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The second installment of the incomplete Parable trilogy, Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler picks up where Parable of the Sower left off. Now that Lauren, Bankhole, and the rest of their party have successfully made it to Northern California, it’s time to get to work on establishing their community, a small communal-style town called Acorn.
Lauren continues writing about Earthseed, but her vision is interrupted by the rise of a far-right, Christian fundamentalist nationalist president named Jarret Donner. Over the course of many turbulent years, Lauren remains determined to spread Earthseed to help correct the course of history.
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Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler (buy on Bookshop from $15.63) is the sequel to Parable of the Sower and the second book in the Parable duology. Originally intended to be the second book of a trilogy, Octavia Butler unfortunately passed away before she finished writing the next and final book. This book picks up where Parable of the Sower left off, telling the story of Lauren Olamina, the founder of a religion called Earthseed, during the early days of Acorn and in the years that follow its fall. Written as a series of journal entries from the perspectives of Lauren, her brother Marc, her husband Bankhole, and her daughter Larkin, Parable of the Talents is an epic conclusion to the Parable story that presents readers with a powerful vision of what humans can accomplish.
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Table of contents
- Plot summary
- Chaos: to embrace or fear
- Different ideas about humanity’s purpose
- Religion, community, and belief
- Ideas can be dangerous
“Parable of the Talents” plot summary
Today, we’re going to be taking a look at a book called Parable of the Talents by Octavia E. Butler. If you listened to us the last time, we talked about the prequel to this book, which is called Parable of the Sower. And if Parable of the Sower is about our main character Lauren Olamina discovering the, depending on who you ask, cult or philosophy called Earthseed, Parable of the Talents is about her sort of like…the early days of the church, if you will, the early days of Earthseed as she’s trying to get it off the ground. It’s about persecution of the practitioners of Earthseed, and it ultimately covers when Earthseed becomes successful. Much like Parable of the Sower, this book is a collection of journals. However, instead of just being journals from Lauren, this book is actually told from the perspective of four people, which sometimes can be a little bit confusing.
So it features writing from, of course Lauren from her books Earthseed, Stories from Other Worlds, and a few others that are referenced throughout the book. It also features journal entries from her daughter Larkin, who kind of serves as an editor of this collection of journals that we have to tell the book, to tell the story of the book. It also features journal entries and excerpts from a book written by Lauren’s younger brother Marcus who goes by Marc. He was kind of a minor character in the first book, but he plays a really big role in the second book, Parable of the Talents. And then lastly, we have some writings from Lauren’s husband, Bankhole. So a lot of people talk about Parable of the Talents now because of a certain slogan that I am not so fond of.
You may have heard it before. It’s make “America great again.” Yes, Octavia Butler actually predicted the rise of Donald Trump. Well, maybe not so much. There is, to be clear, a far-right nationalist president who wins the election in the book. His name is Jarret Donner, and he does run on the campaign slogan, “Make America great again,” which is super weird considering this book came out in 1998 I believe. It almost kind of feels like she predicted a lot of, like we were saying with the last book, it almost kind of feels like she predicted a lot of what we’re seeing today. You know, there’s refugee crises, there is this far-right nationalist president, we have like a resurgence in hate crimes, white nationalism—slavery actually kind of comes back through indentured servitude, and then we actually do have real slavery in this book that we see up close.
It was kind of mentioned in the first book, but in this book we actually do see slavery firsthand, and it’s very, very violent, very realistic, and has a lot of echoes of the enslavement of black people in America for centuries up until, you know, the end of the 19th century. So we have this character who’s similar to Donald Trump. Jarret Donner is the name of the president in the book. He is definitely different. He does have an authoritarian personality. He is a far right nationalist, but he’s also a Christian fundamentalist who thinks that America is in such a bad state because it has strayed too far from God. Which I don’t really think you could make the case that Trump is like that, but maybe if you mixed Trump with Mike Pence and threw in a little bit of Ted Cruz, you’d have someone who’s sort of like Jarret Donner.
