Final Reflection: In relation to The Trees and Course Epigraphs

My semester’s story as told through Percival Everett’s The Trees and one of our course epigraphs could be a long one. But nonetheless, it’s still a story to tell. There are many ways in which to write a story- this could be in the form of a novel (as Everett has done in the writing of The Trees), poems, or even told through the form of oral tradition as Call and Response had done. Call and Response discussed the importance of oral tradition throughout the editors note. This course had a few quotes that would help us as students further understand the overall theme of this course. There were poems, which I wanted so strongly to connect to because I love poems. However, the course epigraph that stood out to me at the end of the semester states:

Oh, no. No, no, no. There’s too much to learn from examining that tension between the power and the impact of the art and realizing where that art comes from and what the impetus behind that art is. The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing, but flag it, warn it, put it off to the side where people can engage with it at their leisure, at their choice or at a point where they’re strong enough or capable of doing so, but then engage with it. There’s a line between respecting the work and honoring the person. You can respect the craft. You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal. Artists are human beings and that means you need to examine them in all their facets. You have to recognize that these are people and that the things that make them sometimes horrible people are sometimes the things that make them good writers or good artists and that’s what you want to engage with.

N.K Jemisin

As I continued to read this epigraph, I realized that this is the one that I resonated with the most, as well as understood it to represent what I have personally learned throughout this course this semester. I’m the type of student who always wants to strive for the best in my own work, but to also ensure that when I raise my hand in class or write an essay such as this that I am representing the works in a good light. Jemisin says “You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal.” And upon reading that, I realized that my previous works, participation and way of thinking always praised the author especially when it was a class about one author in particular. I didn’t want this to be the case anymore. So this year in class I made a conscious effort to look towards both good and bad faith and how the authors faith changed with the time. Dr. McCoy had said at one point in the semester that it’s very possible for the author to have said what they did in good faith, but over the decades what their intentions were and how it’s perceived today are very different.

In the middle of the semester, we as a class read brief synopsis of the varying novels written by Percival Everett that we could read to write our final essay. Our class chose The Tree’s which tells a very intricate and interesting story of two detectives solving murders that appear to be connected in Money, Mississippi. With each crime scene the detective’s approach, there is a body of a black man that seems to resemble Emmett Till but once the scene is closed, the body would disappear. The town seemed convinced it was the ghost of Emmett Till coming back for revenge, but what was puzzling the police that were involved was they weren’t entirely sure how anyone could place a body and remove it without them noticing, this in turn left them to make jokes that perhaps it really was a ghost.

            I didn’t want to make the mistake of misinterpreting the author and his words. I found myself puzzled trying to find the words to properly describe how I felt after reading this book and all I had was, “wow”. The characters as depicted by Everett were so detailed, yet humorous at times. I wanted so badly to feel what the characters were going through, but when I turned the page- the detectives, Jim Davis and Ed Morgan would be cracking a joke and I felt bad for thinking it was funny when the book was made to really keep you thinkING.

I found myself thinkING over the title of the book at various times, I asked myself questions such as why the title The Trees? Why not give it the title Rise? Why wouldn’t Everett want to express the importance of rising together to make change? And I don’t have an answer for that. No matter how hard I searched the internet. I’ll be completely honest with you too, it bothers me that I don’t have an answer, but it’s because I didn’t that I had made interpretations in good faith. I thought that it wasn’t titled ‘Rise’ because to condone an ending in which murders had to occur to feel powerful and rise against the hate wouldn’t be a decision made in good faith by Everett. The few times Everett mentions trees would be ““‘There,” Hind said. She pointed. In the trees. Hanging in the trees were the bodies of Digby and Brady, their legs crazy with blood, their pants drawn around their ankles, their boots stopping the clothing from falling off” (256). This mention of the lynchings at the trees may suggest that Everett wanted to open the eyes to the reader that police can experience violence as well. But nonetheless, Everett was determined to guarantee that you as a reader never forget the names of all those who were lynched.

As I continue to apply the course epigraph, I realized that I’m engaging with this complicated piece of work that handles racism, police brutality, and several other difficult topics, I find myself working with this quote of our course epigraph, “The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing”.

Everett made it a point to call out the issues that Mississippi, as well as other areas in the South have had on people, specifically minorities. As I continued reading, I found myself upset. I despised the sheer thought that there are still people out there today that feel as though it’s in their right to hurt others for racist reasons. As I write this essay past it’s due date, I find myself even more upset that there aren’t just killings happening for racist reasons such as the shooting in Buffalo by an 18 year-old white male against the Black community, but also because there is a huge mental health issue in our nation, the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas.

This piece of work written by Percival Everett is nothing short of a twisted problematic art piece and I, as well as the class recognized it’s huge impact on how we felt during and after reading it. This story although having some pieces of history tied into it, is a nonfictional novel in which you need to feel to understand each and every character. As Jemisin pointed out within his quote, the course epigraph, is “You can respect the craft.” And this is exactly what I did. I respected the craft, I analyzed it as well as Everett and his faith in writing the story, I looked beyond the scope of the book and saw implications of real life scenarios and what I’m writing is my direct reflection of these instances. I never thought that I could take the author off the pedestal and just simply analyze the basics of the author. I have always taken it farther than needed every time I read any piece of work. But I’ve learned that by analyzing work over time, it helps you to become a better person, more attentive as well as studious. All traits that I was striving for at the beginning of this semester.

The Power Of StoryTelling

The initial draft of this thesis concentrated mostly on islands, especially islands and their distinctive qualities. When I looked at islands from this angle, I realized why some people only saw them as tiny and undeveloped. However, the latest version of this paper aims to investigate how the Dominican Republic is one of those islands that too have been misrepresented when in reality it is majestic, culturally rich, and valuable. Furthermore, I will be focusing on the novel The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin. The reason for picking the third novel in the series is because of the way Hoa is telling the story. This is similar to what I am aiming to do with this paper, I am pushing to tell a different story about the Dominican Republic, one that has not been tarnished by the media. Additionally, the third book demonstrated to me as a reader the struggle that orogens faced personally. Orogens are repressed, dehumanized, and considered dangerous. Because of their misrepresentation and othering within society, orogens and islands are comparable.

The persecution and often misunderstanding of orogens is linked in many ways to how Western nations regard the Dominican Republic. For example, much of the headlines about the Dominican Republic focus on tourist deaths, botched plastic surgery, poverty, and the “dangerous” neighborhoods that surround the island. The article “11 U.S. Tourists Have Died in the Dominican Republic in 2019. Should You Cancel Your Trip?” it notes “The headlines about American tourists dying and have fueled speculation among travelers that the Caribbean country is an unsafe destination for travelers. Safety concerns began to arise in May, when three seemingly healthy American tourists suddenly died in the same resort within the same week. The FBI has confirmed that it is assisting Dominican police with the investigations. The State Department said there has been no evidence of foul play and no sign that the deaths are connected” (Martinez, Bates). Around this same time ​​Delta Airlines advised travelers with tickets to Punta Cana that they would be able to cancel or reschedule their flights “due to recent events.” These headlines that advise many Americans to rethink their decisions it sadly hinder the representation of the Dominican Republic. In this interpretation by the media, it urges people to see the “ugly” before truly looking underneath it all.  The labeling of the term dangerous can be applied to this situation as well as to the novel. Within the novel, we are met with Jija who was the husband of the main character Essun who also killed their son because he was a orogene. This scenario in the trilogy is mind-boggling but it also changed how I viewed the story as well. Jemisin made it clear to readers how tarnished the reputation of orogenes is by having a father kill his child with his bare hands. This left an imprint on me because within our society we are taught that parents are our shields of protection but this was proved otherwise in this novel. However, through Jija’s actions, he was reassuring the public that the world would be a better and safer place with one less orogene regardless of the orogene being his son. 

Hoa as the narrator of the novel and the one who is using his power to tell the story uses his interactions with Essun to illustrate the other sides of orogenes that are never focused on. He begins the novel by introducing Essun, “You are Essun, the sole surviving orogene in all the world who has opened the Obelisk Gate. No one expected this grand destiny of you. You were once of the Fulcrum, but not a rising star like Alabaster” (1). One thing Hoa does with this section introduces us to who Essun is. Through his introduction readers are met with a woman who was raised in the Fulcrum but was overlooked by many.  As Hoa continues we see Essun grow and develop, “And here, now, long free from the ordered, structures of the Fulcrum, you have become mighty. You saved the community of Castrima at the cost of Castrima itself; this was a small price to pay, compared to the cost in blood that the enemy army would have extracted if they’d won” (10). The emotions I felt while reading this section were pride and strength; throughout the novel, readers battled with defining Essun based on her behaviors and actions. However, after hearing Hoa’s version of the story, I was greeted by an Essun who had never given up. She fought for a community that struggled to welcome her yet she still protected it in order to preserve them all. The strength in Hoa’s narrative is crucial; via his portrayal of Essun as a human being, I was confronted with an orogene that seeks to preserve the human race rather than an orogene that needs to be eliminated due to their unwarranted power.

