What Is Utopia and Dystopia?
Utopia in its literal form means “no place” (Coates). It was coined in the 16th century by Thomas More, whose intent was to make the term a pun. Phonetically, utopia sounds strikingly similar to eutopia, meaning happy place. With this, More wittily begs the question, can a perfect and happy place exist, or is there truly no place for that in this world (Curtright)? The idea behind the formation of a dystopia expresses the uncertainty in utopian possibilities. Dystopias are formed when striving for societal perfection is cut short. Parable of the Sower is a novel constructed around the interplay of utopia and dystopia. Several references in the text highlight the possibility of both to exist simultaneously, a unique aspect of the novel when compared to other literary works.
In the case of utopic sentiment, the formation of main character Lauren Olamina’s belief system, Earthseed, is a form of utopia. The primary tenet of Earthseed is “God is Change” (Butler 2). This suggests that pain is temporary and that God is plainly change, not a superior being. There is no need to worship God, rather, God is in everyone and everyone has the ability to shape their own future. Thus, those who acknowledge this religion accept the comfort it can bring. Earthseed itself challenges the conventional utopian ideal of a societal organization. Instead of being rooted in an area, the utopia of Earthseed navigates the new public and physical realities of the future. The creation of Earthseed made way for an atypical form of utopia: one that could flourish when faced with limited social, political, and economic conditions. Individuals can find euphoric peace in the Earthseed state of mind, which is a hidden paradise in this futuristic world (Morris).
Even Earthseed in the end of the novel isn’t the Utopia that Lauren wanted to create and things start going wrong for her the moment she tried to create her own utopia. “Today we had a funeral for Bankole’s dead– the five people who died in the fire” (Butler 369). This moment in the novel comes towards the end and it shows how even Earthseed, the utopia, people are experiencing death and hardship. Showing that even though they were trying to create a happy place, they still could not create it. The utopia they tried to create failed just as much as any other attempt had.
In the World
The utopia of Earthseed that Lauren created arguably did not turn out to be what she hoped for. This is because throughout the book, it is constantly proven that dystopias stem from a striving of people wanting to create a utopia and always wanting more in life. The proof of this happening even starts in the beginning of the book when Corey says: “City lights,” she says. “Lights, progress, growth, all those things we’re too hot and too poor to bother with anymore”(Butler 5). This demonstrates that the world they live in used to have technology and advancements, but one day it all disappeared. It can be concluded that the technology all failed on the society when they tried to advance too much. They went too far with what they were trying to do and did not think about the consequences. They were striving for more and more, aiming for a utopia, which ultimately led to societal downfall.
In the Communities
Their little communities inside the walls, which represent their own little utopias, could also represent dystopias. People inside the walls seem to have different ideas about how things should work, and the people who think differently are looked down upon. This is even shown when Lauren has to hide her hyperempathy because it makes her different. This is shown in the novel when Lauren says “I can’t do a thing about my hyperempathy, no matter what Dad thinks or wants or wishes.” (Butler 14). Showing that he family wants her to hide her differences because the utopia doesn’t want anyone different. It can be seen as a weakness and ultimately this strict and backwards thinking makes the walled-in community a dystopia itself. People are being judged and repressed.
Despite this, Lauren’s community could also be seen as a temporary safe-haven, rendering it a utopia in this sense. They form a “privatopia” within this post-apocalyptic world, making it possible to trust individuals who live within the walls of the community. Those who have been accepted by the community understand that the fear that is found beyond the confines of the walls is diminished based on mutual trust and goals. The drastic differences in the current state of America and Lauren’s small, walled-off town are enough to claim utopia (Phillips).
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York, NY: Warner Books, 1993. Print.
Coates, Joseph. “Utopia — An obsolete concept.” Technological Forecasting and Social
Change, 1 Dec. 2016, pp. 110–111. Science Direct, doi: 10.1016/j.techfore.2016.10.057.
Curtright, Travis. “Thomas More and the “genius” of Utopia.” Edinburgh University
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Morris, David. “Octavia Butlers (R)Evolutionary Movement for the Twenty-First
Century.” Utopian Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 2015, pp. 270–288. EBSCO, doi:10.5325/utopianstudies.26.2.0270.
Phillips, Jerry. “The Intuition of the Future: Utopia and Catastrophe in Octavia Butler’s
‘Parable of the Sower.’” NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 35, no. 2/3, 2002, pp. 299–311. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1346188