Response to “Freedom in Resistance: Yikka” by Elizabeth Gellman

Reclaiming a word can be a way to rebuild communities that have previously been fractured by the shaky world they live in.  Many of the words that are reclaimed can still be derogatory if used by the wrong people in a bashful or ill intentioned way.

It is fascinating to think of the power that a single word can carry. The influence that words can have on people and their perceptions of the world is astounding yet horrifying.

Words can be used as a means categorizing people, and alienating groups of people. The derogatory word for orogenes in this society is “rogga”, and replicated the affects the use of the N word has on western societies. Being a vessel of the fulcrum, Syenite has experienced being called a “rogga” in a derogatory sense. One example of this is when Syen and Asael from Allia get into a disagreement about the poor treatment of orogenes in the governor’s office. Asael snaps at Syen for demanding fair treatment and declares “‘you’re a rogga’” (216) at Syen. Asael does this out of frustration, and justification for why she doesn’t feel she has to treat Syen and Alabaster as well as typical guests. It appears that this is the answer Syen is expecting, and that she even bates Asael into calling her a rogga by her response of “‘well, at least that’s out in the open” (216). The importance of this interaction is that Syen expects to be called this offensive word for sticking up for herself and knowing what she should be entitled to as a guest of Allia. The word “rogga” is used to categorize people of orogenic power with a negative connotation attached. According to contemporary slang in 2018 Earth, found on Urban Dictionary, a rogga is a self-burning cigarette. A cigarette has connotations of being toxic and destructive. Ascribing such a word to a group of people implies that they are perceived to carry these negative characteristics, associating the group of people with the meaning. This makes it easier to generate fear and hatred of a group of people, and these emotions present themselves when they are intensified, such as when Asael became frustrated arguing with Syen. The fact that Asael sees Syen as beneath her makes it easier for her to be rude, and the existence of the word validates her crude actions.

This being said, a fascinating shift occurs when we encounter Yikka, the forward thinking leader of Castrima who is not afraid to use the word, “rogga”. Essun is shocked upon first meeting Yikka, not only because she uses her orogeny in new and unusual ways, but also because she does reclaim a word that Essun finds so repulsive. As the trilogy progresses, however, we see Essun transform from thinking of the word as repulsive to thinking of it as something that can be reclaimed. Essun also begins to take more ownership of her abilities, since they are what Castrima is powered by.

Jemison reminds us numerous times that, “everything changes during a season”. Perhaps this season is helping Essun to evolve her thinking about herself as an orogene, and to reclaim the power she was born with as something that belongs her rather than the Fulcrum.

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