Based on Hoa’s introduction of Essun, I believe it is my turn to reintroduce the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic was inhabited by the Taino who called the island Quisqueya “mother of all lands”. The Taino people were people of culture, art, and traditions. As their society grew, they produced yuca, sweet potatoes, maize, beans, and other crops, reaching a peak by the time of European contact. Similar to the story we have heard for so long, Christopher Columbus settled on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the aftermath was catastrophic.  Due to European infectious illnesses, the Tanos was virtually wiped off. Other factors included abuse, suicide, family breakdown, and starvation. This wiping of the Taino during the European’s exploitation is similar to the Seasons within the trilogy. The Seasons were responsible for vast starvation, illnesses, and even death. The Dominican Republic’s story is ultimately fighting for freedom, something that is rarely mentioned. For instance, the Dominican Republic was a French colony from 1795 to 1809, from 1822 to 1844 it was unified with Haiti, and between the 19th century, the Dominican Republic was in constant wars with Spain, France, and Haiti. The story that unfolds is one where the people of the Dominican Republic fought for their independence and freedom. 

One thing I have the power to do is tell my audience the magical place that is the DR just as Hoa can retell his love for Essun. One story is one told by my mother. The journey of her youth:

The roads were long, sandy, and rocky, remember we had no sidewalks back then. I always had to look behind me to make sure no motorcycles were coming. On one hand, I had my bag that didn’t carry much and on the other hand, I had your aunt’s hand. My hair was in pigtails, I had on the school uniform baby blue top and navy blue skirt. Going to school was not the fun part but the part that I did love was coming back from school when the island was awake. Coming back to school my hair was always undone and I used to love running with my nearly unattached sandals.  The roosters would be out and roaming, the ladies with buckets on their heads used to sell a bunch of stuff, and every corner you turn there was a friendly dog. The warmth would slap my face, and the sun would beam on my face, but my legs kept running (Maria I Frias). 

Hoa, similar to my mother, told his version of his story. One that encompasses love and compassion, one that revolves around Essun. 

“I don’t have anything left now”.  Hoa says, “You have comm and  kin. You’ll have a home, once you reach Rennais. You have your life.”… Hoa says to your slumped back, “I can’t die.”…He’s saying you won’t ever lose him. He will not crumble away like Alabaster, You can’t ever be surprised by the pain of Hoa’s loss the way you were with Corundum or Innon or Alabaster or Uche, or now Jija. You can’t hurt Hoa in any way that matters. “It’s safe to  love you,” you murmur, in startled realization” (172).

What Hoa did in this section was humanize Essun. I did not see Essun the orogene I saw Essun the woman who has lost so much that is now afraid to love. Throughout the description of other non orogene characters in the novel, I was exposed to the hatred for orogene. Hoa allowed me to see the other side of the story. One where Essun feels lonely, abandoned, and scared. Hoa who is a stone eater illustrates that even though to some he is not alive he is present. 

Telling your story is essential in a world that seeks to erase many experiences. When I tell my story it is one that is filled with truth and magic. I told my version of the story about the Dominican Republic filled with my own experiences upon traveling there. A land that has gifted my family life and happiness. Hoa in a similar way informed me about the different stories one will hear depending on who you hear it from. The power a storyteller holds is incredible, we have the power to speak the truth, pass down generational stories, and keep our names alive even after it is our time.  

Jemisin’s World of Love & Pain: Poetry of Languages

My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell a story of interconnective worlds and realities that define love and actions as the bases of fuel for the future of their current reality and the next. *Italicized Jemisin

Jemisin prefaced her world to be full of variations, from her first Book The Broken Earth Trilogy: The Fifth Season informs us, how Naturally this land’s people have named it the Stillness. It is a land of quiet and bitter irony. The Stillness has had other names. This is not to say solely because she shares that other names in this work exist, so does the irony of it. Variation is the power of options and varous multitudes of agency. Variation operates to displace necessary equilibriums for survival, and how it correlates to experience in the real world marginalized people and languages in addition to those variations in love. Existing power dynamics are drawn out jokes, with serious consequences. Orogeny itself is the section of earth’s crust that is folded  and unfolded via downward lateral compression to form a mountain range. In a world filled with being called Stoneaters, Strongbacks, Oregenes, Humans, with varied and shared choices within the set of limited or unlimited sets of experiences. A society whose Stonelore, akin to laws in today’s society, identifies with the statement Tell them they must earn the respect which everyone else receives by default. Tell them there is a standard for acceptance; that standard is simply perfection. Kill those who scoff at these contradictions, and tell the rest that the dead deserved annihilation for their weakness and doubt. This line is a reality of the cruel, destructive seasons and interpersonal interactions between beings in the Stillness that guide them forward surviving or aid in their end.  Is quite harsh but realistic is the art that is the experience of the individual, and Jemison on Creating Races expands on her intention when creating the type of beings and their cultures, identity and DNA that will make up the Stillness. In sociology prestige is the personal and social value to an occupation or skill set by social values. Jemsins has the variety and density of difference at the forefront, for the most obviously human group in the Stillness the Sanzeds, the Equatorial region’s people, the Sands (they once had many nations, cultures, and languages, but have homogenized over the 3000 years of the empire) are nothing we would recognize. I did this partly to illuminate just how different the Stillness is; races in our world differentiated in response to environmental conditions, and since the environmental conditions in the Stillness are so different, it made sense that what we think of as racial markers would’ve developed along completely different lines. Difference as a mechanism necessary for the evolution not only for Sanzeds but the Stillness as a whole is fascinating to me for how Jemison’s characters engage with each other and the different ways and languages that exist for character development. 

Physical Languages:

Essen Orogeny Vs Ykka Orogeny

Language operates in Jemisin as a form of socialization for  identifying beings and their power over their shared space. In the Stillness, a world plagued by horrific seasons, “Orogenes call non-orogenes “stills” because they can’t feel the vibrations of the earth. Stills call orogenes “rogers” as a shortened form of orogene that’s used as a slur. It also sounds kind of like “rock.” One orogene later in the series reclaims the word and proudly calls herself a rogga.” Generally very similar to how the N-word operated for a long time and was reclaimed by BIPOC individuals that functions as a term of comradery and reference. In addition to a powerful slur when used by non- BIPOC people in American society today. When our main being Essun, an oregene, defined by their advanced sessapinae, finds herself at a crystal community called Castrima , run by a fellow oregene named Ykka. In this comm ,another name for a community in the Stillness, exist stoneaters, oregenes and humans all in one comm. Very uncommon for this world. Essun was trained in the fulcrum from young by force for being an oregene. When Ykka and Essun meet Ykka is referred to as a feral oregene by Essun, who was trained by experience of the Fulcrum. The fulcrum is an institution run by humans and guardians at which trains oregene, beginning with a unique session that establishes them with a deep connection to the earth. Connecting them to the earth where oregenes are able to both ease and cause natural disasters and seismic events. While Ykka to aid in necessities for survival. Her and her comms survival. Aware that in this world of Jemisin these characters have a greater closeness to death than we have in our current society where we hear more about it than being face to face to it and/or literally part of seasonal changes in the Stillness.  Essun perceives Ykka orogeny, as inferior because she not only did not know any oregenes outside the Fulcrum, that would even be alive plus know how to use their orogeny at that. It is not Essuns fault she is under the assumption that there is any other way to both control and use her orogen. The institution that trained her to control and use orogeny.  April Baker Bell, Associate Professor of the English Language at the University of Michigan,’s book targets and speaks to the problematic nature of standardization and inferiorizing of other ways of doing. In the context of discremination of  Black Englsh by reinforcers White mainstream English and its connection to reality of academics need of an Anti-racist pedegogy. It is at the point that I myself struggled fathoming this is a cycle of discrmination so ingrained into what it means to be educated that both BIPOC and white, students and professors reinforce racist and assimulative standards of academic writing. When “Telling children that White Mainstream English is needed for survival can no longer bethe answer, especially as we are witnessing Black people being mishandled, dis-criminated against, and murdered while using White mainstrean Englsih. Also seen some use the phrase real world preparation for students in all levels of education to further White mainstream English cause. This exact term was explored by the CCCC panel on How do we stop the policing of PoC in our classrooms? The paradox in infantilizing literacy experiences while policing language. Delving into analysis of language such as Real world preparedness and readiness when teaching BiPoc students, white mainstream english. Such language is an assumption that students’ experiences within the Real World are discountable and/or invaluable to academic writings. While BIPOC students discrimination in the real world are reflective in BIPOCs academic experience. From the news it is known the livelihoods of BIPOC is filled with a lack of power. The phrase knowledge is power is known as well yet in academia the denial of power alongside  a power that does not save lives or actually prepare anybody for the Real World we all are already in remains. Acknowledging the complete extent of standards as social constructs and the reality that they have such consequences. To say the reality that things happen and change because  they were  made up to begin with, last long because they are reinforced and held down by the people that these notions most resonate, however provocative define realities. Essun plays a part here in reinforcing the prestige and singularity of her Fulcrum training compared to seen the benefit of Ykka experience.

