“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.


The Concept of the “Dream House” in Relation to the “American Dream”

Property ownership has been an overarching theme of the semester thus far. From The Old Man and the Storm, which follows an eighty-two year old man as he rebuilds his home after Hurricane Katrina, to Michael Lewis’ The Big Short, which depicts the build-up of the United States housing bubble in the early 2000’s, to Angela Flournoy’s The Turner House, which tells an account of an African American family living in Detroit struggling to keep their childhood home, the concept of housing is an important element to consider. Furthermore, it is also crucial to keep in mind that in all three of these cases this notion of home is accompanied with sentiments of melancholy.

The idea of a “dream house” juxtaposes the disheartening idea of home seen in the varying art forms aforementioned. This notion of a “dream house” is largely highlighted in mediums such as magazine advertisements and television shows and connects notably to the “American Dream” throughout time. Rather than focusing on compartmentalizing, many times a key component of a “dream house” is expansion, as depicted in Mr. Blandings Dream House. In the film (seen thus far), Jim Blandings and his family are cramped in a New York apartment. After seeing an ad in the paper about new homes in Connecticut, he and his wife decide to purchase what they continuously call their “dream house,” regardless of the apprehensions of their lawyer.

However, Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s lecture “Small is Beautiful” highlights the importance of modesty and ecological efficiency. He calls attention to the contemporary “Tiny House Movement” gaining popularity, as magazines and television shows are beginning to bring this shift into popular culture. An excerpt from the the television show Portlandia, shown during the lecture, exemplifies, in a greatly exaggerated manner, the efficiency and capability of a “tiny house.” Dr. Kenneth Cooper went on to reexamine the notions of the “American Dream,” calling attention to other countries, such as the Netherlands, that use bicycles, drive smaller vehicles, have tinier food portion sizes, and overall have less grandiose ideals within the culture. This sense of more, and bigger and greater has me thinking, when did the “American Dream” begin to constitute gluttony? Or has it always had?