The Parable of the Sower: Crash Course Literature #406

hi I'm John Green this is crash course literature and I have some bad news disease is devastating the planet soon the global food supply will be compromised clean water will become scarce violence will grow epidemic dangerous new street drugs will circulate the income gap will increase corporate slavery will return an a strongman president will be more interested in issuing tough-guy slogans than actually improving the lives of the people of course none of that's happened yet what's that Oh Stan informs me that some of it has happened but the only place it's all happening so far is in parable of the sower Octavia Butler's 1993 science fiction novel it's just made up thankfully but geez I have never read a dystopia that feels more possible or more terrifying and yet it's also one of my favorite books and a genuinely hopeful one the kind of hard won uneasy hope that actually means something let's start with a brief introduction to the author Octavia Butler she was an african-american science fiction writer who won the Hugo and nebula awards and a MacArthur Genius grant she died in 2006 at the age of 58 growing up as a shy only child in Pasadena California Butler spent a lot of time reading at her local library and telling herself her own stories and then when she was 9 she saw a movie and thought I could write a better story than that so she did her aunt told her that an african-american girl couldn't be a writer but she kept going and as a young adult she would get up at 2:00 in the morning so that she'd have time to write before working jobs like dishwasher and potato chip inspector it wasn't until her early 30s that she was able to support herself entirely as a writer her works deal with race and class and power and most of her books also include fantastical elements like time travel and alien life forms and telekinesis she described herself as a pessimist if I'm not careful a feminist a black a former Baptist an oil and water combination of ambition laziness insecurity certainty and Drive parable of the sower is a coming-of-age story one of the best of the past several decades it's also a story about being black and America and a feminist story and the theological story and a dystopian story and in some ways maybe a bit of the utopian story it takes its name from a Bible parable in which Jesus describes someone who goes out to distribute seed some of the seed falls on the path and is eaten up by birds some falls in a rocky place and can't grow some falls near thorns so that's no good but some of it falls on fertile ground and grows beautifully so before we talk about genre and theme let's look briefly at the story of parable of the sower in the thought-bubble when the book begins Laura Oya elemina is a 15 year old girl growing up in a small community outside of Los Angeles in 2024 she lives with her father a professor and Baptist minister her stepmother and her four half-brothers climate change and disease outbreaks have increased social disorders so much that Lauren's community has built a wall around it and when people leave the community they leave arm both Warren and her father have become more and more worried about how long the community can survive and they prepare stashes of money and supplies so they can run away if they have to and Lauren also has other secrets because of drugs that her mother abused during pregnancy Lauren has hyper empathy she feels what other people feel which makes it hard for her to hurt anyone also Lauren has begun to develop her own belief system one that is different from her father's it locates God in chaos and change and uncertainty throughout the book we read pieces of a new kind of scripture all that you touch you change all that you change changes you the only lasting truth is change Lauren comes to call this religion earth seed and believes that its purpose is to prepare humankind to take root among the stars eventually her walled community is overrun and unlike most of her family and friends she manages to escape and then Lauren meets up with other survivors for a time she disguises herself as a man and eventually begins walking north with a growing community the first members of the earth seed movement thanks thought-bubble so there's a lot of death in this book and like The Handmaid's Tale the narrative voice is so strong that it all feels terrifyingly real and yet it is science fiction it's said in the future albeit barely and there's speculation from 1993 about how climate change and wealth inequality and walls will shape the world of the future part of what makes parable of the sower and its sequel parable of the talents so powerful is how prophetic they seem another term for this kind of science fiction which is set on earth and uses contemporary technology is mundane science fiction although for the record this is one of the least mundane books you'll ever read in 1998 Butler told an audience that she liked to think of science fiction in terms of categories established by the writer Robert a Heinlein the what-if category the if only category and the if this goes on category she described parable of the sower as definitely and if this goes on story and if it's true if it's anywhere near true we're all in trouble oh it's time for the open letter an open letter to my future self but first let's see what's in the secret compartment today oh look it's the sky express rocket ship that I'm going to use to travel around the solar system in the future dear future me parable of the sower is set in 2024 it's currently 2017 you're watching this in 2024 how we doing it was like Tavia Butler Wright that we were all in trouble because I'm concerned so it's seven years in the future how are things going I think you guys recently had an election hopefully did climate change turn out to be a hoax are we still doing crash course did the looking for Alaska move you ever get made dis diet dr. pepper turned out to be bad for me has Liverpool won the Champions League I have so many questions but mostly I just hope you're around to answer them best wishes current Jon so parable of the sower is obviously an exploration of if this goes on but it's also lots of other things I want to look at two of the books other genres the book as a bildungsroman and also as a sacred text so you might remember that buildings Ramon is a long and fun to say German word that means a novel of Education a story in which a young person grows up and becomes more or less independent at the beginning of the book Lauren is a teenage girl who does what her family expects of her she agrees to be baptized in a religion she doesn't believe because her father wants her to she helps out in the school that her stepmother runs teaching the