Earth Talk

In the world of the Stillness there was a time before the grueling seasons, called Sly Angist, an eco brulistics and solar punk style society. In this community exist Conductors who watch Turners akin to oregenes their role was to weave together those disparate ener-gies. To manipulate and mitigate and, through the prism of our awareness, produce a singular force that cannot be denied. To make a cacophony, a symphony. A Tuner named Kelenli who looked like a human but had an advanced sessapinae. Before the other Tuner died or became stone eaters like Jemisins main narrator Hoa, who navigated Sly Anagist alongside Kelenli. Keleni would [come] to visit us. Individually, so the conductors won’t suspect anything. In face-to-face meetings, speaking audi-ble nonsense- and meanwhile, earthspeaking sense to all of us at once. For when the Tuners do their job they are left [staggering] and must lean on the conductors to make it back to [their] individual quarters. There is a certain leave of care for the other Tuners and weariness  about Conductors knowing such information or about Kehlani actions.

Language operates as a form of communication outside of authority for the benefit of the Turners who have a great connection to the earth like the orogenes of their future. Operates to separate the nature of the beings that the Turners are and the Conductors, akin to human beings, that created and mated with them possibly creating the beings that are oregenes themself. 

Love Languages

Essun & Nassun 

Essun has a daughter named Nassun who also has powers of orogeny like her mother that, throughout the Obelisk Gate and Stone Sky Jemisin’s second and third books of Jemisin’s trilogy. When Essun was a young girl named Damaya, a Guardian from the Fulcrum named Scaffa, broke her hand to grasp if Damaya, young Essun, could control her orogeny which is highly tied to the emotions of the oregene themselves are experiencing. Guardians are supervisors assigned to each orogene, special ability to control orogenes power and a license to kill orogenes if they so deem necessary. Essun, with her own child named Nassun, broke her hand just the same, testing Nassun’s control. Nassun grew a great disdain for her mother by the age of ten, well trained  at this point by her mom according to how Essun was trained at the Fulcrum. Considering this Nassun goes on her own journey, where she kills her own father and develops great appreciation, love for the Guardian Scaffa, the same one who broke Damaya, young Essun’s hand originally,  as a parental figure. With Scaffa, Nassun is “so very glad to have one parent, at last, who loves her as she should.”(179). When Scaffa hugs her tight. In the last book , The Stone Sky, Essun sacrifices herself to help Nassun, narrated by Hoa, a Stone eater hundred of years old, that accompanied Essun to an underground part of Sly Anagist , the original comm of the Stillness.

Hoa and Essun

Hoa is Jemsins thousands of years old. Stoneater, a complex being made of living stone, who narrates the entire triolgy. We find in the end that Hoa is talking to Stoneater Essun about her life when she was an oregene. Hoa gives her the opportunity to know her past and inso to know herself. It is her past that has resulted in her current state of being as stoneater since exhausting the  limitations of her orogeny when using magic to help save Nassun. Thus orogenes are transformed and  many memories are lost in this change. Hoa begins, I have brought you here, reassembled the raw arcanic substance of your being, and reactivated the lattice that should have preserved the critical essence of who you were. A saying on love is to find someone who loves you for who you are and you them. It is important to Hoa that Essun retains the core of who she was before she became a Stoneater. In the Stillness Hoa has no obligation to care for Essun in her transformation, in addition to taking on the responsibility to retain Essun essence. In the assumption that Noa is operating in good faith, meaning having care for Essun on morally good standards for her well being and her consent. Hoa to a reader’s knowledge, leaves open choices for the type of relationship he will have with Essun going forward. When Stoneater Essun asks Why? Hoa wants to be with her. Narractoring still Hoa adjusted [himself] to a posture of humility, with head bowed and one hand over my chest. “Because that is how one survives eter-nity,” I say, “or even a few years. Friends. Family. Moving with them. Moving forward.”.  Hoa’s body language and words implies great genuineness and respect, treating her  in such high regard, as if pledging that together they will survive. Learning the nuances of who is loved and what they did to deserve to be loved? Is unfair to the range of experiences of Jemisin’s final characters’ lives to judge how they love and what that looks like. I am only fascinated by interpersonal relationships that operate within a socially and environmentally violence world.

(Is personhood enough to define actions and provide reasoning enough for opposing actions of beings and still say can love or know love?)

Building a Better World

What I love most about human beings is the ability for us to change our minds. When we learn new information, we can use it to change the way we think and create something even better. New ideas, art, poetry, relationships, inventions, and so much more are made possible by the fact that we learn and grow. What I dislike most about human beings is the downright stubbornness to change our minds when faced with new information. We think that our opinions are right and they become close to us. When they are challenged, we feel personally attacked. When this happens, there is no room for change—for love, for growth. 

When I was first asked to reflect on what the most interesting/challenging strand of how Jemisin is using geological concepts to get me thinkING about the ideas of power and justice, I had only finished the first book of the trilogy. I had just met the characters and was introduced to the world for the first time. I had chosen to write about orogenes and their ability to quell earthquakes and how this power was controlled by those who decided they were in power. That isn’t to say that I am no longer interested in this strand, however I did not have the whole story. In my original reflection, I was focused on destruction and the prevention of destruction when in reality, orogenes are much more than that. Orogeny isn’t just a superpower in a trilogy, it exists in our own world! Orogeny is the process by which mountains are formed on the earth’s continents. This process includes the destruction of existing crust AND the creation of new crust. The destruction of what is existing and the creation of something new. Sounds a little reminiscent of Alabaster’s view of the world. This world that our characters live in cannot keep existing as it is with murder and hatred and enslavement. It is not enough to keep quelling earthquakes and pretending everything is fine. It must be destroyed and rebuilt. 

One of the most shocking things that was revealed to us in the trilogy was that the hatred towards orogenes and the world that enslaved them was built on a lie. According to Stonelore, Father Earth didn’t always hate life. The lorists say, “He hates because he cannot forgive the loss of his only child” (The Obelisk Gate, pg. 103). Orogenes are blamed for flinging the moon away in pursuit of harnessing the earth’s power. After generations of hearing this story, stills, or people who don’t have the power of orogeny, have grown a sense of hatred for the people they fear. Orogenes are not just the cause of the Seasons, but its remedy as well. They can sess danger and quell earthquakes and it is for this reason that they are turned into tools. All of this is turned upside down when it is revealed how the moon was actually lost. 

To briefly sum up what actually happened: 

Long ago there were two groups of people: the Niess and the Sylangestine. The Niess believed that magic could not be owned and let it exist as it was in the form of art. This angered the Sylangestine who felt as though this was a waste of magic and were upset that despite this, the Niess had more efficient magic. The Sylangestine convinced themselves that the Niess had to be different somehow–that they had different sessipinae and eventually, that they were not human at all. To keep up with the lie they had crafted and built their lives upon, the Sylangestine carefully engineered those with special sessipinae and utilized them as tools. A group of these engineered people felt as though they should not be tools any longer and halted the extraction of the earth’s power by redirecting the obelisks. In the process of this, the moon was flung away. 

To know that everything you have been told your entire life is a lie, to feel as though you have been betrayed by society and everything you know must be earth-shattering. However, once this curtain is pulled back you have to make a decision: to continue on as things are or destroy everything you know to be true and rebuild it. 

After finishing the trilogy, it is clear that LOVE is an essential part of this story. As Nassun discovers her powers and tries to understand the world, she learns many hard lessons. One in particular is that love can be conditional. She tells her father moments before killing him, “‘I wish you could love me anyway, even though I’m bad’” (The Obelisk Gate, pg. 387). Sometimes, love isn’t enough. Her own father, someone who raised her, took care of her, played with her, and laughed with her could not ultimately love her for who she was. He wanted to change her and in the end he paid the price with his life. For Nassun, destruction is the only way she thinks things can be changed. 

