One thing that has stood out to me from the start of the Parable series is Lauren’s unquestioned power and authority. I think that one reason Lauren’s relationship with Bankole never made me uncomfortable is that Lauren is the leader of the group, in spite of her age, gender, and lack of experience outside of a walled community. Although she is an eighteen-year-old black woman, she holds more power than Bankole or any other member of the group with whom they come to be traveling. She is listened to, and she is taken seriously, and members accept this structure almost without question. Interestingly, perhaps unfortunately, Lauren’s authority seemed more unbelievable to me and brought up more questions for me than the age difference between her and Bankole (potentially only because her power is revealed before their romantic relationship begins in Parable of the Sower).
Last Tuesday, poet, Marlene NourbeSe Philip spoke to one of my other classes, and she claimed that she, as a black female poet, sometimes questions her own authority, because historically only white English males held the authority to be taken seriously as poets. Throughout reading this series I realize I was consistently trying to grasp where Lauren’s authority came from. How does she come to believe that her truths are the correct ones? How does a fifteen-year-old black girl come to believe enough in her observations of the world to begin writing a book and making plans to act on her observations, wholeheartedly believing that her actions will someday make a real difference? Is it because she began having these thoughts at the age of twelve, before she was touched or completely understood conceptions of traditional power arrangements? Or does her motto “God is change” allow her to ignore these conceptions? Or are her truths really more powerful and true than those of other religions?
This is certainly not to say that I’m against the idea of strong female characters or that power in the hands of a woman makes me uncomfortable but just that it seems notable that Lauren’s age and gender in combination with her authority isn’t questioned, especially since it doesn’t appear as though any strides in gender equality or any changes in the notions of childhood vs. adulthood have occurred in this futuristic setting. In fact, opinions on gender in their world seem to be becoming even more antiquated than ours today. For example, this is a world where, “When men have absolute power over women who are strangers, the men rape” (200). Furthermore, “President Jarrett and his followers in Christian America believed that one of the things that had gone wrong with the country was the intrusion of women into ‘men’s business’” (221).
At the same time, however, I have been attempting to quell these questions, telling myself to accept her power. Because if none of the members of Earthseed question it, should I? Why can’t an eighteen-year-old girl have confidence in her convictions, win authority by bringing people together and keeping them together, promoting cooperation and teamwork so as to offer a greater chance of survival? So far, (although I haven’t finished Parable of the Talents) it seems as though Lauren has earned her power through her successes in protecting the group she has assembled. Is that more than we can say about the powers that influence what we accept as truths today? (Do the powerful earn authority? Are they born with it? Or do they grant it to themselves?) As mentioned in class on Wednesday, there are losses and gains associated with joining any community. Lauren’s stubbornness might not necessarily disqualify her as a heroic leader, and Butler seems to be purporting that leadership is important, or at least inevitable.