But regardless of the book, kind of being famous for predicting, if you will, “make America great again,” Jarret Donner himself doesn’t really play that big of a role in the book directly. What we see more of, which is, I think, probably more accurate to our present day reality, is these kind of extremist offshoots of President Donner’s, I guess philosophy, if you will. And they kind of wreak havoc. In my mind, the parallel to modern times is the increase in white nationalist hate crimes that we’re seeing now. I think especially of Charlottesville, Virginia and the Neo-Nazi rally that happened there that ended up in some protesters being killed. So yeah, it’s kind of scary stuff, especially to be reading this nowadays. But we’re going to be focusing on more of the environmental themes of this book, which all this kind of does tie into, but just we’re going to put a pin in that and come back to it in a little bit.
For now though, I want to go through a plot summary of the book. I’ve already given away some spoilers, but I will say it now: if you’re one of those people who really, really hates spoilers I would turn the podcast off right now. Go read this book. It might take you a minute. It’s roughly 400 or so pages long. I kind of marathon read it and it still took me a little while to get through it, but it’s a really, really great book. I’d highly recommend that you read it. But to go through sort of high points on the plot the book starts with Acorn. It’s kind of an established community now. It’s thriving, and Lauren and her fellow citizens are taking in a bunch of people from the road and rescuing people and adopting children who have been orphaned. And on one of these trips, Lauren is actually helping to look for the little sister of a boy that she’s recently rescued.
And while they’re off looking for this little girl, she accidentally finds her brother Marcus, who I already said that we saw in the first book, but never really knew that well. But in this book it actually turns out he survived. Lauren previously thought he was dead, but he’s been sold into sex slavery. He’s got a collar on him and Lauren finds him at one of these like squatter camps where like a pimp, I think his name is Cougar, is basically pimping out these children to people. So Lauren buys Marc out of sex slavery. She saves him and takes him back to Acorn where she is hoping to raise him as a good little Earthseed—I don’t know what you call them—Earthseed person to grow up in Acorn and live there for the rest of his life with Lauren.
Who as far as we know, is his only remaining family at this point. That doesn’t necessarily happen. Marc actually, once he kind of starts to recover a little bit from his trauma, he actually kind of clashes with Earthseed. He thinks it’s a cult, he thinks it’s at odds with what the Bible teaches and he actually ends up joining Christian America and leaving Acorn. So Christian America is kind of the sect of Christianity that President Jarret Donner has created. There’s like the church of Christian America. It’s this very nationalist version of evangelical fundamentalist Christianity that, if you’re asking me, we kind of already do have in this country, but he, President Donner, he actually makes it an official branch of the church and he is the head of the church as well as the president of the United States of America.
So Marc leaves Acorn to become a minister in Christian America. We’ll talk more about that in a little bit. And meanwhile, while all of this is going on, Lauren finds out that she’s pregnant with a baby girl, but she and Bankhole, her husband, start arguing a lot about what this means for their future, whether or not they should stay in Acorn or if it’s actually best if they leave and go move to a more well-established community that’s safe or that’s going to be more stable and that’s going to offer a better future for their daughter. Bankhole wants to move. There is a coastal community that’s very wealthy and well-protected called Halstead. And they actually want to hire Bankhole to be their doctor, so Bankhole wants to move there. But Lauren is very invested in Earthseed.
She believes that Acorn has the potential to be a safe and good place to raise her daughter and she doesn’t want to leave. She’s worked so hard to make this a reality, and the idea of leaving Acorn behind is completely incompatible with her thinking. So this actually doesn’t turn out so well for Lauren. An extremist offshoot of Christian America called the Crusaders invades Acorn and they basically turn it into a concentration camp, but they call it a re-education camp. They think that Earthseed is a cult and that the people who live there are heathens and that they worship trees and they basically think Earthseed is like this revival of paganism or druidism. And they enslave everyone who lived at Acorn if they haven’t killed them already, they put collars on them and they force them to work. And a lot of people die as a result of that.