After the moon was flung away from earth, some people felt it would be easier to continue living a lie and treating orogenes as tools. For them, this idea was stone solid and would not be changed. In response, the earth was cursed with the Seasons and along with it destruction and disrepair. At the end of The Stone Sky, Hoa tells Essun, “‘Orogeny…was never the only way to change the world’” (396). The world was changed because of growth, because of change, because of love. It was never about forcing orogenes to use their powers in a certain way or harnessing the earth to suit one’s personal needs. People should be able to exist as they naturally are. 

Looking back at my first essay, I can safely say that it isn’t good. But it was an idea and instead of looking at it as finished, I got to come back to it, expand upon it, and (hopefully) make it better. I get to finish the trilogy and see the whole story. I get to change my mind and I get to build.

Obelisks, Satellites, and The Stone Sky

Back at the end of February we wrote a reflection essay after our reading of N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. At that time we had only read one out of the three books in the trilogy and we still had so much to gain from reading this literature. We were asked to write a paper on what we deemed the most interesting/challenging strand of how Jemisin had been using geological concepts and how that concept connected to power and justice. I chose to write that essay on Jemisin’s use of volcanic activity throughout the first novel. The shakes are the primary geological aspect used most frequently throughout the novel, but after my reading I had looked at the appendix and discovered something about the different seasons that make up the science-fiction world that is The Stillness. N.K. Jemisin took the time to go back to a time before her book was even set and created a timeline of Seasons for the readers to explore after their initial reading of her work in The Fifth Season. Most of these seasons were started by a combination of geological events, but many included volcanic eruptions as a primary factor. After reading the trilogy and looking at the series as a whole, I have shifted my mindset to thinkING a lot about the obelisks and their power in the story. 

Obelisks in real-life outside of Jemisin’s trilogy, have held an immense amount of meaning for a lot of different civilizations and cultures since the beginning of time. The word obelisk is the Greek word for spit, nail, or pointed pillar and they are tall, narrow, four-sided monuments that have a pyramidion on top. When obelisks were first built in Ancient Egypt more than 3,000 years ago, only a single piece of stone was used. The first obelisks, known as tekhenu to the Egyptians, are said to have appeared around 2300 BCE, were usually built in pairs and located at the entrances of Ancient Egyptian temples. One of the interesting things that I researched about obelisks in real life is that they were embellished on all four sides of the shaft with hieroglyphs that included religious dedications, most commonly for the Sun God, Ra, and as tributes to rulers past and present. Some were even used as sun-dials because the shadows followed the movements of the sun journey each day. Obelisks symbolize a lot more than I had originally thought, and each group of people that looks at one can find a different meaning hidden away behind the stone. They can be used to represent creations and life, resurrection and rebirth, unity and harmony, strength and immortality, and success and effort among other things. These monuments are still around today, one being the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital! The idea that Jemisin uses throughout her trilogy and the way the readers learn more and more about the obelisks and their immense power as they continue the series made me start wondering what the obelisks could symbolize in our world away from the Stillness. Upon further research, I concluded that writing about the obelisks and keeping their true power and purpose from the readers for so long had to be one of the most challenging aspects of the trilogy to write. There is so much depth to this concept that seems so simple, especially when an author might already have an idea of where they want their story to end without spoiling too much too soon. 

Obelisks are very similar to satellites especially when put into a common category with the obelisks in “The Broken Earth.” What I mean by this is that obelisks are monuments made of stone that can symbolize power, life and success, while satellites are artificial bodies that are placed in orbit around the earth, moon, or another planet in order to collect information or for communication. When thought about through the perspective of someone living in the Stillness and witnessing all of the crazy events that can arise from pulling power from an obelisk, it makes a lot of sense why Jemisin chose this object to represent and hold power in the trilogy. Many NASA satellites carry cameras and scientific sensors. Sometimes these instruments point toward Earth to gather information about its land, air, and water. Other times they face out into space to collect data from the solar system and universe.

Satellites allow us to have TV and other mobile signals needed to communicate with others. They also collect information that is used to program GPS and GNSS programs that help us get from place to place safely and quickly. Satellites have a multitude of uses including measuring the temperature of the Earth, measuring the amount of greenhouse gasses and pollutants present in the atmosphere, collecting information that informs weather forecasts, and even collecting data on the amount of snow, sea ice, and plant cover there is on Earth. These measurements are all helpful in monitoring and predicting Earth’s changing climate. Scientists compare the data that satellites collect with the data that is found in other parts of the world to explore how the environment has and will continue to change as time goes on. There are so many things to discover when researching satellites, and one of the main connections I made between my findings and Jemisin’s trilogy was the stunning similarity between the function of satellites and the obelisks/node stations. 

Throughout the novels, we learn that node maintainers are most always orogene children that were taken at a young age (we find out later that a majority of them might be Alabaster’s offspring). These children are lobotomized and kept alive for the sole purpose of maintaining the geological stability of the surrounding area. We knew after reading The Fifth Season that orogenes have the ability to prevent earthquakes, tremors, and other tectonic events with the powers they were genetically given upon birth. This idea of orogenes having the power, even as children, to protect their surroundings unwillingly can be connected indirectly to satellites orbiting Earth to protect and predict future events so that Earth’s inhabitants can prepare for the upcoming geological events. The obelisks in the context of Jemisin’s writing are known for the amount of power they hold, even though they are seldom mentioned in the beginning of the trilogy. These obelisks and node stations can be seen as representing the human tendency to ignore what we do not understand and the way that people in power suppress information that might question the status quo. The Fulcrum is the place in the novels where orogene children are brought to learn how to control their abilities and find guidance from their Guardians throughout this transition process. The people of the Fulcrum did not tell the common people about the node stations and what was really maintaining the shakes. This suppression of information lead the children to grow up believing that the Fulcrum was a good place filled with good, honest people which we find out not to be true as often as we might like. The Fulcrum does not spend time teaching the children what the obelisks are or what they do because they don’t seem to fully understand them either. This ignorance later leads to a lot of destruction and loss for everyone and ends up being the reason that Nassun can turn her father to stone and the reason Essun becomes a stone eater. 

Volcanic activity as a geological concept has always been fascinating to me along with many other geological events that we as humans still have a lot to learn about. Looking back, it makes sense why I wrote about that what I thought was the most interesting/challenging strand of Jemisin’s writing, but now I have the opportunity and resources after finishing the trilogy to make the decision to shift my thinking to the obelisks and node stations compared to satellites and real-life monuments. These connections are ones that I would not have thought so deeply about before reading The Broken Earth and seeing things through the eyes of another world created through the art of science-fiction. Thank you N.K. Jemisin for getting me to practice thinkING outside of my corner of the world and giving me the resources to compile my findings into writing this essay.

Essun and Fissured Identity

I. Introduction
Having read the entire Broken Earth trilogy, I’ve sometimes found myself frustrated at my constant preference and subsequent deference to its first installment, The Fifth Season. I first read The Fifth Season in the second semester of my sophomore year and studied it in isolation with no previous knowledge of N.K. Jemisin, her other works, or the trilogy, and no real intention to read beyond the first required book. But when searching for more English courses to take over the winter, Jemisin’s name alongside the lofty themes of “Justice” and “Love” intrigued me. I was eager to explore The Fifth Season and its younger siblings beyond a quick, sweeping read, and to see where Damaya, Syenite, Essun, and, of course, all of them turn out. This fact seems trivial now — that the three perspectives were really one all along, unified under the collective mindset of an older Essun; but the ingenious spectacle of this narrative decision, one that subverts expectations regarding character, perspective, and fantastical tropes, never evaded me. And though I do feel a bit naive or shallow-minded for having such an urge to return to the basics of a trilogy that quite literally explores the Earth’s depths, this is, after all, a self-reflective project, and my reflections always seem to lead back to Essun. My thoughts on the trilogy began with The Fifth Season, but they do not end with it (although I maintain that the novel does works just fine as a standalone given its excellent craft), and I will thus rely on this foundational text to explore aspects of identity, namely — what it means to identify as a black woman, how trauma creates identity fissures, and how perspective and identity are deeply-intertwined.

