Parental Figures as the Driving Force

Something that both interested and perplexed me while reading Jemisin’s novels was the way in which parenting was portrayed and approached by various characters. Alabaster, for example, comes off as quite aloof when we first learn that his Fulcrum-bred children have been used as node maintainers. He acts very different in Meov with Corundum, however. The way in which adults approach relationships with children does not seem to be static throughout the novels. Instead, it shifts in response to past experience and in response to situation or condition, and it also seems to be a major driving factor for the plot of the books.

The ways in which parental figures approach their relationships with Nassun seem to not only shape her as an individual, but to shape the overall journey of the books. To begin, Essun seems fairly affectionless with all of her children. Her own forms for expressing love, however, are the result of her experiences with parents who kept her as an animal when they discovered her orogeny, and also of her experiences with Schaffa. We know that she loves her children, because she spends the entire trilogy on a journey to track down her only surviving child and to kill the husband who has murdered her son. The lack of affection in Essun’s relationship to her daughter, however, seems a catalyst for the rest of the series. Nassun is drawn to Jija, even though he has murdered her little brother with his bare hands, because he has always treated her with more affection than her mother. “Nassun, who was fully prepared to go off into the sunset with some lorist, effectively running away from home to escape her mother, relaxes at last” (Obelisk 11) when Jija informs her that Essun will not be joining them on their journey. One example of Jija’s own displays of affection for his daughter can be seen when he refers to Nassun as “sweetening.” She trusts him more than her mother. But his love is conditional. The discovery of Nassun’s orogeny leads him on a quest to “cure” her.

The splintering of Nassun’s relationship with her father drives her once again to a specific parental figure. This time it is Schaffa. Her motivations to turn everyone into stone eaters in order to save a dying Schaffa, similarly, result from her broken family. As Schaffa, Nassun believes, is the last remaining parent who cares for her, she will do everything she can to protect him. This, along with the already existing strained relationship with her mother, are the reasons why she disobeys Essun in the final scenes of The Stone Sky, and why she raises a literal wall between the two of them. Nassun distances herself from Essun as much as possible right up to her mother’s death, when Nassun realizes what Essun’s struggles and sacrifice represent—her love for Nassun.

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