A parable is a story that teaches a lesson. In the bible, Parable of the Talents tells the story of a lord who gives each of his 3 servants money. The first servant he gives 5 talents, the second he gives 2 and the third he gives 1. The first two servants are able to invest the money and generate a profit. The third hides the money, afraid he will lose it by investing it. In turn, is shunned by the lord.
Why is this story relevant to the novel, Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler? We’ll get to that in a bit.
Previously, we examined how Lauren Oya Olamina came to know Earthseed. She and her comrades journey northwards through an apocalyptic California ravaged by economic and political instability, climate change and extreme violence (murder, rape, and robbery are common in this imagined reality). They eventually settle on a land owned by one of her followers, and build a community called Acorn. Parable of the Talents is set four years after the ending of the first book and is made up of the diary entries of Lauren and her husband Bankole, with narration from their daughter Larkin.
It’s the 2030s. Acorn has grown from a modest 12 person settlement into a community of almost 70. Orphans, freed slaves, beggars and the homeless find refuge in a community that teaches them to accept change, educate themselves, and work towards a common purpose by helping each other.
Lauren always envisioned Earthseed to be bigger than just her immediate community. As a young girl, she began writing affirmations and verses in her book Earthseed: Books of the Living. As an adult, she wants to create a movement that gives people the foresight to survive their current condition and look towards a Destiny “taking root among the stars.”
In this new America, there’s a new president in town. Andrew Jarrett Steele, the smooth-talking American president and leader of the growing Church of Christian America, preys on the fear and desperation of Americans who are fed up with the chaos around them. He believes the only way to do so is through stamping out anyone who does not follow the Christian way, including ‘healthen cult’ communities like Acorn.
Soon after Acorn begins to settle into a thriving community, armed intruders from the Church of Christian America overtake the community. They turn it into a re-education camp, enslaving the men and women with shock collars, and stealing the children – including Lauren’s baby Larkin – to be adopted into Christian American families. This goes on for a year before those who survived are freed.
From there, Lauren begins the painstaking journey of rescuing her daughter, and building the Earthseed movement – with the intended goal of fulfilling the Destiny of leaving Earth and settling in space.
There’s a lot to unpack in this book. So let’s take a look at some of the things we’ve learned.
Human resilience, we can and will survive anything: This is not an easy book to read by any means. There is a lot of violence. A lot of loss; of life, of innocence, of hope. But in the end, Parable of the Talents is a story of grim truths. We like to believe that humans are innately good, kind and loving. We are. But we do things out of survival, neglect, power, and selfishness that are horrible. There are no scary monsters or aliens inflicting pain on humanity in this book. A lot of the traumas that occur are at the hands of people, the systems they built and the actions they take because of it.
But at the same time, a lot of the healing comes from people too. Earthseed is a human-focused belief system. In order to heal, change must be accepted as a part of life. It’s the unavoidable constant that requires forethought and action.
Lauren put it perfectly when she said, “Beware at war or at peace, most people die from unenlightened self-interest than any other disease.” When we think of the I instead of the we, how can we progress as a collective? Helping others puts yourself and them at an advantage.
Remember the Parable of the Talents story from the Bible? Why did Octavia Butler choose this as an allegory? I believe it was to underscore the importance of risk taking and to earn rewards. Having goals, a purpose and taking the necessary risks to get there grants us healing “..and a sweet and powerful positive obsession blunts pain, diverts rage, and engages each of us in the greatest most intense of our chosen struggles.”
Regardless of everything Lauren and her comrades had to endure, they persisted. Lauren’s Acorn was destroyed, her dreams of Earthseed nearly shattered, but she believed. Her unwavering faith, something her daughter resented as she found out about her birth mother years later, was exactly what humanity needed.
The dangers of technology: In this new America, technology has both evolved and hindered society’s way of life. Although I would argue the book’s focus on human behaviour and how our flaws, what Lauren called “our competitiveness and territoriality” would lead to our downfall, I think the same argument can be made regarding the dangers of relying too much on technology.
News disks are small compact disks that can be bought at local markets and give brief descriptions of news happening in the country. Solar powered trucks are used to defend against intruders with sensory detectors and weaponry. Dream masks are the rudimentary form of VR, they have a story and limited capabilities. Virtual rooms are more advanced and can take you anywhere, allowing you to be anyone. You’re able to create a new reality, shut off from others and the pressing issues faced by the rest of the world.
On the flip side, shock collars are now the newest trend. They are used on the members of Earthseed, as well as slaves across the country who are either indentured to corporations, or used as prostitutes.
Community is healing: We all long to feel connection. It’s natural, human even. But oftentimes, trauma can leave us feeling that we need to be alone – away from people, nature, and our true selves.
Lauren understood that Earthseed helped sustain people by reminding them what can be done together instead of apart. She saw the aimlessness of people, and believed the practises and beliefs of Earthseed would allow “humanity to put its great energy, competitiveness and creativity to work” – pg 350. By building sustainable partnerships with each other and their environment, slowly the people she began talking to around the country began to understand and accept her way of life. The power of kinship (both familial and communal) gives people a purpose, and power.
Importance of Education: As a young girl, Lauren understood the importance of education. Earthseed was built on the idea of shared knowledge, to work for a common goal by sharing resources and understanding. Sharing knowledge will help plant the seeds for the next generation to do the same.
In this rule, the community becomes educated on the past history, learned to farm for themselves, how to build homes and schools, and how to take care of one another. To educate oneself is survival.
“Thus without thought, without intent, we make mere echos of ourselves – and we say what we hear others say.”– pg 361
AUTHOR: Danya Elsayed | @findyourstory