II. Essun the Epicenter
One fundamental question that seems worth addressing is why Essun? She is the trilogy’s de facto protagonist, but that isn’t necessarily why her story seems so fundamental to me. To start, Essun reflects the long-held mantra that the personal is political. In a 2015 blog post, Jemisin reflected upon a dream that eventually birthed the entire trilogy: I had a dream of a woman doing a Badass Power Walk towards me, with a mountain floating along behind her. I knew she was about my age — early forties, that is — and I could see that she wore dredlocs as I do, but it was very clear in the dream that she was not me.” Though I do not intend to assert that Jemisin crafted an entire trilogy fraught with ideas about expansive issues, namely justice and love, solely because she dreamt of a woman who looks just like her, I do think there is value in shared experiences, especially among marginalized identities. Jemisin frequently discusses the noxious effects of simply existing as a black woman in the workplace, in literary circles, online, and even as a fictional character. She feared — nay, knew — that readers would generally not take kindly to Essun: “in a society drenched in historical bigotries, a character who is brown-skinned and dredlocked and described as physically imposing and who is too old and ‘flabby’ to be sexually interesting to a lot of readers,” Jemisin reflected in a post on her blog written in 2015, “…I expected people to hate Essun.” To remedy this, she broke Essun into three — Essun herself, Damaya, and Syenite. In Jemisin’s words, “I suspected readers would find it easier to relate to an innocent child in a horrific situation, and a snarky, frustrated young woman journeying across a strange land with an irritating companion… even though these were literally the same person as Essun.” Employing and ultimately subverting standards of science fiction and fantasy, Jemisin pulls the ultimate rug out from under readers, who, necessarily existing within “a society drenched in historical bigotries” were not ready to simply like Essun — the abrasive, brash, disaster-prone, and yet ultimately sympathetic crux of the entire trilogy.
And for better or for worse, Essun is the crux — the epicenter. Jemisin’s authorial choices frequently mirror geological events which are, I suppose, my collective choice of “geological event” within this reflection. I found it difficult to pick just one aspect of the sweeping trilogy and its many magic and Earth-wielders, but Jemisin’s craft (particularly with Essun) is a geological hand in itself. Through Essun, Jemisin cleaves one identity into three and, as I will argue, perhaps even more. She subsequently classifies these identities — sometimes with overt geological references, sometimes not — into distinct, yet unified pieces of one unexpected heroine.

III. Fissures Galore
We are first introduced to Essun as, well, Essun, during a moment of intense stress through a second-person perspective: “You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead” (Jemisin 15). This first fissure through Essun — the hardened woman experiencing yet another trauma (though, to new readers, this is but the first) — represents, among many things, the stress of a broken familial unit as the death of Uche cracks the familiar familial foundation, one typically rooted in the strict real-world gender binary: protective father, caretaking mother, and children. When father turns from caretaker to murder, children from protected to dead and missing, and mother from caretaker to without anything to care for, these notions are entirely dismantled right off the bat, making for an instantly subversive identity through Essun. Furthermore, although Essun is the bearer of this horrid trauma, she is the more physically powerful party compared to her husband, a non-orogene. And although this aspect of her identity makes her more powerful in the purely physical sense, it also makes her powerless without this essential family unit, since orogenes are viewed under such negative societal connotations. More than just a source of rigidity, the typical familial unit was Essun’s protection from other aspects of her identity that put her in direct danger.
As for Damaya, this is Essun at her most vulnerable — in a state of girlhood, bombarded with the trauma of abandonment and the continued abuse of a male caretaker. As Syenite, Essun is a stubborn young woman, resistant to common notions of sexuality and fierce with ambition — the picture of a “Strong Female Character,” a trope Jemisin herself has had some gripes with. The latter two perspectives are the only instances in which readers gain insight into Essun’s actual thoughts; this may be a purposeful decision on Jemisin’s part — to strip her primary character of her own narrative voice, relying instead on Hoa throughout the entirety of the later two installments, and providing insight into her thoughts only when they exist firmly within the past. I think, though, that this decision may have been primarily narrative. After Jemisin successfully stirred and repaired the intentional fissures within Essun, she “hoped that by the time people twigged to the fact that they were all one woman, [she] could effectively “cash in” on the empathic capital built by the younger versions of Essun, and transfer it to the her,” she could then expand the world of the Stillness; this did not mean leaving Esssun behind, but it did mean leaving behind the voices of her past selves — though neither Damaya nor Syenite go forgotten throughout the remainder of the trilogy, thanks largely to the continued development of Schaffa and Alabaster.
As the subsequent novels garner new perspectives, I found myself missing the simplicity of three perspectives united under one woman. I thought that the initial narrative trick was deft beyond belief, although like any great plot twist, upon rereading The Fifth Season I saw it coming from the very first line. But still, there was something so intimate about exploring the psyche of one woman, and losing the familiar collective voice of the three Essuns took some getting used to. However, upon further reflection, I realized that these fissured perspectives never really went away, although they no longer appeared so overtly as Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Rather, Hoa’s perspective offered a new identity in itself — one that rarely gave insight into Essun’s thoughts, particularly on the matter of his budding and overwhelming love for her. When Essun ultimately becomes a Stone Eater, this amounts to a new fissure. Even Nassun herself — angry as she is, and rightfully so — acts as an Essun of sorts, equally powerful, stubborn, and, of course, directly descended from her mother. Though Essun loses her narrative agency, her foundation continues to crack as stressors become less personal and more global.

IV. Ground Swell
In his poem “Ground Swell,” a title which references the geological phenomenon of a “long-period group of waves created by a distant storm system over long distances,” poet Mark Jarman notes his consistent returning to his younger self as the subject of his poems: “Yes, I can write about a lot of things / Besides the summer that I turned sixteen. / But that’s my ground swell. I must start / Where things began to happen and I knew it.” Essun is Jemisin’s ground swell. As the trilogy extends beyond Essun and her younger selves, the stakes grow higher by the page. Questions of morality, just treatment, and civic responsibility grow massive to the point of becoming overwhelming — but each of these sweeping questions started with one woman conjured by a dream. As I tore through the Broken Earth trilogy, I often missed the unity of three perspectives woven into one woman. But I recognize that the broader questions at hand — ideas which made me think of the political implications of living among nature, the responsibility of the group to care about the individual, etc. — would not be possible without an epicenter that eventually cracked into many, many different identities. Finally, I do not wish to suggest that trauma is in any way a positive thing. Although the stress and trauma Essun endures through every stage of her identity are crucial in exploring many of the trilogy’s themes, it goes without saying that she, like any other human being, should not have to go through any bit of what she did and that she did go through terrible events of neglect, abuse, and discrimination because of outward, unjust social forces.

However, it would be naive to instead assert that trauma does nothing. The photo I’ve attached shows an ancient geological fissure that ultimately healed itself over many, many years; like trauma to the Earth, the trauma that people endure and the subsequent changes in their identity are not necessarily “for the better,” but they can lead to change and, ultimately, renewal.

Race In The World Of Orogenes

Emilee Coughlin

Dr. McCoy

English 468

May 18th, 2022

Race In The World Of Orogenes

In my first ThinkING essay written about the novel, The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, the most interesting/challenging strand I chose was consent and abuse of power. When reading the novel my definition of consent was somebody being fully aware of what they were doing and why they were doing it, and wanting to participate in what they were doing. My definition of abuse of power was when somebody uses their power to negatively hurt others, and these people hurting others for their own gain seemingly without feeling any remorse. When I had first started writing my ThinkING essay I had not even finished reading the first novel in the trilogy yet so I didn’t have much to base my essay on. After meeting with Dr. McCoy I was told to slow down and not put too much pressure on myself. This was a struggle for me while writing my essay. I chose to write about consent because of the Orogenes being forced to breed with other Orogenes to receive a higher rank and better treatment. For example Syenite knew that if she didn’t/ couldn’t successfully have a child with alabaster then she would be forced to continuously reproduce for the Fulcrum and most probably not get a break. So while Syenite knew what was expected of her, she wasn’t fully okay with doing it and she knew that if she didn’t then there would be negative repercussions. I also chose to write about abuse of power because while reading the first novel it was very clear to me that the Fulcrum and Stills physically and emotionally abused Orogenes because they knew that the Orogenes wouldn’t fight back. For example Damaya said that she could control her powers and didn’t need training so Schaffa broke her hand to see if she could control her power while in immense pain. The Stills and Fulcrum also used slurs like “Rogga” to insult the Orogenes. (Further on in the trilogy we learn that the Orogenes will eventually start fighting back). But at the time I didn’t know this. These instances clearly show abuse of power because both the Fulcrum and Stills know that they have power over the Orogenes and throughout the novel they continuously hurt and kill the Orogenes with seemingly no remorse. For my Final Reflection Essay I am going to do something similar to my ThinkING Essay. While for my ThinkING Essay I wrote about consent and abuse of power, after reading the trilogy the most important strand that stuck out to me is race. In my essay I will focus on how Orogenes are called slurs, unjustly killed, and physically and emotionally abused. I will do this by writing about how Jemisin uses race to show the unjust treatment of Orogenes throughout her trilogy. 

