Say Cheese!

Despite my playful title, the topic I want to discuss is rooted in a deeply woven sense of fear, derived from my understanding—or lack thereof— of Guardians. When I first learned about the twisted nature of the Guardians I remember asking myself, “Why am I so bothered ?” (especially after the peak of my disturbance in The Fifth Season relating to the Guardian Timay).  After some reflection—and constantly revisiting the novel—I was able to narrow my unrest resulting from two key behaviors that Guardians demonstrate: constantly smiling and expressing their love for orogenes. In this blog post I’ll explore the act of smiling.

Jemisin’s decision to relate smiling to the Guardians— whose characters carry a sense of fear rather than pleasure—caused me to question her unconventional use of the act as well as the implications it might mean for the Guardians. In the closing moments of the scene in The Fifth Season  pertaining to the Guardian Timay, when Schaffa tries to reveal something about Guardians to an anxious Damaya; “‘You are aware that we— Guardians— are…different.’ He smiles as if to remind her of how different. All Guardians smile a lot. ” (328). I would  like to think that Schaffa’s use of smiling as an example for explaining the difference that  Guardians have with those around them is not random. A Guardian’s  use of smiling is not related to the commonly accepted assumption of expressing happiness or appearing pleasant. Essentially, Guardians aren’t necessarily smiling because they’re happy but rather their function for smiling pertains to something other than emotion. This drove me to exploring the scientific implications and purpose behind smiling, leading me to an article by Debbie Hampton titled: “How a Simple Smile Benefits Your Brain and Body“. In this article, she discusses various Psychological studies and conclusions that address the effects smiling have on the brain and body. It is explained that smiling: “releases feel-good neurotransmitters,” one of which, endorphins, have a specific function of reducing one’s perception of pain and creates a euphoric feeling throughout the body. Also, a point on intention was brought up where it is revealed that : “Experiments found that even fake smiles produced lower heart rates and eased stress”. Regardless of the intention—genuine happiness or otherwise— smiling releases the neurotransmitters in the brain that have the same effects on the body.

If Guardians use smiling to release endorphins it can be concluded they are in pain, mentally at least. My theory is confirmed in The Obelisk Gate  when Nassun is speaking with Schaffa about something different that she notices about (inside) him and mentions: “It always hurts? That isn’t right” (157) to which Schaffa responds, “Many things ease the pain. Smiling for example releases specific endorphins,” (157).  Jemisin’s unconventional use of smiling makes me think about what she wants us to understand or learn from characters like Guardians. Similar to other revelations I’ve had about this trilogy, my answers lead to a new string of questions, particularly as it relates to the implantation that Guardians have and its effect on the pain they experience. This new line of questioning was sparked by the (bone-chilling) lorist tale mentioned in The Obelisk Gate  that states: “The Guardians do not speak of Warrant, where they are made. No one knows its location. When asked, they only smile.” (124)


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