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Little Amy Dunn, the daughter of teenaged Tracy Dunn and the uncle who regularly raped Tracy, accidentally starts a fire in her family’s garage. Amy is a neglected child, but Lauren can tell that she is bright and eager to learn. Cory, who runs the neighborhood school, agrees to teach Amy if Lauren will oversee her. A widowed pair of twins, Wardell Parrish and Rosalee Payne, inherit Mrs. Sims’s house and move in together. Neither of them are very likeable, but Mrs. Payne has seven kids who seem tolerable to Lauren.
Lauren’s father takes Lauren, her boyfriend Curtis Talcott, and several other neighbors—some Black, some white—into a canyon for shooting practice. The children are included in this activity once they hit age fifteen. Lauren loves and admires her father, but she’s unhappy about his near-obsession with guns and self-defense. One of the other Black men, Richard Moss, is a polygamist who created a religion to justify his lifestyle. In the canyon, his daughter Aura shoots at one of the dogs that roam the area in packs. Frightened and inexperienced, she fires wildly and almost hits Curtis’s brother. When Lauren’s father checks to see whether Aura hit anything else, he returns looking grim and tells everyone to leave. Lauren later learns that he found the partly-eaten corpses of a woman and two children.
On the way out of the canyon, after Lauren’s father wounds a dog, Lauren shoots the dog in the head to end its suffering. Because of her hyperempathy syndrome, she experiences the dog’s death as the sensation of a flame being extinguished.
When the first rainstorm in years passes through the area, Amy Dunn wanders out of her house, presumably to enjoy the fresh water falling from the sky. She is killed when a random bullet penetrates the gate in the neighborhood wall.
Lauren and a trusted friend, Joanne Garfield, talk about the future. Lauren fears that one day, the chaos outside their neighborhood will pour in and consume it. A new drug that makes people enjoy setting fires has started to spread again, and back east, people are dying by the hundreds from tornadoes, blizzards, and measles outbreaks. Joanne hopes that the current crises will pass and the world’s human survivors will start to rebuild civilization, but in the meantime, she thinks there’s nothing to do but wait. Lauren, however, wants an escape plan in place. She has been reading all the survivalist literature she can get her hands on and urges Joanne to go home and do the same. She lends Joanne her father’s book on edible native plants of the West Coast.
Joanne betrays Lauren’s confidence by telling her parents about Lauren’s warnings of the growing danger from outside and the prospect of having to flee the neighborhood. After Joanne’s parents complain to Lauren’s father, he talks sternly with Lauren. Somewhat to her surprise, he shares many of her concerns. His book on native plants provided the recipe for the acorn bread people in the neighborhood have been eating. However, Lauren’s father believes that it is better to teach people than to make them afraid. He wants Lauren to focus on things like earthquake preparedness and martial arts training, which other people will be more willing to learn about.
The next day, Lauren’s father preaches a sermon about Noah, whose trust in God and hard work prepared his family for the coming flood. When thieves steal fruit from some neighbors’ trees, Lauren’s father organizes an armed neighborhood watch patrol. Two weeks later, the patrol scares off two thieves going after the Moss family’s rabbits. Cory worries that someone will get killed during a confrontation and protests that the family cannot live this way. Lauren’s father says they already live this way.
As conditions degrade outside the neighborhood’s walls, Butler emphasizes the role victimization plays in character development. The use of pedophilia, incest, and polygamy to depict how various figures in the novel respond to their personal tragedies serves to punctuate their world’s rapidly deteriorating conditions. Tracy Dunn was repeatedly raped by her uncle. The child she gave birth to at the age of 13, Amy, was the product of that union, but the fact that Tracy willfully neglects her daughter only shows how victim begets victim. Amy sets fire to the garage, drawing the attention of Lauren who shows her mercy and kindness. That Amy is ultimately shot and killed only underscores her personal tragedy. Karen Moss is a victim of her husband Richard’s polygamous philandering and, in conceding to his ways, has no choice but to allow two other women to be Richard’s wives. Butler describes other women being thrown out of similar relationships for getting pregnant, but the Moss women are purposefully held onto in a form of marriage slavery. Having children poses a financial crutch and provides a reason for men like Richard to bully and shelter women like Karen, Natalie, and Zahra Moss. But in the case of Zahra, she’ll make use of her victimization by adapting and becoming a “partner of God” as the opening verses of Chapter 5 state. In the novel, victims who are able to learn from their circumstances and adapt are shown to thrive.
Butler employs conflict in Chapter 5 to emphasize the struggle between two opposing forces, action and inaction. That conflict is magnified amid a disturbing backdrop of spreading diseases, the popularity of a new drug that turns people into crazed pyromaniacs, and the heightening threat of outside attack. For Lauren, the death of little Amy Dunn by a stray bullet is the ostensible impetus to stir others into a plan of action, but that plan is greeted with indolence and denial by Joanne Garfield and others in the community. The desperation Lauren shows as she tries to spread the gospel of escape and survival is noteworthy. In the midst of this crisis, she begins to navigate a way out. She wants to awaken her community from a years-long slumber, where hope was placed in an uncaring God and impotent presidents. Lauren’s aim is to spawn a rebirth from the throes of a dying a world. Her skills in the art of influence, persuasion, and argument — as demonstrated in her conversation with Joanne — will aid her mission to ignite a dormant and idle community set in their ways and prone to denial.
Denial among Robledo’s residents presents a barrier for Lauren’s plan to escape. Her initial attempts to prepare and instruct her closest friend for a new future are met by denial which, ironically, becomes a teachable moment for Lauren. She learns how difficult it is to change someone with entrenched beliefs. Lauren’s father, her closest ally, also exhibits traits of living in a state of denial when he urges Lauren not to speak hard truths to anyone as it “frightens people.” The fact that Lauren likens her father to a “broad wall” is symbolic of the resistive barrier he poses when Lauren so desperately wants to tell her truth. Even Lauren isn’t immune to living in such a state. When Cory raises the possibility of her father’s death, she’s unable to process the thought and tells herself that she doesn’t believe her father could die.