The Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler introduces Lauren Olamina, an unlikely heroine. She is a young black woman who suffers from hyper-empathy, a disorder that makes her feel other people’s pain as if it were her own. This condition burdens those with hyper-empathy due to the immense physical and emotional pain depicted in the novel’s world.
However, despite this debilitating condition, Lauren defies expectations by using her hyper-empathy as a driving force to pursue her vision of creating a peaceful community. Instead of being weakened or despondent, her empathy propels her forward. She is ready to face the challenges on her journey and lead an exodus out of Southern California for survival.
Butler’s portrayal of this world is one of universal pain and struggle. Each person faces poverty, suffering, and death daily, fueling their desire for a better life. Despite believing in improvement, they remain inactive. However, Lauren experiences even greater pain, feeling not just her own suffering but that of the entire community. Her anguish drives her to take action for her survival and a better future. Despite facing rejection when proposing solutions, she prepares to leave, gathering necessary items and practicing an escape plan for the night. When the time comes, she successfully escapes due to her intense desire to escape the immense pain. Unfortunately, her friends and family do not share the same fortune.
Throughout her life, Lauren had to confront pain, feeling every minor injury suffered by children in the neighborhood and empathizing with every tear shed by a community member. Concealing her own pain was essential because sharing it would have left her even more vulnerable. Consequently, she took on the pain stoically, which toughened her and contributed to her remarkable physical and emotional resilience, vital for surviving in the outside world. Her ability to endure immense pain without collapsing was evident, as she had learned to do so. Even death did not elude her experiences; she sensed the dog’s life leaving its body during shooting practice. Despite enduring extreme pain, no one noticed, highlighting her immense strength. It was clear that if anyone could thrive in a harsh exterior environment, it would be her.
In Lauren’s world, witnessing people suffering, starving, or even dying was not uncommon. However, the inhabitants of this nightmarish realm had grown accustomed to ignoring these individuals, showing little to no sympathy. Nevertheless, Lauren was different – she felt their pain and couldn’t help but be compassionate. She had a strong desire to assist them. While en route to a baptism on their bikes, Lauren and her companions came across a naked and obviously hungry woman who seemed to have little time left. Lauren wished they could have provided something for her. Despite their awareness of her plight, the group didn’t consider helping her, as doing so would jeopardize the community’s survival chances. It was each person for themselves. Lauren understood this but would have chosen differently – she would have extended her aid when the opportunity arose for her to do so. She would demonstrate compassion towards those less fortunate.
Lauren’s willingness to assist others becomes crucial for her own survival in the world outside. Despite the prevailing unwritten law of every person fending for themselves, Lauren consistently extends a helping hand. The individuals she seeks to aid often find themselves destitute, lacking both food and money. While her companions initially hesitate to assist others, despite having been in similar positions not long ago, Lauren manages to persuade them to embrace aiding the less fortunate. As a result, their group grows, eventually reaching a formidable dozen members. Although individually weak, together they possess enough strength to deter thieves from targeting them. While it was not solely for this sense of security that Lauren offered assistance, it indeed proves pivotal in ensuring her own survival, as well as that of the others.
The main factor in Lauren’s survival was pain, which not only made her strong and compassionate but also fueled her desire to find a better place. On the contrary, pleasure served as another driving force, although it was rare in this world. The only pleasure she could find and share was through sex. It seemed that sex was the only time when people in this sad world didn’t suffer. If other pleasures existed, Lauren would have gladly shared them.
In an ideal and peaceful world, Lauren could have been the happiest person alive, experiencing not only her own happiness but also that of others. Despite facing harsh realities and having a lot to lose, Lauren possessed an unwavering determination to succeed in her quest. She became the force that held the group together and prevented them from falling apart.
In the end, instead of being burdened by her hyper-empathy disorder, Lauren overcame it. With her strength and compassion, she led the group through various challenges. Her ultimate goal wasn’t just survival or personal happiness; she also wanted to ensure the safety and happiness of others. She aimed to help both individuals and humanity as a whole.
Regardless of her accomplishments or success, the presence of others’ suffering prevented her from experiencing true joy. The only way for genuine happiness for Lauren was by being with those who also possessed this blissful state.
In the end, what Lauren originally saw as a disadvantage actually became a secret benefit. This is because Parable of the Sower would not have been able to depict a story of survival without her hyper-empathy.
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