Writing History that Bleeds

Throughout the Jemisin books that I’ve read so far, The Fifth Season  most demonstrates the underlying themes of social injustice, and systematic oppression. It was not until after class on Friday that I came to realize that Jemisin is portraying even larger themes than discrimination in her other world fiction. By contextualizing these themes into real world examples, I can see that Jemisin had a greater overall idea in her writing. By using descriptive language and being concise, Jemisin leads readers to the bigger picture of systematic oppression, while still acknowledging the painful details, that some would call a “bleeding story.” 

The documentary that we watched about the Holocaust really put things into perspective for me. First, I felt disgusted watching it. The reason I use the word disgusted as opposed to saddened was because I have been practicing exploring the concept of “history that bleeds.” This is the process of applying real life characteristics to the victims of a tragic event and acknowledging the gory or unpleasant details as opposed to placing everyone involved in the same category. It is easier when watching Holocaust documentaries on the mass genocide of Jewish people and other minority groups in Europe, to use numerical values and statistics to assess the damage or categorize the people who were impacted. What has struck me as more important is acknowledging the pain of real people with real emotions and senses.

One of my history professors presented me with the concept of “history that bleeds” in the beginning of the semester while we were discussing slavery. This concept is focussed on talking about historical events from a realistic perspective and avoiding numerical assessments and generalizations. I find that Jemisin does a great job in her descriptions of what I would consider “human experiences.” While describing the status of the young orogene, who Syenite and Alabaster found dead inside of the node maintainers station, Jemisin uses descriptive language that provides me with a full understanding of the reality of the young orogene.

“The body in the node maintainer’s chair is small, and naked. Thin, its limbs atrophied. Hairless. There are things-tubes and pipes and things, she has no words for them-going into the stick-arms, down the goggle-throat, across the arrow crotch.”

In reading this description of the node maintainer, I am once again, disgusted. “Sad” would be the word that I would use to describe a person who may have cared for this orgogene before he was sent to the station and now has to accept his disappearance, but disgusted is the word that I feel encompasses his physical mistreatment and abuse. By explaining the physical state of the node maintainer, I am able to picture the image of a young, hairless boy, strapped to a chair, dead. This had more of an impact on me than a one-liner about the general mistreatment of orogenes at the node stations would have.

Jemisin also alludes to the concept of systematic oppression and discrimination in The Fifth Season. In the scene when Alabaster and Syenite are talking before they reach the node maintainer station, Alabaster tries to open Syenites mind to other ways of life. “Either the Fulcrum owns us, or we have to hide and be hunted down like dogs if we’re ever discovered.” He explains to her that the way that they live is a product of the design of Yumenes to keep orogenes away from power. This is the same concept of systematic oppression that is still present in the world today. Jemisin provides the literary context to draw a direct parallel between the way that orogenes are treated and the way that minorities around the world are treated, often times as a result of laws created against their interests. While Jemisin’s work may only be an analogy for the real world, it leaves me to wonder what hope we have for the future for unraveling the systems that have oppressed the masses.


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