In N.K. Jemisins, The Broken Earth Trilogy the most interesting and challenging strand is race. Jemisin published a blog post titled, “Creating Races” where she talks about why she uses the word, “race” to describe Orogenes instead of the word species. In her blog post Jemisin states, “‘Race’ emphasizes personhood, IMO, where ‘species’ emphasizes inhumanity. And in the case of the Broken Earth Trilogy, personhood matters” (Jemisin). In this blog post Jemisin goes on to talk about how it doesn’t make sense to classify Orogenes as a race because Orogenes have no visually distinct features, the things that make Orogenes unique are perceptual and behavioral. But with all of this said Jemisin talks about how it makes sense that a world that has such complicated feelings about Orogenes would fission them off from humanity because in our own world race is a social construct. 

While as humans we often believe that race is a social construct, after reading the Broken Earth Trilogy we can assume that the Stills and the Fulcrum also see race the same way. Even though there are no physical features that identify an Orogene, throughout the trilogy the Orogenes are still treated badly by almost everybody around them. In chapter 3 of The Fifth Season Essun is preparing to go on her journey to find Jija and kill him for murdering their son Uche. In chapter 1 of the novel we found out that Jija killed his son Uche because he found out that Uche was an Orogene. As Essun is trying to leave her home in Tirimo she runs into trouble with the guards of the city. In the text it states, “ ‘Karra,’ he says to the man you know. ‘Everything okay here?’ ‘Was till now,’ Karra says… ‘Tell your people to open the gate for a minute, will you?’ Karra doesn’t take his eyes off of you. “Think that’s a good idea, Rask?’” (53) At this point a lot of the townspeople of Tirimo know that Uche was an Orogene and are assuming that Essun is one as well. They are correct in their assumptions but they are not fond of Orogenes. When Essun and Rask get to the town gate the gatekeeper Karra does not want Essun to pass because she is an Orogene. He won’t listen to Rask which makes Essun and Rask tense as well as the other gatekeepers. Essun is getting ready to leave and gatekeepers decide that they weren’t going to let that happen. In the text it states, “Perhaps he does not see Karra nod to another one of the gate-minders; perhaps he does not see the latter woman quickly shoulder her weapon and orient it on you.” (55) Karra went against Rask’s command and tried to have Essun killed. Essun used her Orogeny to save herself and in doing so destroyed the town of Tirimo and everyone in it. These scenes in the book clearly show that a lot of the Stills are biased against Orogenes, and will even go as far as to kill them for their ‘race’. Towards the beginning of this paper I mentioned how the Stills and Fulcrum often use words like “Rogga” to talk about the Orogenes. We talked about how in class we would choose not to say the word “Rogga” out loud because we saw it as the equivalent of using the N-Word. I stuck by this testament throughout the whole semester. While the word Rogga is used all throughout The Broken Earth Trilogy we see it used right in the beginning of The Fifth Season by Essun herself. In the text it states, “Soon everyone will know he’s a rogga-lover, which is dangerous.” (55) Through out the trilogy the Orogenes are brainwashed to think negatively of themselves and hate themselves. It gets to the point where Orogenes are using insulting slurs towards themselves. To summarize in the book The Fifth Season, Orogenes are negatively targeted for their race (being Orogenes). We see this when the gatekeepers of Tirimo attempt to kill Essun when she tries to leave the city in search of her husband and daughter, and we see this with the use of the word “Rogga” which I see as the equivalent to the use of the N-word. 

In the Broken Earth Trilogy Orogenes of all ages were physically and emotionally abused. We first meet Damaya in her room in the barn. Her family kept her out there when they found out that she was an Orogene. She didn’t have a coat, slept on straw, and used the restroom in a bucket. When Schaffa takes her from her home Damaya believes that she is finally safe. But Damaya quickly realizes that when she does something that Schaffa doesn’t like, then there is painful punishment. In the text it states, “ ‘And anyway, I don’t need you to control me. I can control myself’….. ‘ Can you really?’….. ‘Schaffa!’ It hurts. He knows it hurts. But he does not stop. ‘Now, now- calm down, little one. There, there.’….’ Be still, and be brave. I’m going to break your hand now.’” (97) Damya tells Schaffa that she doesn’t need his help and that she can control herself. Schaffa didn’t like her saying that so he broke her hand. He said that he did it to see if she could control her powers even while in excruciating pain. Schaffa took advantage of his power over Damaya and broke her hand the minute she did something that he didn’t like. Schaffa as well as the other guardians and the Fulcrum believe that they can physically harm any Orogene who does something they don’t like. They clearly don’t care if it is a child or adult that they hurt, they just care that they are Orogenes because they know that most Orogenes are too scared to fight back or stand up for themselves. 

In closing, while writing my first ThinkING essay I believed that the most important strand in the book was consent and abuse of power. While writing my first ThinkING essay I was struggling both physically and mentally, I wasn’t doing well in any of my classes and had no motivation or energy. Due to this I rushed my first essay and didn’t turn in an essay that showed my best work. Dr. McCoy offered me grace by giving me permission to rewrite my essay. At this point my health was continuing to get worse and I wasn’t able to rewrite my essay or show Dr.McCoy the kind of student I am and what I am capable of. While my health has not really been getting better, I utilized office hours, the writing learning center, and my peers, and was able to write this final essay and be proud of it. After reading the Broken Earth Trilogy the most important strand that stood out to me was race. Jemisin posted a blog on why she used race instead of species to describe the Orogenes in her trilogy. In my essay I talked about how the Orogenes were physically and emotionally abused due to their race. 

Aggregate Love

               On the first page of The Obelisk Gate Hoa tells the reader that “relationships chisel the final shape of one’s being.” This idea is a concrete theme throughout the series as it focuses on the ways that characters are an amalgamation of the people they have impactful bonds with. This becomes especially poignant when (spoilers!) at the end of The Stone Sky Essun is transformed into a stone eater made out of jasper, an aggregate rock. Aggregates are a unique formulation composed of many other types of rocks; like aggregates, Jemisin’s novels display how people’s relationships impact who they are and how they relate to others. This is most prominently shown in the relationships between Essun and Schaffa as well as Essun and Nassun. Essun’s relationship to Schaffa impacts her relationship with Nassun and, in turn, these relationships impact Essun’s and Nassun’s development as people.

               Jemisin takes special care to demonstrate the complexities that come with love, namely in that love is not always given in the form we desire. There is a destructive nature in how Schaffa loves Essun in her youth, which is then recycled in Essun’s love for Nassun. Namely, in both relationships there is the use of violence in the form of breaking a child’s hand in order to impart a lesson of control so that the respective child in the situation can remain safe in their environments. Schaffa needs to teach Essun how to control her orogeny so that she could survive in the Fulcrum, where she would be swiftly killed if she were to show even a miniscule lack of control. Essun, in turn, thought of this method as the best way to teach her own child control to keep her from being discovered as an orogene in a town where she would be culled for any display of such power.

               Neither of these situations are clearcut, neither wholly good nor necessarily completely bad. Rather, they are complex situations that are (within the realm of the world) considered necessary for the overall safety of the child. Obviously, this then impacts how the children see the adults that hurt them. Essun grows to be fearful towards Schaffa and unable to understand why he hurts her and grows up to think that pain was a necessary way to show love. Her way of thinking thus impacts her relationship with her daughter, as Nassun “has never seen any proof of” the love that Essun “occasionally” said she had for her (The Obelisk Gate 78). Instead, Nassun and Essun lack a strong connection.

               The weak connections between adult and child are also represented in the lack of respect that Schaffa has for Essun and Essun has for Nassun. Despite their protective natures, neither Schaffa nor Essun saw the respective child in their relationships as people. Schaffa loved Essun not as a person but more as an object, as something that needed to be controlled. This is best shown when Schaffa and Essun reunite in Meov with Schaffa intent on killing her for escaping from the Fulcrum:

He does genuinely care about her. . .She’s his little one, and he has protected her in more ways than she knows. The thought of her agonizing death is unbearable to him. . . Did [Essun] not know that Schaffa would love her son as he loved her? He would lay the boy down gently, so gently, in the wire chair.

(The Obelisk Gate 38-39)

While Schaffa is willing to do everything he can to protect Essun, he also sees her as a product, as showcased by how he is so willing to put her son in a node, guaranteeing him a life of pain. Meanwhile, Essun initially holds little regard towards Nassun, seeing her as little more than the idea of a daughter. The Fifth Season begins with Essun desperate to find her missing child after discovering her toddler murdered; her journey is more motivated by the idea of her child being lost rather than concern for Nassun as a person, as she never imparts much characterization of Nassun nor personalization towards their relationship. Thus Essun’s relationship to her daughter, while unconditional, is more surface level—the love for a child rather than a love for this specific child.

