Chapters 19–21

Summary: Chapter 19

When the group is south of Salinas, an earthquake hits, causing a fire in a small town. As the group quietly makes its way past the scavengers already gathering, Lauren falls into conversation with a friendly-looking Black man pushing a cart. She instinctively trusts him. His name is Taylor Bankole, and he is about the same age as Lauren’s father. A little farther up the road, the group comes across a collapsed house with people trapped inside. While Bankole and an increasingly grim-looking Harry hold scavengers at bay, the rest pull two young white sisters from the rubble: Allie and Jill Gilchrist. With two new, injured members added to their number, the group draws the attention of attackers, who soon strike. Lauren stabs one attacker, who bleeds to death while lying on top of her—an agonizing experience for Lauren. The group searches the bodies of four dead attackers, and turn up some cash, a pistol, and an earring radio. When the group resumes walking and Allie asks who they are, Harry gives “Earthseed” as the group’s name. This leads to a brief, tense conversation about religion.

In Salinas, police are out in force, but they allow walkers to stop and shop. At a store where the security guards do not look trigger-happy, Bankole urges Lauren to buy a rifle on display. After Allie agrees with the suggestion, Lauren buys the rifle, while Bankole buys some ammunition and a cleaning kit for it.

Summary: Chapter 20

Listening to the earring radio, Lauren learns that the entire Bay Area is in chaos and best avoided. The group takes a detour inland, to Interstate 5, and gets as far as San Juan Bautista before making camp just past the town. Early the next morning, they are awakened by nearby gunfire—a fight over a truck. The shooting ends after the truck explodes. Bankole, who went missing during the gunfight, returns with a small boy whose mother Bankole stayed with as she died. Papers the woman was carrying identify the boy as Justin Rohr, age three. He latches onto Allie as his new caregiver, and she accepts the role, perhaps because she misses her own infant son. When Allie and Jill’s father, who was pimping out both of them, killed Allie’s son with his bare fists, Allie and Jill escaped by burning down their Glendale home with their father in it.

In Hollister, the group has another chance to resupply. People there are behaving decently, helping one another with post-earthquake repairs and looking after those left destitute.

Summary: Chapter 21

The group now numbers eight adults and two children. At San Juan Reservoir, where there is shade and free water, the group camps for two nights. Harry, seeing the growing attraction between Lauren and Bankole, warns her not to “give the poor old guy a heart attack.” Lauren begins to get to know Bankole better. His wife died five years ago after she was brutally beaten by men looking for drugs. He remained in his small, walled San Diego neighborhood until it was overrun and burned by scavengers. Bankole’s wife was a Methodist; he went to church with her but never believed. He is similarly skeptical of Earthseed, but he respects the seriousness with which Lauren espouses the belief system and listens attentively as she explains it. 

Like everyone else, Bankole says, he’s just making his way north to start a new life someplace safe. Lauren suspects that he has a definite destination in mind—the home of a relative or friend, perhaps. She wishes she could trust him fully. They make love repeatedly while at the reservoir, although Bankole is at first taken aback to learn that the woman he has started sleeping with is only eighteen.

Analysis: Chapters 19–21

Just like the expanding universe that the opening poem of Chapter 19 references, Lauren expands her horizons through personal growth, and by growing the numbers of her traveling group. The “strength in numbers” approach she takes is central to Earthseed’s philosophy, and paramount for it to take root. The diversity of the group, particularly along racial and economic lines, becomes evident, but we begin to see an expansion in Lauren’s character development as well. Taylor Bankole, a traveler just a year older than Lauren’s father and a man who took a Yoruban last name just like Lauren’s father, joins the company and takes on a father figure status for Lauren. That she also finds the man attractive and grows to love him reveals a lot about Lauren’s psyche. The close attachment to her father and the imprint he had on her influences her personal growth. Her father stressed community development over isolated pursuits which Lauren takes to heart. She even begins to act more and more like a leader, just as her father was, with every passing day. Butler begins to depict Lauren’s personal growth in a distinguishing light. Deference and respect are shown toward Lauren, even when her decisions, like helping Jill and Allie Gilchrist and bringing them into the expanding group, are met unenthusiastically.

Yet Lauren’s intuitive awareness continues to develop and evolve as she settles into her leadership role. Once again, the importance of acquiring information is a key theme. Lauren’s information gathering results in a life-saving detour, garnering herself even more respect. Butler continues to drive home the fact that Lauren is able to not only rise above the strife, conflict, and peril that surrounds her and her group, but that she’s able to hone and adapt her senses amid the frenzied unrest and wealth divide. When others question bringing Jill and Allie into the fold, Lauren is able to observe an inner strength in the sisters that will later prove helpful. She’s acutely perceptive, and the mercy she shows in saving them from the rubble, and the eventual gesture of gratefulness the sisters show, is indicative of how sharp and discerning Lauren’s instincts have become. She’s developing into a prophet of sorts — a Black Moses who not only guides, nurtures, and leads her people to safety, but instills a sense of empowerment in each by offering them a vision of a hopeful future.

Children also begin to play a greater importance in the narrative as they represent hope for the future. Bankole doesn’t think twice about rescuing Justin Rohr, a three-year-old orphaned child caught in the crossfire of a gunfight, and Natividad doesn’t hesitate in nursing him in a show of motherly love. While children are to be guarded, nurtured, and protected at all costs to secure a better tomorrow, they also provide purpose as in the case of Allie who accepts the role as Justin’s guardian. Justin poses a healing presence for Allie and her sister Jill, as Allie’s own child perished at the hands of her pimp father whom she and Jill killed by burning the house down. The event is symbolic of how Allie and Jill have risen from the ashes to survive and live a life of purpose. Children not only provide an antidote to despair but allow for hope to spring up within the group. 

Lauren’s role as a visionary leader contrasted with her love and desire for Bankole spotlights the duality of her character. At times, Butler depicts Lauren as an invincible superhero immune to pain and suffering, but in Lauren’s relationship with Bankole, we see a more vulnerable side to her. She’s intimidated by Bankole’s rigid agnosticism, which runs counter to her founding principles for Earthseed. He intimidates her yet she willingly has an intimate relationship with him even though she knows that he’s withholding specifics about his destination from her. At times, Lauren behaves like a different person around Bankole, but this duality is, in effect, in keeping with her own Earthseed philosophy. While Lauren fully intends to direct Earthseed as she wants, she also welcomes its adaptation by her descendants, even if it means a sectarian future for her religion as Bankole claims.