As this happens, Lauren’s daughter Larkin is stolen from her and she’s sent off to live somewhere else. Lauren doesn’t know where she is sent to. We find out later that she is adopted by some parents in Seattle where she’s renamed Asha Vere. We’ll talk more about that in just a moment. And then Lauren and everyone else are kind of left to be re-educated at Acorn, which has been renamed a Camp Christian. So everyone who survives the attack on Acorn is turned into slaves. They get collars put on them. We see this in Parable of the Sower, but collars control people, they can be used as torture devices without, you know, the enslaver really having to touch you. If you’re wearing a collar and you try to run away, you essentially are tortured to death. And then it’s just this horrible way to control people. Like collars are this new kind of dystopian technology that keeps people in slavery.
So the men and the women are worked sometimes to death. And then the women are also routinely and frequently raped. During this time, Bankhole dies, sadly, kind of unceremoniously. It just kind of happens one day and Lauren doesn’t really even see it happen. It’s mentioned that he dies, Lauren sees him get thrown into a mass grave, and there’s not really a ton of explanation given as to how Bankhole was killed. But I think what happened, if I remember correctly, is that he was essentially worked to death and was later buried in a mass grave with a few other people. So a landslide, or a mudslide, rather, destroys the control unit for the collars the enslaved members of Acorn are wearing. This all happens one night. A mudslide comes, knocks out the control unit, and then Lauren leads a kind of mutiny, a retaking of Acorn, and they kill all the Crusaders and send the ones who they didn’t kill running away.
So after this happens, Lauren realizes it’s not safe for Acorn to exist right now. So she actually, this is very painful for her to do, but she dissolves Acorn and sends everyone kind of scattered all over the country. And then she begins the long work of looking for her daughter Larkin who has been renamed Asha. So while all of this is happening, Lauren’s brother Marc has become a famous pastor in the Christian America church and he’s actually looking after Asha from afar, but he lies to Lauren repeatedly and tells her that he doesn’t know where her daughter is when in fact he knows that Asha has been adopted by a man and a woman from Seattle, and she’s actually being raised in the Christian America Church there. So during this time, Lauren kind of goes into hiding. There’s this period where she works as like a tutor and a teacher.
She starts using a different name, and she I think lives in a community in Southern California. All the while she’s kind of like pestering Marc and trying to follow him wherever he moves to see if he has some more information about where her daughter might be since he is a high ranking minister in Christian America. So Lauren never really learns about Asha. She winds up meeting this girl named Len who is walking North to find her family in Alaska, which is by now a separate country. So she’s going to walk towards the Canadian border and presumably walking all the way to Alaska. She doesn’t really care if she dies on the way there. She’s kind of lost all hope by this point. But Lauren meets Len and she kind of finds a companion in her. She starts talking to her about Earthseed and they eventually become traveling partners.
Lauren decides she’s going to go look for Asha or Larkin as Lauren still believe she’s called in the Pacific Northwest. So Lauren and Len start walking North and then they kind of just stop in Portland, they never really make it all the way to Seattle, but Lauren finds a foothold for starting a new Earthseed community there. There’s kind of a wealthy community of people who are receptive to the ideas that Lauren has. And this is really when Earthseed starts to take off and become a legitimate, successful religion as opposed to just this kind of fringe cult that people look down on. So by the end of the book, Lauren has become very successful as the leader of Earthseed. She’s being flown all around the country to talk to different universities and other organizations about her ideas. All the while she’s never found Asha and she’s sort of given up on finding her though she obviously would still love to see her again.
Around this time, Marc finally spills the beans and tells Asha who her mother is. And then Asha goes to find Lauren so they can finally be reunited. When they do finally meet., I think it’s an upstate New York, it’s not a happy reunion. Asha holds a serious grudge against Lauren for never finding her. And she kind of feels that Lauren has prioritized Earthseed over her and she can’t ever forgive her for that. Asha in her mind thinks that Lauren loves Earthseed more than she loves her own daughter, and that’s just kind of a, a wound that never really heals. So we’re left with this kind of sad resolution at the end of the book. Lauren feels confident that she did the right thing by working on Earthseed while also spending a lot of time trying to find her daughter and traveling all over the country in search of her, but Asha still feels burned by Lauren.