               But this changes between Essun and Nassun throughout the series as Essun begins to respect her daughter’s autonomy. Their relationship changes primarily from Essun’s side, as she learns more about Nassun’s growth and comes to accept Nassun as her own person with her own needs that may differ from Essun’s desires. This is best represented when Essun discovers that Nassun is traveling with Schaffa. Essun’s initial reaction is a desire to kill Schaffa for all the pain he put her through, but resigns when she realizes that Schaffa is to Nassun everything that Essun never was:

You didn’t save her from Jija. You haven’t been there when she’s needed you, here at the literal end of the world. How dare you presume to protect her? Gray Man and Schaffa; she has found her own, better, protectors. She has found the strength to protect herself. You are so very proud of her. And you don’t dare to go anywhere near her, ever again.

(The Stone Sky 171)

Essun sees that Nassun has (presumably) found people that care for her and give her the type of love that she needed. A type of love that Essun is still learning to provide by that point in the series, which is why she resolves to stay away from her so that she can never hurt her daughter again.

                It is not until Essun learns that Nassun plans on using The Obelisk Gate that she dares to infiltrate on Nassun’s new life, and only then with the intention of keeping Nassun alive. Essun knows that if Nassun uses the gate, she would most likely die, so instead of letting her daughter be hurt once more Essun rushes to the other side of the world in order to save her. Yet when it comes down to a power struggle between the pair, a struggle between saving the world and saving a single life, Essun lays down her own to save her daughter. “[Nassun] is prepared for the inevitability of her own death. You aren’t. Oh, Earth, you can’t just watch another of your children die” (The Stone Sky 385). Essun ultimately forgoes the fate of the world in order to save her child because she would rather have her daughter alive and happy than have her daughter dead and the world saved.

                It is in this final act, the one that shows just how much Essun has come to understand her daughter and finally give her the love that she needs, that Nassun begins to accept her mother in return:

Because the world took and took and took from you, too, after all. She knows this. And yet, for some reason that she does not think she’ll ever understand…even as you died, you were reaching for the Moon. And for her.

(The Stone Sky 387)

Nassun recognizes that, despite all of the hardship that the world has put her through, Essun chooses love and the possibility for change, for redemption. By reaching for the moon, Nassun knows that Essun wants to save the world, to put an end to all the Seasons forevermore. Yet she still reaches for Nassun. Yet she still, ultimately, chooses to forgo her own life, forsake the world, to save Nassun. Essun thus makes the same choice Nassun intended to make—she chose the life of one over that of the world. Poetically,  Nassun then also chooses what her mother aimed for: she chooses to bring the moon back into orbit and end the Seasons forever.

                Hoa states in a conversation with Essun that he thinks “that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back” (The Stone Sky 285). I think Jemisin demonstrates this clearly through Essun’s relationships with Schaffa and Nassun. She loved Schaffa as a child and was not given the correct protection and love that she needed, and in turn she failed to see or know the kind of love that Nassun needed from her. We absorb the important people in our lives and how they treat us. But we ultimately get to choose if we want to change how we love someone in return. Nassun did not get to choose how Essun loved her, nor could Essun choose how Nassun loved her in return. But both, ultimately, chose to change and to love one another differently. While they still hold onto the ways they were loved, they show that love, like rocks, are malleable—metamorphic. Love is about changing while acknowledging the parts that make you up. Essun and Nassun choose to embrace their aggregate love by taking on one another’s choices for the world, allowing them to finally love each other in the ways that they needed.

The Broken Earth Trilogy; A Reflection Through SEL.

Towards the beginning of this spring semester at SUNY Geneseo I created my first blog post discussing N.K Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, from her series The Broken Earth Trilogy. In this blog post I discussed which of Jemisin’s uses of geological concepts I found most interesting and or challenging. At the time my understanding of the first novel of the trilogy was that it suggests that injustice and inequity can be exacerbated  and even created by impartial geographical circumstances. This was an overarching understanding of the entire novel. I explained how, time and time again, the story presents the reader with scenarios that demonstrate that, in a sense, justice is a luxury that comes secondary to survival. I then cited examples of this being the case. I noted the fact that the Stillness uses Orogenic child slaves in the Nodes in order to quell shakes that might harm or kill the larger communities. I also noted that the pirates of Meov have to steal and kill to survive due to the fact that their island is not fit for growing crops, or breeding cattle. This was a fairly pessimistic outlook on the novel and the future of the series as a whole. Although I was confident in these doom and gloom ideas, even as recently as the beginning of writing this post, I have had to meaningfully reflect on whether I believe these ideas are entirely true after reading the rest of The Broken Earth Trilogy. I do still believe that I was hitting at a grain of truth when I wrote these ideas, but I do think that they need to be more nuanced. I will begin with how these ideas have in some ways remained true over the course of the semester and then examine how they have evolved.

The Broken Earth Trilogy does in some ways still ask the reader to examine how geography and geographical events can cause or exacerbate injustice as I originally theorized. This is something that my peers and I noted in our collaborative blog post titled “Haiti’s Cyclical Suffering”. In this post we discussed how Haiti’s geographical location causes it to be hit by a recursive cycle of suffering that makes justice a luxury that is hard to come by. A history of colonialism and geographical hardship fostered gang violence, political corruption, and a near constantly unstable infrastructure. In many ways Haiti is a perfect example of the ideas that I argued The Fifth Season was presenting. The geographical location and the lack of infrastructure in Haiti fosters more injustice that harms the citizens. My peers and I argue that The Broken Earth Trilogy asks readers to examine the parallels between the fictional examples in the text of geographical injustice and the tragedies in the real world. I think that the idea I was pulling at the start of the semester remains true to this understanding that my peers discussed in the blog post. Injustice can be induced by geographical events and the frequency of those events. 

That being said, there is more than just tragedy present in these horrible scenarios. Sure, there is constant suffering and injustice much like the real world, but The Broken Earth Trilogy challenges the reader to find beauty in it.  The reader is presented with many examples of beauty that result from the hardship of people. There are the beautifully destructive obelisks that hold immense power, the beautiful crystal geode community of Castrima, there is the love of newfound family, love of birth family, and love of those lost. There are beautiful moments between characters, and even the trilogy as a whole represents a piece of art derived from tragedy. All of these things serve as glimmers of hope and beauty within a tragic time, and in many ways this combatted my own values. I do consider myself a realist but often I’m actually just a pessimist. I often have a hard time not giving the negatives all of my attention, so this understanding that there is beauty even in the hardest of times was very beneficial for my own mental health and personal growth. At first, when presented with this notion by my peers while writing our blog post discussing the earthquakes in Haiti, I dismissed it in my head. I thought “So what if there is some beauty to be found as a result of this tragic quake? We need to focus on how residents were harmed in Haiti and examine how people tried to help.” I closed my mind to the idea before I gave it time for consideration. This reminds me of the advice Professor McCoy gave me to slow down halfway through the semester. I believe that because we were talking about lives of real people being lost I became very absolute in my resolve that we needed to focus on the tragedy rather than the beauty that can come about. My own frantic concerns made it so I could not see that these ideas are not mutually exclusive, I was moving too fast. One can recognize the tragedy and offer aid or understanding while also being able to recognize the beauty in the resilience and artistic expression of human beings. I was encased in this exclusive mindset until my peers showed me the art that came out of Haiti after the earthquakes. After viewing the music, painting, and dance it was impossible for me to deny that beauty came out of tragedy in that case.

Once given that example, I remembered all the other tragedies that have produced beauty in their wake. The blues and soul music were an expression of pain from the disenfranchisement and enslavement of Black communities, as were many of the greatest genres of music. Rap is another one of these genres wrought from the darkness of injustice, and systematic oppression. Pray for Haiti is an album by Mach-Hommy, a Haitian-American rapper, that was released almost exactly a year ago today after the 2021 quakes in Haiti. I encountered this album while researching what art resulted from the quakes in Haiti for a collaborative blog post. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually loved the album and Mach-Hommy’s work. He raps in both English and Haitian Creole over watery, psychedelic beats, discussing his identity as a Haitian American. Finding new art that I love while also being proven misguided was an immensely rewarding learning experience. 

Another way my understanding of the text evolved was through an intersectional understanding of vulnerability. Through examining the last two books of the trilogy, as a reader I was confronted with very unorthodox examples of vulnerability. I do not want to examine at length the power dynamics within the trilogy as that would be an impossibly arduous process that would go beyond the scope of this reflection. The most I will say is that power dynamics can flip in a flash. But within this world of unstable power dynamics, I also confronted my own privileges as a non-disabled person. One character named Maxixe is a double amputee who, due to his disability, cannot survive as well in the apocalyptic world presented in The Stone Sky. “ ‘Rusting look at me, Essun. Listen to the rocks in my chest. Even if your headwoman will take half a rogga, I am not going to last much longer.’ ” (Jemisin 127). While reading the final novel of the trilogy I never really considered the fact that there could be people of disability in the world created by Jemisin. This lack of consideration was a reflection of my own privilege and ignorance. The text effectively forced me to confront this lack of consideration and consider how I can apply a more empathetic worldview in my own life. I never considered how people with disabilities have to deal with tragedy. I began to ask myself questions like how do people who use a wheelchair deal with floods or rubble? My previous understanding of what the text is trying to say about geography in relation to justice has evolved with this new element of intersectionality. 

