point across that poverty can make many individuals turn to violence to fix their desperations. Whether an individual is struck by poverty or any other unfortunate circumstance, an individual’s life should never be threatened.

When laboriously analyzing the actions of the individuals suffering from poverty, Butler gives her audience a forged perspective in which the street poor would do anything as long as the action benefits them in some shape or form. Throughout the novel, Lauren witnesses many poverty cursed individuals murdering or stealing from others to help themselves stay alive. Butler used Lauren’s brother, Keith Olamina, as a good example of this. Keith, when he decided to leave the gated community of Robledo against his father’s wishes, gets the feel of how it is to be diminished by poverty. At one point in the novel, Keith admits to Lauren that he cold heartedly murdered a man traveling to Alaska and then stole all of his money from his backpack. With Keith’s horrid action, Butler provided her audience with the fact that the reality built in the novel has theft and murder as a common, integral part of the overall ominous world. Lauren, directly after the gruesome annihilation of Robledo, “stopped in front of our house and stared at the five adults and the child who were picking through the ruins of it. Who were these vultures? Did the fire draw them? Is that what the street poor do? Run to fire and hope to find a corpse to strip” (Butler 159)? With the widespread homeless epidemic in Lauren’s world, the street poor instinctively learn to adapt to the various methods of survival that benefit them. The street poor ,who successfully launched an attack on Robledo, had gained many luxuries and benefits from the corpses and houses in the community. Lauren, given her deplorable circumstances, is now also forced to learn how to adapt to the malevolent society outside of Robledo’s gates. Before leaving the crumbled community, Lauren all of a sudden hears, “‘she died for us,’ the scavenger woman had said of the green face. Some kind of insane burn-the-rich movement, Keith had said. We’ve never been rich, but to the desperate, we looked rich. We were surviving and we had our wall. Did our community die so that addicts could make a help-the-poor political statement” (Butler 163)? Butler wants her readers to see the hatred poverty stricken individuals feel towards the rich. The novel displayed a bizarre form of a “help-the-poor” movement through the death of poverty afflicted individuals and Lauren’s unpretentious community. Butler not only explains how poverty stricken individuals can gain benefits from the rich, but also from others also suffering from poverty. As Lauren and her group were travelling north, they all witnessed the degrading acts of theft and murder happening to individuals who are all a part of the poverty territory, an example being Lauren killing an attacker with a rock and saving Harry Balter. Centrally, Butler is referencing the same hatred some low class individuals in the modern world feel about the rich. Although it is wrong to feel this way, Butler is just simply pointing out that humans naturally and instinctively attain this feeling of hatred. The poor will always want the same benefits as the rich.

In denouement, Octavia Butler strategically provides her audience with the thought-provoking prospects of contemporary poverty, thus arguing that the impoverished coalesced from middle class lives, stand as unstable hazards to other individuals, and depict actions that lead only to their benefit. Butler, through the prodigious explanation in the novel, gives our society the opportunity to examine a world that is completely dominated by indigent individuals and compare that to our own. By ensuring that our modern-day society has very low levels of poverty, our evolving world will continue to flourish peacefully.  


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