The Relationship Between Community and Subjectivity in Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower. By Extrapolation

The Relationship Between Community and Subjectivity in Octavia E. Butler's Parable of the Sower.

By Extrapolation

  • Release Date: 2005-09-22
  • Genre: Language Arts & Disciplines

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Butler's future world of 2024 shares many of the characteristics Immanuel Wallerstein attributes to our contemporary society. In our contemporary world of economic globalization, says Wallerstein in his book Utopistics, "transnational corporations are so truly global that they can circumvent the states" (47). In her fictive world of 2024, Butler projects the political fantasies of the anti-government right into the future, a powerful segment of American society which would resolve the current capitalist crisis by accentuating economic inequality and by annulling the power of the state to protect and organize its subjects. In this context, as Tom Moylan argues in Scraps of the Untainted Sky, competing corporate values, "without the safety nets of regulation, support, and service ... have completed the destruction of the social matrix and as the basic requirements of existence are being sold back to people who have been just deprived of them" (224). This leads Butler's female protagonist to assert that debt-slavery, something "old and nasty" (105), has revived. This essay focuses on how Butler dramatizes and overcomes the exploitation of the female that ensues from such a form of capitalism. In her novel, sexual slavery and prostitution are inherent tendencies of a system that favors profit at the expense of human well-being. Lauren Olamina, the female protagonist, slowly unfolds in her diary how society allows for the sexual exploitation of, particularly, black women. When her house is burnt down by thieves, she flees to the North in order to forge her own utopian community. On her way North, Olamina meets a series of black and Hispanic women who have suffered sexual abuse, like Allison and Jillian, two young girls whose "pimp was their father" (212). So she will tell Bankole, her future husband, after listening to their stories: "You realize that women and children were sold like cattle--and no doubt sold into prostitution" (263). Olamina will begin to observe the close link between economic exploitation and sexual exploitation: "I wondered how much difference there was between Natividad's former employer, who treated her as though he owned her, and Richard Moss who purchased young girls to be part of his harem" (200). By inquiring into their personal lives, Olamina recognizes what Adam McKible terms in his article "'These are the Facts of the Darky's History:' Thinking History and Reading Names in four African American Texts," "the gendering and racializing of reproduction; the exploitation of women as the producers of surplus value--children--and the exploitation of 'free' black women as low-wage producers and surplus reproducers" (232). In her double marginality, being both female and black, Olamina is exposed to the contradictions of a society which supposedly characterizes itself by "the 'equality' of 'free' wage-labor" (225). This subject position at the crossroads of society's contradictions that the African American woman occupies may become a site of awareness and, therefore, of powerful self-assertion.