Monday, July 27, 2015

Octavia Butler and the Parables (part 8; Parable of the Talents)

Octavia Butler

Reminder: These entries contain spoilers about Octavia Butler's books, Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents. In addition, almost none of the material from the posts about Parable of the Talents will appear in my reception history of the parables book.

This is the next to the last blog post about Butler's series:

Olamina and her followers are now prisoners in the “Camp Christian Reeducation Facility” (formerly Acorn), and the children of Acorn have been sent away. Not only is Olamina’s missionary dream of building other Earthseed communities like Acorn apparently ended—much like some aspects of the parable of the Sower or the Mustard Seed or the third servant in the Talents—but the existence of Earthseed itself is threatened. Earthseed appears to be “stamped out” in its infancy, before the “one small seed” could grow and spread, including the “Destiny” of taking “root among the stars” to ensure its survival and the survival of human beings themselves (161-165). Olamina, however, even in the midst of her enslavement and suffering, still has faith that although “Jarret’s Crusaders have strangled Acorn” to death, “Earthseed lives and will live” (195).

For the next seventeen months, Olamina and other survivors live as slaves in the new “Camp Christian,” as “Jarret’s Crusaders” who captured the camp seek to “educate” them and teach them to “behave as decent Christians” (184). And, of course, these “Christian” crusaders themselves betray virtually all tenets of Christianity (e.g., they sadistically torture and rape their “heathen” prisoners). Many of the Acorn prisoners, such as Bankole, do not survive their harsh treatment and torture. Yet, through all this, Olamina realizes that many of her captors are “decent, ordinary men,” who believe in what they are doing but power has corrupted them; they have been convinced that punishing people like Earthseed “is right and necessary for the good of the country” (211; cf. 238). As Butler herself notes:
I don’t write about good and evil with this enormous dichotomy. I write about people. I write about people doing the kinds of things that people do. And, I think even the worst of us doesn’t just set out to be evil. People set out to get something. They set out to defend themselves from something. They are frightened, perhaps. They set out because they believe their way is the best way to perhaps enforce their way upon other people. But, no, I don’t write about good and evil (Francis 2010: 164).
On February 26, 2035, a flare of lightning destroyed the control center for the slave collars that enslaved the prisoners, so they were able to kill their “teachers” (232), cut off their slave collars, burn what remained of “Camp Christian” (so that it could no longer be used as a reeducation camp), and escape (236). The members of Earthseed broke into smaller groups, and those who had children taken from them, like Olamina, started an often-futile search to find them.

Ironically, while still at Acorn, Olamina had discovered that her own brother Marcus, whom she thought was killed years before, was alive. She rescued him from slavery, but he could not agree with her new religion, so he left Acorn, and eventually became a high-ranking and very famous minister in Jarret’s Church of Christian America, taking the name his adoptive parents had given him, Marcos Duran. As Olamina searched for Larkin, she also made contact with her brother Marcos, but he continued to reject any connection with her. Unbeknownst to Olamina, however, Marcos had located Larkin only two years after Acorn was captured, and he never told Olamina that he had done so. This deception led to a final breach between them, once Olamina found out. Marcos had also revealed himself to Larkin when she, at the age 19, came to hear him preach. In addition, Marcos deceived Larkin by telling her that both her mother and father were killed at Acorn many years before (317).

In the meantime, as Olamina searched for Larkin, she began rebuild Earthseed by converting and teaching people not just to be followers but also to be teachers themselves. As Larkin writes, in retrospect:
She needed a different idea, and, in fact, she had one. She knew that she had to teach teachers [in order for Earthseed to survive]. Gathering families had not worked. She had to gather single people, or at least independent people—people who would learn from her, then scatter to teach and preach as, in effect, her disciples (319).
Part of the key to recruiting and teaching teachers is that belief alone will not “save you”:

Are you Earthseed?
Do you believe?
Belief will not save you.
Only actions
Guided and shaped
By belief and knowledge
Will save you.
Initiates and guides action—
Or it does nothing (313; cf. Matt 25:31-46; James 1:22-25; 2:14-26).

On Wednesday, I will post the conclusion to my discussion of Butler's Parable series.

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