Octavia Butler uses the theme of violence throughout the entirety of Parable of the Sower. An effective way to view the violence in this novel is to view it in the perspectives within which Butler positions it: it can be inherently harmful, inherently beneficial, and even a necessity for survival.
Violence is inherently harmful
“Everything was chaos. People running, screaming, shooting. The gate had been destroyed” (182).
Arguably, the pivotal event of Butler’s novel is when Lauren’s community is destroyed and almost everyone is killed. During this event, everyone but Lauren and two other residents are brutally killed by either gunshot or fire, leaving their neighborhood in shambles. Butler uses this scene to help portray the harmful violence that occurs throughout the novel. Zahra Moss, one of the survivors, describes to Lauren about how she was raped before she was able to escape. (To read more about sexual violence, click here). Those that destroyed the community were drug-crazed from a new substance called Pyro. Another instance of harmful violence related to drugs occurs when Lauren describes her brother’s death. “Someone had cut and burned away most of my brother’s skin. Everywhere except his face. They burned out his eyes […]” (135). When Keith decided to go beyond the gate, he got into dealing these harmful drugs. His family suspects that he was tortured and killed by other drug dealers that saw him as competition. These events show that the drugs are the basis of the harmful violence found throughout the novel.
Violence is beneficial for some
“Is that what the street poor do? Run to fire and hope to find a corpse to strip?” (190).
Another perspective portrayed in the novel is that violence could also be beneficial for some individuals. After Lauren’s community is destroyed, she returns to find many of the street poor scavenging through the empty houses and stealing things from the corpses. Not everyone is able to live within the safe, gated communities; therefore, they are able to benefit from the violence that was imposed onto communities by stealing from people’s bodies or the houses. Another example of violence being beneficial for some is the ideas that violence can be used to end pain. When Lauren and some others from her neighborhood go shooting one day with her dad, they come across some dogs that are potentially dangerous. After her dad shoots one, it doesn’t completely die. Lauren can feel its pain, and it becomes too much for her so she herself ends up shooting it. This can be seen when she states “With my right hand, I drew the Smith & Wesson, aimed, and shot the beautiful dog through its head.” (57). Lauren only uses violence here to end her own pain and suffering, as well as that of the dog.
Violence can be a necessity
“[W]e don’t kill unless someone threatens us […] We don’t hunt people. We don’t eat human flesh. We fight together against enemies” (343).
The final perspective of violence that Butler portrays is that it can be necessary. When Lauren and her crew head North after the community is destroyed, she creates rules for how/when to use violence. She expresses how they can only use violence if they are threatened or in danger. Another example of necessary violence is after the community gets destroyed, and many of the residents attempt to escape. One of the survivors, Harry Balter, describes “’I had to fight my way out last night. I was lucky they didn’t shoot me’” (198). Humans will naturally do whatever it takes for survival, even if that means being violent to achieve that.
Why does Octavia Butler choose to position violence in these three perspectives?
Violence in the opera
In Toshi Reagon’s adaptation of Parable of the Sower, there is never any explicit violence shown. Much of the violence described in the novel is portrayed implicitly. For example, when Lauren’s father beats her brother Keith, nothing is physically done to Keith. The father pulls his arm back in preparation to beating Keith, but the violence ends there. Additionally, in representation of the scene in which Lauren’s community is destroyed, none of the violence is shown; the only implicit violence portrayed is darker lighting and intense music.
Why would Reagon choose to portray such an important theme in this way?
Butler, Octavia E. Parable of the Sower. New York: Warner Books, 1995. Print.