set curriculum but as the book goes on she starts thinking for herself more and more she establishes her own belief system and begins to study how to survive in case her community breaks down after talking things over with her father she also starts conveying some of that information to the children at the school even though survival skills are definitely not in the curriculum and then when her neighborhood is overrun Lauren learns her capacity for leadership she protects others in her group even though her hyper empathy makes violent action nearly impossible and she keeps them going until they find a safe place in Northern California and we should mention here that Lauren's suffering and her escape as well as her journey north have led some critics to draw comparisons between Lauren's story and narratives of escape from slavery and Warren is an escapee and a leader but she's also something else in an interview Butler explained that she wanted to tell the story of someone who quote some time after her death after people have had time to forget how human she was might easily be considered a God now Warren is human but she does have this godlike capacity for empathy and parable of the sower is in many ways a sacred text it's structured as a series of journal entries but it also features these passages from what Warren calls the book of the living a devotional text that people in the future might read and interpret and we've learnt a lot about the belief system of earth seed in these beautiful little passages from the book of the living earth seed is focused on the inevitability of change several times in fact it says that God is changed she wants us that she's based these beliefs on everything I could read here see all the history I could learn and Butler seems to draw on moments of buddhism taoism matriarchal religions even a little bit of the Yoruba religion it's probably not coincidental that Lorenz middle name Oya is the name of the goddess of the Niger River but Warren doesn't really believe in goddesses as she says earth seed deals with ongoing reality not supernatural authority figures and as a person she isn't perfect or puritanical she gets angry she steals when she has to she has sex when she wants to I mean to survive she says she also isn't always certain about the moral choices she's making some of which are influenced by her hyper empathy which she calls a biological conscience but that's all part of what makes this portrait of a prophet so fascinating Butler shows us how her actions and her beliefs might influence future generation according to the verses lauren writes earth seed understands that quote God is power infinite irresistible inexorable and yet God is pliable trickster teacher chaos clay Don exists to be shaped God is change change is the one inevitability in parable of the sower it's the only constant in Laurens trauma filled life in an essay on the book the professor Philip H Jos wrote that those who practice earth seed must learn to respond positively to change he writes God has change is an invitation to respond to fear with creativity productivity and compassion practitioners must fully acknowledge and accept suffering and struggle as an inevitable companion to love and happiness and I want to pause here and acknowledge that for a lot of its hardcore fans parable of the sower is a sacred text another way to look at parable of the sower is as a dystopian novel exploring a world gone very very wrong and if we read the novel this way Lauren and her communities journey toward a safer place can make the end of the book seem a little utopian or at least as utopian as a book can be where political instability and environmental degradation mean that almost everyone dies horribly I'd argue though that Butler takes care not to make the earth seed community or its leader seem ideal she once said personally I find utopia is ridiculous we're not going to have a perfect human society until we get a few perfect humans and that seems unlikely for Warren and for Butler the past with legal racism and misogyny wasn't ideal and what's fascinating to me about parable of the sower is Lauren's straw to imagine a better world that is not based on past models that isn't trying to go back in time or return to some imaginary golden age the hope is less that Lauren's followers will create a utopia on earth or elsewhere and more that they will learn new and better forms of relating to each other and to the world around them and that they will find something to unite them instead of a search for a paradise where nothing ever changes they have to learn to embrace change and use that change to move forward and seek life among the stars where as so many utopian and dystopian novels seem to argue for dismantling technology lauren sees this interstellar travel as a goal that can unite humanity and as we come to the end of our mini-series on dystopias although i suppose you could argue that macbeth is fairly critical of traditional power structures I think it's worth pausing to consider the if this goes honest of parable of the solar what forces or goals can unite and pacify us we know how humans of the past have responded to resource pressures and deprivation x' is there a way that we can somehow avoid their mistakes when responding to the pressures and deprivation z' of a changing climate and can we reconcile ourselves to change and live with it as the book of the living calls us to do parable of the sower is so page-turning ly compulsively readable that it's easy to miss the moments where Warren and Butler speak directly to us and to our times so I want to leave you with a quote from one such moment in the novel Warren writes embrace diversity unite or be divided robbed ruled killed by those who see you as prey good advice I'll see you next time crash course is filmed here in the chad and stacey emigholz studio in indianapolis and it's made possible by your support at patreon patrons voluntary subscription service where you can support crash course directly through a monthly donation to help us keep it free for everyone forever we make crash course with Adobe Creative Cloud you can get a free trial at a link in the description thanks to everyone who supports us on patreon and to all of you for watching and as we say in my hometown don't forget to be awesome

48 thoughts on “The Parable of the Sower: Crash Course Literature #406

  1. god let’s hope a “Looking for Alaska” movie never gets made

  2. Sounds similar (in some respects) to The Power by Naomi Alderman. I'd love to see a crash course on that as well.

  3. "Of course none of that's happened yet. What's that? Oh, Stan informs me that some of it has happened."
    Oh, John, it's happening right now as we speak. Oh so help us, God.

