You would think that the end of the world would constitute a very well-needed social change in society. Well, think again! In N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, she introduces and explores the concept of systematic oppression through world-building. Jemisin does this best through the creation and development of the Orogene “race” (race is socially constructed). These individuals have the ability to sense and manipulate the energy of the Earth. In its official capacity, Orogeny is used to do things like suppress earthquakes and minor shakes (since the Stillness is experiencing its recent and more dangerous season) to keep the Stillness stable and so that seasons can be avoided for as long as possible. However, there is one concern that drives the people of the Stillness to treat and control Orogenes the way they do. Orogeny is also connected to an Orogene’s emotions so it can cause a disruption in the Earth’s movement activity as well as the destruction of Earth. As a result, Orogenes are viewed as extremely dangerous, undesirable, and in need of control which is why so many people look down on them. Because of this, Orogenes are not able to reveal their true powers in fear of being discovered, tracked down by Guardians and taken to The Fulcrum against their will. At the Fulcrum, the Guardians teach young Orogenes “discipline” and “control” so that they can use their Orogeny safely but more importantly so that the Stillness can use their abilities to their advantage. Essentially, everything in this society is aimed towards keeping Orogenes oppressed (“in control”). Sounds horrible, right? Well, it’s not at all different from the world we live in today. It’s the reality that those who have power are the ones who shaped history to fit whatever ideal society they envision. We have seen it all throughout history and even in very recent times. This blog will touch upon those instances.
As it seems, Oregenes in The Fifth Season are a direct representation of marginalized individuals including people of color who are racially and socioeconomically disadvantaged in every way. First, let’s start with African Americans. From the early 16th century, African Americans were viewed and established to be less than Whites. This translated to the first African American indentured servants arriving in the American colonies following the first purchase of slaves into New Amsterdam. Although Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation passed in 1863, freeing all slaves “forever”, The Ku Klux Klan formed 3 years later. Then, again, an act of humanity occurs with the ratification of the 15th Amendment which gave African Americans the right to vote. But, it did not help much as The “Jim Crow” laws began. I found it interesting (actually gut-wrench tingly horrible) that whenever it looked like things were going to be much fairer there was always something even more unjust on its way. Even with the election of The United States’ first African American President in 2008, the country later elected the worst “candidate” (if the shoe fits) in history. Within the last couple of years, the racism in this country has definitely come out of the shadows more with the recent outburst on social media platforms.
By only searching up the word ‘racist’ and viewing the latest news articles, here are the headlines I found:
- “Texas college lecturer suspended after calling cops on Black student” (New York Post)
- “Black Harvard doctor accuses flight attendants of discrimination” (New York Post)
- “Police killings hit people of color hardest, study finds” (NBC News)
Now, let’s move on to Native Americans. Orogenes also allude to the adversities and injustices Native Americans have endured. Because the Orgenes are massively oppressed, they are the victims of genocide within their society and if not sent to live at the Fulcrum where they ‘die’ in a way as well. From Columbus’ arrival to America in 1492, the communities of Native Americans were never the same again. The Englishmen used violence and slavery and forced the Native Americans to convert to their own ways. They also brought over disease that would have long-term effects on the Native Americans. This was followed by the Trail of Tears in 1838 which forced the Native Americans off their land. Even now, the major tribes that once flourished over all of North America are all but gone with only a few small reservations to live on. Similar to Orogenes, Indigenous children were removed from their families in an attempt to erase their culture by sending them to schools in Australia.
Finally, women. Women have come a long way but there is still a lot of progress to be done. In the story, Orogenes are only allowed to succeed so much. Even with experience, even after taking a ton of government jobs, even as they excel through the ranks, they are still treated as lesser. Sound familiar, too? It reminds me of the infamous gender wage gap, the everlasting patriarchy, the gender framework, the sexual violence so present in society and all the other forms of oppression that interact with the abuse of women.
The fact that Orogenes are so universally representative of all the marginalized groups is shocking. It just shows the inequality perpetrated by this corrupt system which ensures that these people will never prosper in all aspects of life as they should.