All in all my understanding of the text that I stated in the beginning of the semester has changed, but not really in the sense that my original thought was wrong, but that it was simply incomplete. It failed to recognize the duality of all things in our world. With the pain comes the bliss, with evil there is good, and with destruction comes beauty because people have no other choice but to make it so. We are made for enduring, we are made for surviving hardships, we are made to take care of our most vulnerable. It is through what my Education courses call SEL or Social Emotional Learning that my understanding of our course text has changed. I now recognize that there is a yin to every yang, and that through empathizing with others we may gain insights into that fact. If I had been more empathetic with my peer’s perspective, and with the perspective of those going through hardship I may have not been so quick to dismiss ideas that challenged my own. These skills in slowing down and starting from a place of empathy rather than asserting my own opinions would have also helped me be more conscious of how people with disabilities might have to deal with tragedy. I am certainly not proud that I needed to learn this lesson, but I am proud of the person I am as a result of it. I considered myself an empathetic person before this course, but this subject matter forced me to confront the fact that this was not entirely true. Now I am more aware of the fact that even my most logically correct opinions cannot be completely true if they do not come from a place of empathy.

Genre and Justice in N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth Trilogy

Earlier in this semester I wrote my ThinkING Essay on how in The Broken Earth trilogy N.K. Jemisin uses geological disasters to show how richer classes are more likely to survive, and yet, regardless, how geological disasters are great equalizers of Jemisin’s world and our own. In my essay, I compared and contrasted disasters in the series to disasters in the real world, and how Jemisin effectively (and sometimes ineffectively) created analogies, and therefore a mirror, for how our own world works. Since completing the trilogy, my point of view on this has not shifted much; if anything, I believe the further we got in the series, the less the world of Jemisin resembled our own, and therefore her analogies became less effective in some ways. The fact that by the end of The Stone Sky it was solely up to a handful of characters (namely Essun, Nassun, and Hoa) to change the fate of the world completely severed the series from reality for me; it came to resemble more clichéd speculative fiction works that I had hoped Jemisin would overcome. That is not to say she did not overcome any clichés, however. In this essay, I would like to examine how Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy exists within the speculative fiction (that is, science fiction and fantasy) genre as a whole; what Jemisin has said about her writing process, what kind of industry the series exists within, what kinds of prejudice the series received after release, and, finally, the awards the series won, and why.

To begin with what N.K. Jemisin has said about her writing process, I am going to refer back to an article we read titled “Creating races,” posted on Jemisin’s website. What appeared to me to be the most relevant about this post was Jemisin’s explanation of her use of “race” or “people” instead of “species.” When I first read this article, I felt this was relevant—Jemisin had thought about this terminology in her writing process, and it reminded me of conversations that were currently underway in the Dungeons & Dragons community at this time. Regardless, in this article Jemisin says, “I think using ‘species’ may feed into the tendency of fantasy to treat groups that are equally sapient as somehow lesser because they’re different. ‘Race’ emphasizes personhood, IMO, where ‘species’ emphasizes inhumanity.” In this regard, I agree with Jemisin. It shows that she has spent a lot of time researching the prejudice that has existed in the speculative fiction genre; what particularly resonated with me was how she explained how the human race in the fantasy genre is almost always depicted as white, while the other “races,” such as orcs, demons, etc. were meant to depict non-white races. As I had already been familiar with this issue in the genre, again, it was encouraging to see a modern fantasy author engaging with the issue and providing their own interpretation in a published speculative fiction series.

Now that I have established an understanding of N.K. Jemisin’s writing process, I would like to provide an analysis of the genre in which The Broken Earth trilogy could possibly fall. Before I do this, I would like to first state that the existence of genre is almost irrelevant to the existence of a fictional work; most times, genre merely exists to inform the reader that what they are about to read may be somewhat similar to other works that they have read. That aside, upon first glance, The Broken Earth trilogy appears to be somewhere in the speculative fiction genre. Breaking that down, the series appears to be an amalgamation of science fantasy. Science fantasy usually refers to science fiction works that have loose rules for how their world works; I attribute this genre to The Broken Earth trilogy due to Jemisin’s use of magic. Magic is a hot term when trying to determine fantasy; using that term in your writing will almost always earn you a placement in the fantasy genre. However, Jemisin’s world also has features of science fiction; there is, or was, technology, and the world itself has many features of an apocalyptic event. This, as well, would earn the trilogy a placement in the post-apocalyptic fiction genre, save for aspects of magic and technology still placing it science fantasy, as well as the fact that Jemisin places her story more during an apocalypse. Due to Alabaster’s splitting of the world, and the recurring Fifth Seasons in general, Jemisin’s world appears to take place in a cyclic apocalyptic, then post-apocalyptic world. With all this taken into account, I would place Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy in the science fantasy genre still, but in a post-apocalyptic world.

As I am personally interested in pursuing a career in the publishing industry, I was interested in investigating N.K. Jemisin’s publishing journey in regards to The Broken Earth trilogy. To begin with what I could find in the acknowledgements of The Fifth Season, the first book in the series (though not Jemisin’s debut novel—that credit goes to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms), Jemisin cites an editor, Devi Pillai, and an agent, Lucienne Diver. In the acknowledgements, as well, Jemisin says, “The Broken Earth trilogy is the most challenging work I’ve ever written, and at certain points during The Fifth Season the task seemed so overwhelming I thought about quitting.” I felt that quote was very poignant, and highly reminiscent of many writer’s journeys to publishing a novel. What I was more interested in, however, was if Jemisin had faced any challenges in publishing the novel itself. With an agent and an editor, she was halfway there, but even so, manuscripts can be rejected for almost any reason. Luckily enough, I found an article by The Guardian that interviewed Jemisin on her thoughts on publishing; in one particular quote that struck me, Jemisin says, “she never thought she’d be published. ‘I honestly didn’t think I had a chance. You just didn’t see characters like me in fiction.’” This provides a good transition into discussing justice, particularly racial justice, in regards to Jemisin and The Broken Earth trilogy.

N.K. Jemisin’s candor and transparency about the publishing of The Broken Earth trilogy is a refreshing and realistic outlook on how the publishing industry functions in the United States and Europe (Jemisin’s publisher, Orbit Books, is based in London). Issues about racial justice, in particular, are brought up in regard to Jemisin’s publishing. In another honest quote from The Guardian article about one of her first novels, The Killing Moon, Jemisin says, “It was the mid 2000s, and at that time science fiction and fantasy publishers were not super interested in stories with black casts by black writers. They had done some stories with black casts by white writers, but they were not interested in those stories coming from people who actually were black.” Jemisin goes on to explain that she would receive rejection letters explaining how publishers would not be sure how to market her book, or what her audience would be. Jemisin states that the implication she received from those letters was that “fantasy readers don’t want to read about black people. Black people don’t want to read fantasy. So what do we do?” It is an issue that is multi-facetted. Bizarrely, publishers had been publishing fantasy novels with Black characters written by those least equipped to write a Black perspective—that being white writers. What the publishers perhaps did not understand is that if chances with audiences are not taken, new opportunities to develop new audiences will never arise.

A decade later, after The Broken Earth trilogy was published, evidence can be seen for the popularity of the series and the increasing diversity of fantasy and science fiction readers. Though the issue of racial injustice in the publishing industry had not been completely cured (to this day, there are still issues), Jemisin had her trilogy published and being read by readers around the globe. Her success was reflected in the nominations and subsequent award-winning of each book in her trilogy. However, as we discussed in class, Jemisin still faced issues even after winning the Hugo Awards three times in a row, and the Nebula Award for The Stone Sky. Societal issues such as Gamergate and, of particular importance to the Hugo Awards, the Sad Puppies campaign, on which Jemisin states in an article by The Atlantic, “Basically, [it’s] the science-fiction microcosmic version of what’s been happening on the large-scale political level and what’s been happening in other fields like with Gamergate in gaming. It’s the same sort of reactionary pushback that is generally by a relatively small number of very loud people.” In a genre that has inherently had multiple issues with racism and sexism for decades, unfortunately, this kind of pushback was seen as relatively expected in regard to Jemisin’s success. Regardless of “merit” in Jemisin’s work, her success in the speculative fiction genre and the publishing industry as a whole is a step forward for diversity, and, therefore, better stories.