  4. When I clicked on this I thought it said parable of the shower and now I'm disappointed

  5. I am in 2018 and Looking for Alaska is finally made into a movie!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Ill be honest, I thought this would be about the passage from the bible.

  7. LMAO liverpool winning the champions league… that hurts after this year

  8. That book gave me nightmares. I can see America heading in the dystopian direction.

  9. Have Liverpool won the champions league? We'll soon find out hahahaha

  10. So basically in 2018 people are struggling to keep faith in public institutions, a buffon is the president of the United States of America, antibiotic resisting germs are on the rise, almost every country in the world is in political turmoil. Everybody feels miserable, a thing reflected in our art which has become bleaker, less colourful and less hopeful. The cultural zeitgeist is confused at the moment and most people don't identify with any strong ideologies, although it feels like they do, on the surface.

  11. Considering that we were living inside Laurens head for most of the book, it really lacked deep thought…. It was a world where everyone was incredibly ignorant and she was just normal and level headed…. Lauren wasn't a deep thinker whose struggles made the reader contemplate deep issues, no….. she was a sane head in a world of lunatics……. To me, it was a book about a crappy world and Butler hit us over the head with exaggerated social issues… and every character in the book lacked depth, even Lauren.

  12. "She has sex when she wants to"

    What's wrong with that??

  13. Interesting that Robert A. Heinlein was mentioned. One of his novels, Stranger in a Strange Land, published in 1961, also created a minor cult following, the "Church of All Worlds", treating the novel as a holy text. Also, he invented an early version of the waterbed and described it in that novel.

  14. I'm not big on books that are so overtly political… Climate change has ruined the planet, Christianity is a failure, society has reverted back to embracing racism…. and of course… the corporations are to blame (how original)… Lauren was the only character in the story that had a personality except for her boyfriend that's 3x her age… but he only comes in at the end… Maybe in Talents the characters can get developed a little better… or not killed off… Not a bad book but I don't like overt political bias… I enjoyed the Fledgling more

  15. Well, this book sounds very interesting!

    Unfortunately I have to disagree with the whole "god is change thing"….


  16. "Stan tells me some of it is happening" is he talking about Trump's slogans???

  17. Having read this book and parable of the talents, I preferred the sequel. I hated the first one and the second one I only read because spoiler alert

    I heard the POV was on Lauren’s daughter and I wanted to see how that was

  18. What really creeped me out was when I was reading the sequel, The Parable of the Talents, and found myself rolling my eyes at how the introduction was so obviously referencing 9/11. Then I looked at the publication date: 1998.

  19. "I have so many questions, I just hope you're around to answer them."
    Classic John. 🙂

  20. Dear Future John: When does Rollerball become a real sport?

  21. I declare this book heretic in the name of the Holy Emperor's Inquisition! Any piece of litterature that declare that God is change is to be considered as a forbitten novel. Dont read books kids. It only bring you closer to Choas.

  22. This made me think about something I read once: That we misinterpret Darwin when we say "survival of the fittest"; that what Darwin really meant was something along the line of "survival of those most able to adapt".

    The difference can be subtle, or not so subtle, depending on how one interprets or acts upon the first iteration. I tend to think that survival of the fittest/might is right is in large part how we got to this mess in the first place.

  23. I read this over the past week…that was depression and the future does seem extremely possible. I'm going to take a break with another book before I head into the second book. This was definitely a page turner, and is a must read

  24. Yes, Liverpool won the Champions League in 2021. Player of the competition was Ben Woodburn

  25. Do you really think he'll look back at this video 7 years from now?

  26. I can't get the idea out of my head that CrashCourse should do 'The Giver' and 'Watership Down'. I think it'd be interesting!

  27. The walls that divide our communities, cultures, economies, and contries are the greatest challanges we may ever face. Change is the only constant. It has the greatest power and effect on our lives. Weather we like it or not, weather we admit it or not, we are a part of that change. With great power comes great responsibility. Even if we choose to be passive and let someone else decide for us, we are responsible for our own inaction, for we allowed that be.

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