Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Weapons, much like food, water, clothes, and shelter, are crucial for survival in Lauren’s world. Those who don’t possess them are at a distinct disadvantage. In the early stages of the novel, gun training is used as a rite of passage in Robledo, first with BB guns then with handguns. As a chore, Lauren has to clean both guns in the household, one of which is a submachine gun. As Keith demonstrated, weapons, like the one he stole from Cory, can be used for personal gain and to build a life of crime outside the neighborhood walls. But on the group’s journey northward, weapons are needed for protection. For their first purchase after the neighborhood massacre, both Harry and Zahra buy knives as an alternative to expensive guns. Both knives and guns are employed to kill in self-defense, but they’re used in other manners as well. Lauren flashes her gun to intimidate two men approaching their camp. In the Earthseed community, being handed a gun signifies trust and full acceptance into the group. Lauren hands Harry her gun prior to digging Jill and Allie out of the rubble. After that, she buys a rifle and gives it to Harry. Conversely, Lauren refuses to give a gun to Grayson after he exhibited arrogance, petulance, and a lack of understanding.


Drugs and drug abuse are woven into Lauren’s narrative as a means of showing the effects of drugs on the state of the world. People look to drugs for escape, pleasure, and to enhance intelligence and memory. As a result of her mother’s abuse of Paracetco, Lauren is born with a congenital defect that shapes her world view and the manner in which she interacts with others. Pyro, a popular drug, turns people into maniacal sociopaths, causing them to derive pleasure in watching things burn as the sensation is better than sex. However, not all drug references in the narrative underscore a societal meltdown; for instance, Bankole offers Lauren pain medications to counter the negative effects of hyperempathy.


Societal collapse in the year 2024 has allowed for a modern-day version of slavery to exist and flourish. In Octavia Butler’s re-envisioning of slavery, the recurring motif of human bondage isn’t purely based on race but gender and economic disparity as well. As multinational conglomerates, like KSF, gain even more wealth and power, workers find themselves indebted to the companies they work for. Emery Solis, who is mixed-race, and Grayson Mora, who is half-Black and half-Latino, are runaway slaves who have joined Lauren’s group. Both of Emery’s sons were snatched away from her by her employers in a scene reminiscent of the pre-Civil War era. While debt servitude pervades the nation, so does marital slavery. As a homeless 15-year-old, Zahra Moss is purchased by polygamist Richard Moss in what Lauren describes as his “version of slavery.” Jill and Allie Gilchrist were forced into sexual slavery by their father before they killed him. The fact that all these characters journey north in a sort of modern-day Underground Railroad speaks volumes on the importance Butler placed on her characters breaking free from the physical, psychological, and sexual chains of their oppressors.