I began thinking about our class discussion that we had on September 10th about the meaning behind Jemisin’s choice of titling the prologue of The Fifth Season as “you are here”. LeiBin made the comment that Jemisin forced us to start “here” in the novel, leaving us to piece things together to uncover meaning, and get a sense of the beginning of the story on our own, since we essentially started in the middle of everything.
The whole question around the meaning of “you are here” sparked my interest, and I ended up comparing it to an amusement park, in order to justify the difficulty I was facing in trying to understand this book:
When you enter an amusement park for the very first time, you typically go in at the main gate and are faced with the little bit of panic of not knowing where to start. You’re familiar with the idea of amusement parks, but not this specific one. You know that there are rides, games and food, but you don’t know where they are located or how to get to them. Most people don’t research the whole amusement park, it’s exact rides/games/food establishments/entertainment etc. before they go, they just know that amusement parks have these core concepts, and that they will learn about the specifics of this amusement park as they go. However, often times there is a huge map up on a board that shows the whole park, and a little star marking your location with “you are here”. You genuinely have no prior knowledge of this place (unless you’ve been there before, but lets say you haven’t), so you trust that the main entrance provided, and your location as stated on the board, is starting you in the ideal location. There is no specific way to start and finish at an amusement park, you just have to start somewhere and figure out what other things there are to do. It doesn’t really matter if you eat first, play games second, and do rides third… or do rides first, eat second, and play games third, etc., it just matters that you do all three (or everything, if said amusement park has more to offer than those three things) in order to get the most out of your amusement park experience. But then, when you go to a new amusement park, you cannot expect to know every game, ride or food establishment, where it is, etc. You just have to start fresh all over again.
I feel like this is what Jemisin is doing in the prologue and first few chapters of The Fifth Season, in a sense. We all have a general idea about the Earth (its past, present and maybe future). But, in order to start exploring it on a whole new level, which is what Jemisin does in this book, we have to be dropped into it, and take the initiative to start exploring it and learning more about it. Just because we are familiar with our world today, and how things work, and what is important/unimportant for our survival, does not mean that in the world of The Fifth Season it is the same. This is what makes the story so hard to grasp, at first, but we have to trust that Jemisin placed us “here” for a reason. This is an entirely new world, and Jemisin does not expect for us to predict and understand everything that is going on right off the bat, but she also doesn’t want to give us everything that we need to know step-by-step, in chronological order. That would be too boring, wouldn’t it? I think so, and I think Jemisin thinks so too.
Therefore, despite my initial panic and discomfort in not understanding a single thing about this story, I am now very excited and optimistic to be starting at the little star on the giant map of The Fifth Season, and I am looking forward to our journey through this amusement park of a book, together!