Publication Date


Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)


Type of Culminating Activity


Degree Title

Master of Arts in English, Literature



Major Advisor

Thomas Hillard, Ph.D.


Dora Ramirez-Dhoore, Ph.D.


Cheryl Hindrichs, Ph.D.


We are living in the midst of environmental and social crises. This fact was not lost on late African-American science fiction writer Octavia E. Butler, whose 1993 Parable of the Sower and 1998 Nebula Award-winning Parable of the Talents depict and critique the current environmental and social crises in the United States. Speaking of Sower in an interview with Essence magazine, Butler says that all she “did was look around at the problems we’re neglecting now and give them about 30 years to grow into full-fledged disasters” (“Brave New Worlds” 164). In another interview with Randall Kenan, Butler describes environmental degradation, specifically global warming, as a primary concern within the Parable novels but also as an extension of real-world environmental degradation. She says, “The greenhouse effect has intensified and there has been a certain amount of starvation and agricultural displacement. There are real problems. Some of our prime agricultural land won’t be able to produce the crops that it’s been producing [….] These are big problems” (qtd. in Kenan 502). However, in the Parable novels, she does not separate her concern for the environment from her concerns about other social issues, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, the increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and the specific problems that social injustice creates. Indeed, the novels show that the groups already oppressed in American society—namely racial minorities, women, the poor, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) individuals—are most victimized by ecological disaster. These groups experience the worst conditions society has to offer, and racist, sexist, classist, and homophobic ideology is perpetuated throughout the crises. Moreover, these ideologies gain prominence as people search for scapegoats and excuses for their behavior in a time of intense competition for even basic necessities. The connection Butler makes between environmental disaster and social injustice is apt in light of environmental justice criticism that shows that American society already disproportionately victimizes minority groups with environmental degradation. Furthermore, her discussions of empathy, hierarchy, and spirituality in the novels expose some of the root causes of environmental disaster and social injustice.