“Is it a Sin Against God to be Poor?”

Professor McCoy concluded yesterday’s class by pointing out that for the past twelve years she has been teaching Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower the book has gradually taken upon a frightening truth within our own reality. Students years ago may have thought this book was rather outlandish and inconceivable within our society, but as time has progressed the resemblance between Butler’s civilization and our own have seemed to merge. Although I have only just begun the novel, the complexity and originality of the work is already grappling and the growing likeness between our reality and Butler’s fiction has me reading for more.

One of the overarching themes in this book so far is based around the complexities of religion. The protagonist of the novel, Lauren, seems to be struggling with her own inner faith as she is pressured by his minister father to assume her rightful duties as a practicing Baptist, which most currently means receiving a proper baptism regardless of the dangerous circumstances. Lauren, in an effort to appease her father, follows through with the baptism although it is quite obvious that the profound and deep spirituality behind the sacrament is absent within her. However, she does explain that the idea of God has been on her mind and the varying kinds of God people believe in perplexes her. Following a hurricane that killed seven hundred people off the Gulf, Lauren contemplates her own skepticism of a higher being. She explains, “Most of the dead are the street poor who have nowhere to go and who don’t hear the warnings until it’s too late for their feet to take them to safety. Where’s safety for them anyway? Is it a sin against God to be poor?” (Butler 15). Immediately after reading this part, the horrors of Hurricane Katrina came straight to mind. Looking back at The Old Man and the Storm, the documentary greatly resembles the hardships of the hurricane that hit New Orleans and its particular effects on the people of the Ninth Ward, a predominantly poor, African American neighborhood. The devastation of the Gulf in Butler’s novel proves to be eerily similar to the devastation Hurricane Katrina caused, and seeing that the poor were the most affected group in both situations, Lauren’s question of God’s disregard, or rather hostility towards the poor seems rather legitimate in reality.  

Additionally, following Professor McCoy’s exercise in class yesterday the concept of impoverishment and homelessness came to mind again. We were assigned to scope around campus for shelter with all academic buildings being locked. One of the most apparent, and rather alarming, realizations was the almost inherent notion to use violence for safety and shelter. My group and I collectively conceded that when faced with danger this innate sense of violence was overtaking. One person in my group explained that he saw a window that would be easy to break into in this situation, something that he did not notice prior to the exercise. Keeping this in mind, the violent overtone in the Parable of the Sower, as exemplified within the walls of the community and even greater outside the walls, calls into play human nature altogether. Returning to Lauren’s questioning of God and His animosity towards the impoverished also is important to consider within the exercise. Assumed in this scenario, or at least I did, was that one was homeless and destitute. It was quickly realized that my previous perception of the campus as open and accessible was replaced with notions of restriction and isolation. Lauren’s question, “Is it a sin against good to be poor?” (Butler 15) once again came to mind. Poverty is closely associated with hardship, danger and misery, and that is just to name a few. Although this exercise was clearly fictitious, these concepts of adversity became actuality when trying to find a sufficient place for shelter. Violence became a means for safety as breaking into academic buildings was deemed acceptable and self guarding one’s own “territory” was a necessity. Similarly,  violence was at a high following Hurricane Katrina which left many homeless, having lost everything. These concepts of vandalism, intrusion, and the need to protect whatever space you have became rampant. However, one does not have to solely look at the victims of Hurricane Katrina to see the effects of human nature at a low point. Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower also manifests violence as a necessary evil in her dystopian society within the novel. In her society, violence is everywhere, so much so that being armed is paramount for example. In my opinion, Lauren’s wariness of God and His almighty protection of His people is quite warranted within the novel so far and more relevantly calls upon the reader to invoke their own opinion of Lauren’s internal dilemma to the troubles of modern reality.

 

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