I don’t know about everyone else, but I vividly remember those commercials on TV when I was younger advertising what is known as kinetic sand; that colorful, half sand, half playdough stuff that looked and felt like wet sand, but it wasn’t! I can remember sitting down at the kitchen table with my two younger sisters and breaking out the sand, squishing it, rolling it and stacking it, all before my mom entered the room panicking that we were playing with this sand without any sort of box or newspaper underneath it to keep the table clean (needless to say, my mom started supervising our use of kinetic sand after that incident).
Why is kinetic sand relevant to anything I might have to say, you ask? Well, after scrolling through and re-reading the notes I had taken throughout our reading of The Broken Earth Trilogy, I became unusually fixed on the word “grit” , and kept trying to wrack my brain of where I had heard this word before. I had this feeling that it was relevant, and wasn’t just the name of a boiled corn breakfast meal. Finally after a long period of the word just bouncing around in the back of my head, I realized why I was finding this word to be significant.
In the appendix of all of The Broken Earth Trilogy books, the term “grit” refers to unringed orogene children of the Fulcrum who are still in basic training (p. 408). However, the term grit can also have a few other definitions that are very applicable to the storyline of these books, but there is one definition in particular that stood out to me:
“Small, loose particles of stone or sand”
This definition of grit leaves a lot of room for interpretation as to why orogene children of the Fulcrum have gained this nickname as a whole. Here is what I’m thinking: Sand is made up of finely divided rock and mineral particles to create a granular material, that when grouped together can have many purposes, such as building a sand castle (like the one my sisters and I built on our kitchen table). A big ideal of sand is that it can be easily manipulated and sculpted in specific ways, and then destroyed and rebuilt just as easily if things don’t turn out exactly how you want it. In a sense, it has a plastic quality.
By looking at the term grit in this sense and applying it to the upbringing and treatment of the grits of the Fulcrum, it starts to become apparent that this designated nickname is indicative of the methodology that the Fulcrum uses in order to raise, train and control orogenes for their own purposes. If an orogene surpasses how the Fulcrum has trained them to behave, such as developing immense power earning them more and more rings, the Fulcrum can easily take them out, whether that be through a Guardian killing them, or sentencing them to a life of composing a node maintainer.
Xavier raised an idea one day in class that became an important piece of this puzzle being put together in my head, which is developmental plasticity within the brain of a child. He also wrote a blog post that discussed psychology of developing children in relation to Jemisin’s books, which is what started to get me thinking about the term grit in the first place (so thanks for that, Xavier!) Plasticity refers to the quality of being easily shaped or molded, and in the developing minds of children, any social, behavioral and environmental factors can easily impact the further development of the child (more in-depth information on developmental plasticity in children can be found here). When it comes to plasticity in the brain, it is most easily influenced in the early stages of life. This explains a lot about the motives of the Fulcrum. We learn early on in The Fifth Season that the Fulcrum prefers to take in only children. Schaffa even expresses at one point that he is glad that Damaya is still young enough to be taken in by the Fulcrum. It is for this reason that I believe orogene children have been termed as “grits”. They are bits of sand, running through the fingers of the Fulcrum, being shaped and built into anything the Fulcrum desires, and destroyed just as easily as the tide melts away a sandcastle.