She never really forgives her for working on Earthseed more than on finding her. And we’re kind of left this with this sort of unresolved ending where Earthseed is taking off like the destiny of, you know, humanity taking root among the stars is becoming more of a reality every day. And Asha is finishing compiling this sort of anthology of her mother’s journals after her death. So now that we’ve covered the plot summary of Parable of the Talents, let’s take a look at some of the themes that this book gets into. There’s a lot of them, and I’m probably not going to get to cover all of them. I’m going to do my best at covering the ones that I think are the most important. There’s four of them. The first theme that I think is really readily apparent from the very beginning of the book is sort of this response to chaos.
Chaos: to embrace or fear
So in the first book, there’s really, there’s kind of this dichotomy presented of two ways that you can respond to chaos. You can respond in fear to chaos. You can, you know, fight back against it and you can lash out against chaos, try to, I guess bring back the old days in a way. Or you can do as Lauren proposes, which is being open to chaos and sort of folding in with it while at the same time trying to shape the reality you want to see. In Parable of the Talents, we still have this dichotomy, but it’s fleshed out a little bit more and we definitely get to see way more of the first response to chaos, which is the sort of fighting back against it, which is what Marc adopts. But first, just to kind of show you the contrast.
There are two really good quotes that I think show this very well. The first quote is from Lauren. This is a verse of Earthseed. It says, “God is Change / And hidden within Change / Is surprise, delight, / Confusion, pain, / Discovery, loss, / Opportunity, and growth. / As always, / God exists / To shape / And to be shaped.” So here we see this kind of openness to change this adaptability that Lauren proposes. But conversely, we also have this verse from Marc. He writes in his book called Warrior: “The child in each of us / Knows paradise. / Paradise is home. / Home as it was / Or home as it should have been. / Paradise is one’s own place, / One’s own people, / One’s own world, / Knowing and known, / Perhaps even / Loving and loved. / Yet every child / Is cast from paradise— / Into growth and destruction, / Into solitude and new community, / Into vast, ongoing / Change.”
So we both have change as a central focal point for these two different philosophies. Lauren sees change as something that’s inevitable. Instead of fighting against it, we should learn how to use it for our own purposes. Marc sees change as something that’s foreign. It’s unnatural, it’s dangerous, it’s evil. Larkin or Asha actually does a really good job of kind of summarizing Marc’s attitudes toward change later. A couple chapters after that last quote, she writes, “My Uncle Marc, on the other hand, hated the chaos. It wasn’t one of the faces of his god. It was unnatural. It was demonic. He hated what it had done to him, and he needed to prove that he was not what it had forced him to become. No Christian minister could ever hate sin as much as Marc hated chaos. His gods were order, stability, safety, control.”
And this is really interesting. I think it’s cool to Octavia Butler does this because she doesn’t just present Lauren’s way of thinking as like the end all be all response that you should have to change. She actually shows some genuine concerns that I think all of us have about change and chaos. Chaos is scary. It’s, it doesn’t feel natural to us at all. Like humans spend their entire lives trying to avoid chaos. We spend our entire lives shaping meaning out of chaos so that we don’t have to deal with it anymore. So it’s very normal and human, I think, for Marc to be scared of chaos and change like he is. And I would say that Lauren’s view is actually the more unnatural view. It requires a little bit more disciplined thought and it requires more of like a concerted effort to not just respond out of gut instinct when confronted with change. In Lauren’s philosophy, there’s a lot more practice that has to be done.
Different ideas about humanity’s purpose
You have to really condition yourself to respond to change with openness instead of fear. And on this note we get to our second theme, which is kind of some difference of ideas about what our purpose as a species should be. There are four different views here. They are all told from the four different perspectives of the people who wrote journals that constitute this book. We have Lauren, we have Marc, we have Asha/Larkin, and we also have Bankhole. So starting with Lauren, Lauren’s idea obviously is the destiny, which is the destiny of Earthseed. She says it’s to take root among the stars. At the beginning of the book, Earthseed is doing great. Acorn is thriving. They even have this armored truck so that they can safely leave the community to trade with other towns. But Lauren’s beliefs are put to the test when Acorn is taken over by the Crusaders and becomes Camp Christian.
