So, after going back through The Stone Sky a bit, I noticed that the people of Castrima’s trek through the desert was a familiar scene and in a part of the story that reminded me of another story, that of Moses freeing his people from Egypt. The more I thought about the connection, the more similarities between the tales began occurring to me, at first more obvious things like how orogenes are an oppressed people who have recently been freed from servitude to tyrants but then more minute details like how Rennanis, as an equitorial city comprised mostly of Sanzed can easily represent the Egyptians, coming to reclaim their slaves and take back the freedom the orogenes of Castrima now had.
As I thought about more parallels between these two tales, I tried to come up with a proper analogy to Moses which at first seemed to obviously be Essun. She has strange powers and uses them to help guide her people to a land where they might survive and thrive away from those who would try to oppress them. However that is where the comparison breaks down a bit, as she doesn’t really lead Castrima, Ykka does that. Also, while her annihilation of Rennanis and their army is impressive, it’s not quite the equivalent of parting the Red Sea. So then I broadened the timeline of events up until Castrima started crossing the desert and quickly it became apparent to me that Alabaster represents Moses given that the Rifting is perhaps the only event in the timeline of the book’s main events that could compare to the Red Sea’s parting in its own context.
At this point I become overwhelmed with frustration that I left my student’s bible at home, or at least somewhere in my room where I cannot find it. Thus, it was time to hit the internet up for information like a desperate student hits up their parents for grocery money.
While they share similar roles in freeing their respective peoples from oppression, Moses and Alabaster have significantly different contexts for their emancipatory miracles. The Israelites were a people that could reasonably just leave their oppression on foot and seek out a place where they could be free. The orogenes under normal circumstances could never leave their oppression behind, their tyrants were far more widespread and difficult to put behind them. Alabaster, while frustrated at the state of society, is not so cold-blooded as to murder millions unless there was no other way to free orogenes in a way that lasted. Moses split a sea that prevented God’s chosen people from being free, and Alabaster split a world that prevented Father Earth’s chosen people from being free.
Orogenes are slaves and this is made obvious by their treatment in society as well as by their mandatory service to the state. Unlike the people of Israel in ancient Egypt their chains were not physical, as no link of steel could ever hope to bind an orogene that willed otherwise, but based in emotion. The systemic and generational dehumanization of orogenes was successful in altering both public opinion of orogenes which gave them no safe havens among the populace but also altered the personal opinions of orogenes about themselves. Seen in both Essun and Nassun is an intense distrust of their own abilities and a fear of losing control and harming their surroundings, born of the “common knowledge” that orogenes are prone to causing widespread damage and suffering, when in reality they prevent such instances far more often than they cause it. Essun is often pushed to the brink of her ability to control herself and either lets loose on everything and everyone around her or barely is able to stop herself and usually needs someone else to keep her from doing something reckless. That’s the thing though, she’s pushed into it. All the occasions where she is close to losing control of her abilities is born from the stress of someone attempting to control her or subvert her own self-determination. Otherwise, even when she does have a good reason to go wild, she has some ability to contain herself, such as when she defeat Rennanis and its army and locates her daughter. When her neighbors betray and try to kill her, when Shaffa tries to take her and her newborn son, both of these moments where she absolutely cannot help herself are brought on from extreme trauma forced on her from oppression based on her orogeny. Thus the nature of an orogne’s captivity is not so simple as slipping the leash and headed for the hills.
The fact is that the story of Moses and that of Essun were written by different people in different contexts with different intentions, and yet they are able to be so similar. Whether or not the similarities are intentional or not is irrelevant because the fact that a link can be drawn between them at all builds Jemisin’s work. The most important similarity of Exodus and The Broken Earth series is in the story of a broken people who are delivered by a man driven to free them into a bright new future where they may live their own lives unimpeded by those who would bind them.