Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Book 21: Parable of the Talents

Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

In this sequel to Parable of the Sower, Butler contines the story of Lauren Olamina. It's about five years after the end of that novel, and while the country definitely hasn't recovered from all the economic and environmental issues, there is a sense that things are getting better. There are fewer people wandering the roads, though the situation is far from perfect, and violence and crime are still common. Acorn, the community Lauren has set up, has grown in numbers and is basically prospering, though in a very 19th century sort of way.

Religious leader Jarrett uses fear to get himself elected president, and once again, the country's standing starts worsening. He becomes involved in a pointless war, and his extreme right wing views lead to much bigotry and discrimination, In fact, he becomes the excuse for his followers to take over Acorn and turn it into a labor camp for the sake of "re-education." Due to this, Lauren loses her infant daughter who is "rescued" from her heathen family and placed in a home with good Christian folks.

The novel actually flashes between Lauren's journal entries and commentary from her now adult daughter with one or two entries from Bankole and Marcos Duran, Lauren's husband and brother respectively. As a result, no matter the trials that Lauren endures, the reader knows that she will eventually succeed in her goal even if it costs her her daughter. Honestly, I felt that the daughter judged her too harshly since she kept accusing her mother of choosing Earthseed, her religion, over her own daughter. She is bitter that her mother was never able to find her but her uncle was, not even giving her the benefit of the doubt considering that as a member of the same church that stole Lauren's daughter, Marcos might have a few better connections and resources.

In addition to being a mother-daughter narrative, Butler explores the affects of fear and ignorance on the population. Jarrett is able to exploit these two things to create an atmospehere that is incredibly intolerant. Any person on the street that doesn't fit into his or his followers' plans or ideology is suddenly prey and can be picked up for their own good and reeducated. Some people truly believe this will help, others just don't want to deal with the poverty. In the labor camp, Butler also looks at freedom and how easy it can be to dehumanize people. Lauren and her followers are degraded and treated like little more than animals but the same people that call them disgusting fornicators feel completely justified to rape them. Despite their superiority in numbers, technology and brutality prevent the prisoners from doing anything but merely surviving from day to day without any chance at organization or revolt.

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