Lauren’s still comforted by Earthseed, but she doesn’t really try to gloss over the fact that life still is really hard and there is still a lot of awful things that happen. And just because you acknowledge that God is change and that change is inevitable, doesn’t always make things better. She writes, “Earthseed prepares you to live in the world that is and try to shape the world that you want. But none of it is really easy.” So for awhile it seems like Lauren has given up on spreading Earthseed after she retakes Acorn from the Crusaders, but at the end of the book, she meets some wealthy people in the Pacific Northwest, in Portland who are receptive to her ideas. After this happens, Earthseed grows into a major movement with lots of money behind it. A lot of which Lauren ends up spending trying to get humanity closer to the destiny.
Because of this, she doesn’t really find Larkin/Asha until she’s much older, when she’s traveling all over the country speaking about Earthseed at various universities and such. So while Lauren’s idea of purpose is humans literally leaving earth to go plant colonies on other planets, this has shaped her life. It’s given her a reason to keep going, to keep pushing for Earthseed, even though it seemed like all hope was lost. It has also sort of robbed her of her relationship with her daughter, and at the end of the book Lauren is sort of portrayed as this sad, desperate, obsessed old lady who will never have the kind of relationship that she wants to have with her estranged daughter. The second I guess, view of purpose that I want to focus in on is Bankhole’s. Bankhole doesn’t really get to say too much in this book.
There are a few passages that Asha includes of his writing, but for the most part it’s all Lauren, Asha, and Marc. But Bankhole’s view I think is worth considering as well. He is advocating that Lauren leave Acorn so that they can go live in Halstead, which is the coastal community I mentioned before. It’s really wealthy. It’s got natural barriers. It’s protected by mountains in the East, so that’s really hard for them to be invaded from the East. And then on the West obviously is the Pacific Ocean. So very difficult to invade from there. And this is kind of where Bankhole’s profession comes into play. Bankhole, as we’ve mentioned before, is a doctor. He heals people. So Lauren is interested in shaping the world into what she wants it to be. Bankhole’s a little bit more interested in putting the pieces back together.
He wants to repair the damage that’s been done, which is natural. He’s a doctor, he wants to heal the world, so he wants to go take care of people like Lauren does, but he doesn’t necessarily have this huge grandiose vision like she does. He’s a little bit more pragmatic. He wants to focus more on like day to day, immediate security and make sure that they will have a safe future. In the end, he was actually right. Acorn gets destroyed and they would have been much safer if they moved to Halstead. That being said, he also dies at Camp Christian. So I don’t want to read too much into this, but perhaps this was Octavia Butler saying this isn’t necessarily the right way to move forward, though it is obviously understandable to see where he’s coming from. The most at odds with Lauren’s philosophy of purpose is Marc’s.
So Lauren says at the beginning of the book, “Consider— / We are born / Not with purpose, / But with potential.” And Marc is kind of the converse of that. He says, we are born with a destiny. Our destiny is to go to heaven and the thing that we’re working on is not some elaborate idealistic vision of leaving earth. We are working on our eternal souls. We already have eternity at the end. We don’t have to create it for ourselves. It’s already there. We just have to follow what God wants us to do. So according to the journals of Asha, Marc does not like the idea of God being change as we talked about. Marc sees the universe as chaotic and that scares him to death, though to Marc, the only way to escape this is to cling to God because God is what restores everything to its right state, which is order.
Marc agrees with Lauren on the fact that chaos is something we have to live with on a daily basis. But to Marc the consolation or the light at the end of the tunnel to all this chaos is heaven, not leaving earth and going to start colonies on another world. There’s a really good quote from Marc that explains all of this. He says, “If you’re looking for immortality in outer space, you’ve been misled. You already have an immortal soul, and where that soul spends eternity is up to you.” And he kind of goes on from here to liken Earthseed’s aspiration for colonizing space to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. If you’re not familiar with this story of the Tower of Babel, this is a story from the Old Testament in the Bible. There were a group of people who decided that they wanted to build a tower that was so tall that they could reach the gods.
