In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, she articulates the idea that racism is a foundation for capitalism. Butler incorporates many ideas that parallel ongoing issues in the world today. She uses several Afrofuturist themes to criticize societal relations within the book and today. Butler also uses the contrast between people in the company town of Olivar, and that outside of the town to illustrate racial differences, and to exemplify how exploiting minority workers is an extension of how prior American capitalism used to exploit slaves.
The institution of slavery was practiced in almost all parts of the world at some point in time. In the United States, this practice occurred during the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries and slavery was abolished with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.
Since the abolition of slavery, there are still lingering signs of slavery through financial and social systems. Marlene Allen explores this issue in her essay Octavia Butler’s “Parable” Novels and the “Boomerang” of African American History and associates the capitalistic greed with the antebellum system of slavery. Allen compares the companies in the book to how companies used to treat their workers in early American history and parallel debt slavery with the sharecropping that occurred after the civil war (Allen).
Prior to the discovery of Afrofuturism, Butler, a now perceived Afrofuturist, saw that African Americans were in jeopardy of being completely excluded in American Society. As a result, she conceptualized ideals of African diaspora, minority empowerment, and unity, as well as “dystopian” situations between characters of different ethnic backgrounds within her novel as a way to critique the racial relations within modern, as well as old society.
How do you think Butler’s own race and opinions contribute to racial issues in the novel?
Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower takes place in California during the years 2024 through 2027, well after the end of antebellum slavery. Even though the setting of the novel is after the abolition of slavery, it emphasizes different kinds of contemporary slavery that transpire in our society, and signals that form of slavery still exist and affect many kinds of people.
“Mixed couples catch hell whether people think they’re gay or straight. Harry’ll piss off all the blacks and you’ll piss off all the whites. Good luck.” […]
“We can be a black couple and their white friend.” (Butler)
In the novel, Butler made a particle distinction between racial relationships and how in current times mixed couples still hear similar opinions.
Do you believe racial relations will progressively get worse like in the novel, or will they get better in the future?
Afrofuturism also critiques the future within the novel and in society in general. The premise of The Parable of the Sower is that the future is in great jeopardy unless society comes together and works to improve current conditions. Similar to today’s society, many issues have arisen because of divides amongst the people, which have led to future social interactions appearing to be grim. From the very beginning of the novel, Lauren makes clear her position of the future, and how it is not going to get any better unless change happens now. She also makes the point that change will not occur unless everyone works together towards a solution.
How relatable are the racial issues within the novel to the racial issues in current society?
What has changed?
Throughout time, since the end of slavery, race relations in the country have evolved but certainly not improved. In Parable of the Sower, Butler shows through the years how race relations via class differences have divided the people in such a way that it has ended the community of Robledo. The future of society, from the perspective of Butler, depends solely on if people can set aside their differences and work together, and if not, the future may look as bleak as the one in the book.
- Allen, Marlene D. “Octavia Butler’s Parable Novels and the Boomerang of African American History.” Callaloo, vol. 32, no. 4, 2009, pp. 1353–1365., doi:10.1353/cal.0.0541.
- Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books, 1995. Print.