Chapters 16–18

Summary: Chapter 16

After a long day’s walk, the three make camp and build a small fire, even though it attracts visitors. Lauren and Zahra admonish Harry to be suspicious and not friendly toward strangers. At night, while Harry is on a watch, he is attacked by two men. He shoots one, but the other nearly overpowers him before Lauren caves the man’s skull in with a rock. Lauren feels the impact as if the rock had struck her, and the continuing presence of the gravely injured man makes Lauren nauseous. When she cuts his throat to end his suffering and hers, too, Zahra and Harry are shocked at Lauren’s cold-bloodedness.

To explain her behavior, Lauren tells Harry and Zahra about her being a “sharer,” which means she has hyperempathy. Zahra takes the news calmly; she has seen many children much more badly damaged by their mothers’ drug use than Lauren. Harry, however, is more distrustful of Lauren and wants to know how Lauren would handle various other scenarios. After Lauren patiently answers his questions, Harry decides not to leave. Then his questions turn in a different direction: he has seen Lauren journaling every evening, and he wants to know what she has written. Hesitantly, Lauren shows him the opening lines of her Earthseed book about God being Change.

Summary: Chapter 17

Harry realizes that there are things about Lauren he doesn’t know, and he shows interest in her poetry. At night, Lauren catches him and Zahra making love when one of them should be keeping watch. When she reprimands each of them individually, Harry is more embarrassed than Zahra. At a commercial water station, Lauren and the others intervene when two young men try to steal water from a mixed-race couple with an infant. After that, the other family stays within sight as everyone on the freeway continues walking west.

Neither Lauren nor her companions have ever seen the ocean. When they reach the Pacific, they happily bathe and splash. The couple with the infant camp nearby Lauren, Zahra, and Harry. When Lauren tries to get acquainted with the family, they act suspicious about Lauren’s intentions. Later that night, Lauren kills a dog that is about to attack the baby. The next day, the couple introduces themselves: Travis and Natividad Douglas, and little Dominic. Harry, not thinking, refers to Lauren as “she.” Up until that point, the Douglas family thought Lauren was a man. Natividad is intrigued to see that Lauren can read and write. Lauren suggests that the two groups join to gain strength from numbers. Travis doesn’t want a woman’s help protecting his family, but Natividad asks Lauren to read some of her poetry aloud. The six decide to travel together.

Summary: Chapter 18

By the time they reach Santa Barbara, there is more trust amongst the group. They replenish their supplies at a Hanning Joss store and rest the next day, a Sunday. Travis knows how to read because his mother used to borrow books for him from her white employer’s library. When Travis becomes interested in Earthseed and starts asking about the God-is-Change principle, he and Lauren talk about entropy and the second law of thermodynamics. According to Lauren, Change is irresistible and is “better partnered than fought.” Lauren also explains the Earthseed concept of heaven: the Destiny of Earthseed is to take root among the stars. Travis is skeptical but continues to engage Lauren in debate, and Natividad is intrigued, too. Harry is mostly amused and dismissive. By the following Sunday, Travis has become the first Earthseed convert. Zahra is the second, although she is less interested in space travel than in Lauren’s vision of an earthly community.

Analysis: Chapters 16–18

As Lauren rises from the literal and figurative ashes, she’s presented with a clean slate with which to write her own story and shape Earthseed’s framework. The Earthseed verses that begin Chapter 16 reference an unlearning of old thoughts and starting anew in order to survive and thrive in a changing world. This includes suppressing individual aims for the good of the Earthseed group. Lauren and Harry must fight their natural inclinations to trust people and learn to work like a pack of animals, not as individuals. Secrets also prove debilitating as Lauren learns when she is forced to kill an attacker then passes out from hyperempathy. The ensuing confession about her hyperempathy syndrome to the others allows for it to become an integral part of her rebirthed identity and fosters honesty and an open dialogue as she establishes Earthseed. Vigilance also takes on added importance as a means for personal survival and as a tool to protect Earthseed members. When Lauren disguises herself then kills an attacker, the change in her behavior shocks Harry who calls Lauren a “hell of an actor.” But on-the-go adaptation is a vital element of the Earthseed ethic, and is the key to survival.

The rapidly changing dynamics of the pack indicate that the bond and trust between Lauren, Harry, and Zahra is a work in progress. Harry is still distrustful of Lauren after she put an attacker out of his misery in such a cold-blooded fashion, but after Harry unintentionally reveals Lauren’s true gender, the “embarrassed smile” he gives her suggests trust in their relationship has been restored. What strengthens their bond, however, are the words and tenets of Earthseed. The need to be suspicious, distrustful, and mindful of strangers is paradoxically underpinned by Earthseed’s principle to unite. In watching and hearing Zahra and Harry make love, Lauren feels their sensations via hyperempathy. The event symbolizes a three-way embrace and unification that allows the three to share an emotionally tender moment together. Similarly, when all three take the opportunity to bathe and purify themselves in the Pacific Ocean, the act is evocative of a Christian baptism, and a seal of reliance and interdependence among their united “trinity.”

Lauren grows and diversifies the pack tactically and benevolently in an effort to establish Earthseed. Diversity in race, age, and gender begins to play an increasingly important role and is depicted as both a positive force and one necessary for survival. Her compassionate ability to instill trust in strangers becomes evident in her exchanges with an interracial couple and their newborn, particularly after saving the infant’s life from an attacking dog. Interracial couples and interracial groups have become societal risks evidenced by Zahra’s comment that in this world “mixed couples catch hell.” Yet, Earthseed scripture is clear: “Embrace diversity, or be destroyed.” The diverse group she’s amassed parallels that of Noah and the diverse assemblage he amassed (recall Reverend Olamina’s sermon about the Old Testament prophet in Chapter 6). Lauren will continue to diversify her group of travelers as they travel northward.

As Lauren expounds on the fundamental doctrine of Earthseed with greater confidence, it becomes clear that her faith system has different meanings for different members of her group. Just as followers of other religions don’t all believe in the same way, Lauren’s followers take to different aspects of her newfound belief system. Lauren grows to appreciate Travis’s incessant, yet respectful, questioning on the nature of Lauren’s God as it validates her message of Earthseed. Like a line from the very first sentence of the book, Travis demonstrates a “persistent, positive obsession” with Earthseed and Lauren soon counts him as her very first convert. For Zahra, she’s drawn to Earthseed’s message of establishing a community and looking out for one another. For Natividad, the concept of a genderless God and one equated to Change is cause to ponder. Even Harry, who has been dismissive of Earthseed, is amused by the notion of shaping God. The diversity of thought and acceptance of Earthseed offers hope to Lauren, and a shared cause to get behind for her followers.