They thought that at the end of this construction project, they would be on par with the gods and they would be all powerful. So they start to build it. All these people congregate to help build the Tower of Babel. Everyone speaks one language. They’re all working on this together. But God sees this as pride and God is like, “Oh, these people are trying to usurp my throne. Essentially I’m going to scramble this construction project and I’m going to confuse their languages so that they can’t do this anymore.” And as the story goes, this is kind of when humans all get a different language and they’re scattered all over the face of the earth because of their pride in trying to become God. So to Marc, Lauren trying to lead Earthseed in leaving the earth to go colonize other planets is akin to Lauren trying to lead people and becoming God themselves, which is obviously blasphemy.
While Lauren’s idea of purpose is very interesting, I think to me the most interesting vision of purpose in this novel actually comes from Asha or Larkin as Lauren named her. Asha is interesting because she’s very critical of Lauren. Throughout the book, she’s obviously very resentful that Lauren decided to focus more, or as it seems, decided to focus more on Earthseed than on finding her. And she’s very pragmatic. She’s very focused on like, “Oh, we shouldn’t be trying to leave the earth and start a new world on other planets when there is so much wrong here that needs to be worked on.” She has this idea, but at the same time, she designs virtual reality games, which are an escape from everyday life. So there’s this kind of interesting paradox going on with Asha. She’s very intelligent. She has a PhD. She’s hired by this company that makes this product called Dreamasks, which are sort of like virtual reality, except instead of essentially being set loose in a playpen like fake world you’re given these storylines that you follow where you can fully identify with different characters.
So it’s kind of like novels, like this almost seems like a metaphor for literature to me when I read this book. So on the one hand, Asha is very critical of Lauren for wanting to leave earth and start colonizing other planets, but at the same time she’s creating these sort of escapist stories for people to retreat to. And also here I think it’s important to talk about Asha’s name because we mentioned that she’s no longer Larkin, but we never really gave an explanation for this. Her full name becomes Asha Vere after she’s adopted by her parents in Seattle and this was a character from a Dreamask game that she had when she was a kid. She does a really good job of explaining it herself. She writes, “Asha Vere was a tall, beautiful, Amazon-like, Black Christian-American woman who ran around rescuing people from heathen cults, anti-Christian plots, and squatter camp pimps…Strong female characters were out of fashion in the fiction of the time. President Jarret and his followers in Christian America believed that one of the things that had gone wrong with the country was the intrusion of women into ‘men’s business.’…In fact, I’ve discovered that Asha Vere was originally intended to be a man, Aaron Vere, but a Dreamask executive convinced his colleagues that it was time for a hit series starring a tough-tender, Christian American female. He was right.”
So out of everyone’s idea of purpose in the novel Asha is actually kind of the least vocal about what that looks like. She creates these Dreamasks that let people escape to other worlds, but we never really see what those look like. So we’re kind of left to speculate that perhaps Asha’s vision of purpose is not so much escaping from reality as it is using stories to inspire you to improve the world that you find yourself in, which I think is super appropriate for what we’re talking about on this podcast actually, because that’s kind of what I think the entire purpose of stories is.
And I think Octavia Butler herself would probably agree with that. Being a novelist who wrote these very prescient novels that seemed to give us instructions on how to make our own world a better place. So in this regard, I think Asha is actually one of the more interesting characters in the novel and who has a very unique perspective that’s maybe the most relevant to our immediate lives. So these last two themes I’m not going to spend as much time on. They’re still important, but we are kind of running short on time here and I want to make sure that we get to them.
Religion, community, and belief
The first of them is religion or community or belief, I guess. It’s this idea that we all need a purpose. We will create purpose out of nothing and we kind of come up with these crazy belief systems to some of us these are totally normal and rational while others seem completely foreign to us and just totally outlandish.
