Sympathy towards Nassun’s Motivations

One of the things I’ve most enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky is the development of Nassun as she comes to grips with the realities of the world. Her motivations in the third book have developed into an interesting parallel to Essun, as Nassun turns into a version of what Essun easily could have become. What I find most interesting is that even though Nassun is seeking an end to the world, I find her motivations completely understandable and it is as easy for me to root for her as it is for me to root for Essun.

The section that interested me most in the “7 Deadly Sins of Worldbuilding” article was the one primarily focused on the differing motives within classes, religious groups, etc. The main tip in the article was that within a group it is “safe to assume that no two members of it will agree on much“.  The goal of successful worldbuilding is to build a believable world which usually means trying to replicate the complexities and nuances of own own world. When looking at race in America, it is very apparent that individuals of a shared racial background will not automatically agree on what the goals of the race should be and how they should attain them. The classic example is Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X who in the 1960’s sought to empower the black race with very different methods. Dr. King is famous for his belief in civil disobedience while Malcolm X is well known for his favorable view of violence when used for self-defense. Nassun fills in the role of Malcolm X as she presents a different perspective on overcoming oppression and highlights how it would be completely unbelievable for all orogenes to have the same approach.

Part of what I like most about the relationship between Essun and Nassun as characters is that not only are their ideologies different, but there is also an emphasis on the inherent differences in their identities because of their upbringings. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were joined by race, but separated by the other aspects of their lives including geographic location within America and religion. These distinctions are important because they do not allow either man to be fully identified only for his race. Essun and Nassun have many similarities as mother and daughter but what most sets them apart is the upbringing each experienced as children and the exposure to the cruelties of the world. Essun was Fulcrum-trained and it shows through in everything from how she uses her orogeny to how she decided to raise her daughter. Essun has a hard time breaking out from her Fulcrum experience, but she also had an orogene mentor in Alabaster to teach her about the world. The relationship Essun had with Alabaster made her see the importance of a home and family which has impacted her decision to continue to protect Castrima. Nassun has not had this relationship with an orogene. Her only support comes from a former Guardian and a Stone Eater who wants her to destroy the world. This distinction is important because Jemisin doesn’t allow each character to only be defined by their experience with orogeny, and instead shows the impact different societal experiences can have on a personal ideology.

Jemisin uses Nassun as the foil for Essun’s motivations because it is easy to sympathize with Nassun as a character due to her age and relation to Essun. Jemisin perfectly replicates the classic ideological debate between figures like Dr. King and Malcolm X by not treating the inclination towards violence as completely reprehensible and treating each perspective with understanding. Nassun’s intentions may be violent or even cruel, but they do not come without justification that is easily recognizable. When talking to Jija, Nassun tells her father “it’s like everybody wants me to be bad, so there’s nothing else I can be”. Nassun is trapped in the way she is identified by others and is broken down to one characteristic of hers which is her orogeny. This is similar to how King and Malcolm X are often boiled down to their civil rights actions while the rest of their identities are largely ignored. Nassun’s cynicism that “fathers will still try to murder their orogene children” and that “nothing will ever change that” comes directly from her personal experiences, but to any outside observers like the man Essun encounters when she travels to Found Moon, Nassun is just another troublesome orogene. In reality, Nassun is troublesome not because of her orogeny, but because of how she is treated in society due to her orogeny.

As a product of her environment, Nassun’s desire for destruction is understandable. The hate she has experienced from her own father has caused her to hate in a similar fashion such as when she screams “I want it all GONE, Schaffa! I want it to BURN” and then realizes “this is what Jija felt”. Nassun experiences the same hatred she has had directed at her. A classic problem of oppressed minorities in America is that they are held to a higher standard in society. Our criminal justice system provides a good look at this where black people are more likely to be incarcerated for the same crime as their white counterparts. Societal racism feeds into itself to fulfill the stereotypes people want to see in society. Because of this, it is often necessary for oppressed groups to be the bigger person, so to speak, and rise above the hatred pointed towards them. The work of Martin Luther King is celebrated because he not only overcame some of the injustices African-Americans faced, but also because he refused to succumb to a similar hatred towards white people. Essun is in a position where she may end the Seasons forever which would benefit both orogenes and stills, but this does not make the motivations of Nassun any less understandable. When all she has been faced with is hate, it is hard to believe hate will ever go away. Ultimately, it is not fair to expect someone like Nassun to rise above the hatred she is faced with. Violence is still never the answer, but it is hard to blame Nassun for feeling the way she does. As a product of her environment, it is very plausible for her to believe injustice towards orogenes will never go away even without Seasons.


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