While working on the group blog post about geologic disasters, I was recalled back to The Fifth Season when I read about communities of people who refused to leave their homes when disaster was imminent. Throughout the trilogy, the connection to home in the face of geologic disaster plays a pivotal part in places such as Allia and Castrima. I decided to look into why this occurs in our own world, and what it means for communities who face natural disasters.
The Psychological Care and Healing Center had a piece where they examined why community members refused to leave their homes when Hurricane Katrina was fast approaching. Part of the problem was economic; the study found that “those with ample financial resources were more likely to have left in advance of the hurricane than those with fewer financial resources“. However, the largest group had reasons other than finances to keep them where they were. The study says that “mistrust of outsiders — in the form of people who aren’t from your community claiming to know more than you do about your own home by telling you to leave it” was a major factor in the communities simply not taking the threats seriously. It was found that community members took the word of their neighbors over strangers and when they saw some neighbors remaining home they felt inclined to do the same. The close-knit communities caused families to remain in place even in the face of impending disaster. If anything, this proves the bond many people feel to their communities and neighbors. As one New Orleans resident said, “that’s your world; that’s all you know“.
Similar communities exist in Jemisin’s work where despite the potential for environmental ruin, people are reluctant to leave their home. This is first seen in Allia when Syenite tries to convince the leaders of the comm to leave the city. The response Syenite is given is “that’s not an option…this is our home”. Part of the reason is economic because the comm would lose “everything [they’ve] invested in the location” but more importantly is the sense of community itself. It is mentioned numerous times that it is dangerous to live on the East Coast in the Stillness because of the constant threat of tsunamis. Due to this threat, it seems irresponsible that comms such as Allia were built on the coast in the first place and that they continue to remain. Part of the reasoning behind this is explained by Heresmith when she says “moving would mean the loss of our comm’s identity, and possibly the fracturing of our population”. This implies that a sense of community is something greater than the people who live there. Jemisin showcases the belief that the inherent identity of a group of people is linked to their geographic location. Whether this is true or not, it is believed by people in the Stillness and our own world.
Castrima is another example of a comm that bases it’s identity off of location. The geode of Castrima was the pride of Ykka and even though she knew the dangers of living in a geode, she could not admit that it might be safer to live somewhere else. Even though Essun saved the people of the comm, Ykka and Hjarka were still upset about the loss of their home. Ykka is a rare orogene accepted by a comm and so her whole existence is wrapped around her upbringing in Castrima. Physical location provided a greater purpose for the community to bring them together, and without that link, it is necessary for the members of the comm to reevaluate their relationship to one another. Ykka asks Essun “do you like us yet?” because she knows the only way for a comm to survive without a physical location is to strengthen the human bonds that exist.
While thinking about why a group of people would risk their own lives to remain in their home, I realized one of the ways that orogenes have been dehumanized in the Stillness. Essun, for example, was taken from her home comm when she was a child, but the memory of that home is negative because it is where her own family turned their backs on her. The Fulcrum is the closest thing she had to a home while growing up, but the obvious painful association she has with the Fulcrum prevents the sentimental bond that others get to have to their homes. When Essun does find a potential place to settle down in both Meov and Castrima she anxiously waits to leave and struggles to form a firm attachment. Nassun is similar in that for her, Tirimo is where her own mother broke her hand and treated her cruelly. The first Nassun chapter we ever get in The Obelisk Gate tells the story about how “Nassun was in training to become a lorist” because she was “running away from home to escape her mother”. Jemisin decides to start with this tale about the lorist to show the very weak connection Nassun felt to her comm. The lack of a safe, sentimental place to stay is part of the dehumanization of orogenes as they are denied another basic facet of human life. The home and community of a person is a fundamental piece of that person’s identity and without that bond, characters like Essun are left to wander from place to place for most of their lives without ever fully experiencing the relationship to a close-knit community.