But we create these belief systems to give ourselves purpose because if we don’t have purpose, we totally self-destruct. There’s this quote from in my copy of the book, page 216 this is Lauren as she’s in one of her arguments with Bankhole. She says, in reference to the destiny of humanity taking root among the stars, she says:
“We need the stars, Bankhole. We need purpose! We need the image the Destiny gives us of ourselves as a growing, purposeful species. We need to become the adult species that the Destiny can help us become! If we’re to be anything other than smooth dinosaurs who evolve, specialize, and die, we need the stars. That’s why the Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars. I know you don’t want to hear verses right now, but that one is…a major key to us, to human beings, I mean. When we have no difficult, long-term purpose to strive toward, we fight each other. We destroy ourselves. We have these chaotic, apocalyptic periods of murderous craziness.”
Then she stops for a moment and goes on. She says, “People seem to be willing to believe all kinds of stupid things—magic, the supernatural, witchcraft…But I couldn’t get them to believe in something real, something that they could make real with their own hands. Now…now most of the people here accept the Destiny. They believe me and follow me…and damned if I don’t worry even more.”
So while Lauren does believe wholeheartedly in the Destiny or the purpose that she’s sort of constructed for herself, she’s also kind of worried because people will sort of believe anything as long as it gives them a purpose. This obviously doesn’t detract from the importance of purpose, but it just means that we need to be really careful about what we allow ourselves to create for our own purpose.
Ideas can be dangerous
That leads into the last thing I want to talk about, which is that ideas are dangerous things. This is best exemplified through when Lauren and the other members of Acorn are turned into slaves at Camp Christian. In fact, at the beginning of the chapter that introduces Camp Christian when Acorn is destroyed and turned into this re-education camp, Lauren writes some verses of Earthseed that are kind of very telling about this theme. She writes “When vision fails / Direction is lost./ When direction is lost / Purpose may be forgotten. / When purpose is forgotten / Emotion rules alone. / When emotion rules alone, / Destruction…destruction.”
It seems like she’s kind of writing this about the state of the country at the time. Like there’s this sort of loss of ideals with the the changing climate and all the destruction that that entails. But when this happens, people become desperate and they’re willing to believe anything really. And this is why it’s so easy for a sort of strong man politician like Jarret to take over, President Donner. He appeals directly to people’s emotions and that’s what they want. Like they’re just looking for some kind of purpose and he’s giving them that. It’s not a good purpose, but it’s still a purpose. At the end of the book, very close to the end of the book, Lauren is having a conversation with Len. She’s not really a major character. We don’t really even meet Len until the very end of the book.
But she is the, just as a reminder, she is the person that Lauren travels to Portland, Oregon with. But as Lauren’s talking to Len, she says:
“We keep falling into the same ditches, you know? I mean, we learn more and more about the physical universe, more about our own bodies, more technology, but somehow, down through history, we go on building empires of one kind or another then destroying them in one way or another. We go on having stupid wars that we justify and get passionate about, but in the end, all they do is kill huge numbers of people, maim others, impoverish still more, spread disease and hunger, and set the stage for the next war. And when we look at all of that in history, we just shrug our shoulders and say, well, that’s the way things are. That’s the way things have always been.”
She goes on to say, “We can go on building and destroying until we either destroy ourselves or destroy the ability of our world to sustain us. Or we can make something more of ourselves. We can grow up. We can leave the nest. We can fulfill the Destiny, make homes for ourselves among the stars, and become some combination of what we want to become and whatever our new environments challenge us to become. Our new worlds will remake us as we remake them. And some of the new people who emerge from all this will develop new ways to cope. They’ll have to. That will break the old cycle, even if it’s only to begin a new one, a different one.
“Earthseed is about preparing to fulfill the Destiny. It’s about learning to live in partnership with one another in small communities, and at the same time, working out a sustainable partnership with our environment. It’s about treating education and adaptability is the absolute essentials that they are…It’s about a lot more than that, but those are the bones.”
So in response to dangerous ideas like the ones that President Donner is propagating or endorsing, Lauren thinks the only solution to this is the Destiny. This is the only thing that’s going to break this cycle. She admits that it may just create new cycles but at least we won’t be in this same ones of learning more about the physical universe but then building empires that just kill large amounts of people and lead to war. As the final note to all of this discussion about purpose, I think it’s good to leave on this one final thought. This is one of the very first quotes from the opening of the book. Lauren writes, “Consider— / We are born / Not with purpose, / But with potential.”