Moses

Early in chapter 18 from this week’s reading (page 307 in my edition of the book), Larkin writes about her uncle Marc, saying, among other things, “What Uncle Marc had been through as a slave marked him.” Had Butler not shortened his name to “Marc,” this might not have stood out to me, but she did, and it did. Marc is marked. Marc is also jealous of his sibling. The Cain and Abel story isn’t a direct template for this relationship, but there are echoes, as God marked Cain before sending him wandering.

Thinking about that wandering put me in mind too of another Biblical story. Moses, you may recall, had an adoptive mother, saw a burning bush, revealed the word of God by writing down the ten commandments, and eventually led the Israelites out of slavery, sending them out to wander the land for 40 years.

Lauren also has an adoptive mother. Early in Parable of the Sower, she has dreams (visions?) of fire, and of course fire is in no short supply throughout that book (people worship it, even). She says again and again that she’s merely writing down, in her Earthseed verses, the truth she’s discovering, not a religion she’s making up. And in this week’s reading, she leads her people out of slavery. If one wants to stretch things a bit, one might even liken the saving mudslide to the parting of the Red Sea. Finally, she breaks her rescued people into smaller groups that wander off in different directions. There’s at least a slant rhyme here with the Moses story, no?

Harriet Tubman too came to be called the Moses of her people. And though Butler’s story doesn’t limit enslavement to African Americans, it’s hard not to think at least a little bit about Tubman when reading the group of Butler’s books we’ve read this year.

I have no stunning point or incisive literary criticism to offer here. I’m just noting an association that came to mind while I read. I’ll offer two further associations in the form of worthwhile books by living authors. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad gives a sort of embodiment to the historical underground railroad. Ta-Nehesi Coates is well known for his nonfiction, but his first novel, The Water Dancer, is well worth a read too. Set in 19th-century America, the book confronts slavery directly. Its magical realism elements didn’t always work for me, but I liked the book on the whole, and it was neat to see Coates writing lyrical prose fiction; I’d gladly read any straight-up realist fiction he published.

2 thoughts on “Moses

  1. Jeff Anderson May 1, 2021 / 6:42 pm

    I see the parallels you’re pointing out (although I’d call Cory Lauren’s stepmother rather than her adoptive mother), but where I think Moses doesn’t quite hold up for me is that I don’t remember him having much of a drive to recruit other folks to become Israelites. (I’m not even sure that was possible, was it? Except maybe for women marrying in and then having children?) Overall, the Earthseed books give me much more a New Testament vibe than an Old Testament one.

    • Daryl L. L. Houston May 5, 2021 / 11:01 pm

      Ah, right, the relationship was step- and not adoptive. That reminds me anyway of another thought I had been chewing on, which is that in Sower, at the beginning, I felt like there was more of a tenderness and an openness between Cory and Lauren, but that relationship seemed to sour over time. Maybe Cory’s patience for the eldest (step)child just wore thin as her family grew and life became harder. Still, it seemed a little discongruous.

      That’s a fair point about Moses and recruitment and the New Testament too. Lauren became sort of a fisher of men, to apply a phrase from Matthew.

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