Like Mother, Like Daughter

I already spoke about parent-child relationships in this post, but I thought I might talk more in depth about the relationship between Essun and Nassun, since that is what a majority of The Broken Earth’s narrative is built upon on. While we spoke in groups one day, Patrick drew my attention to the parallels between Essun’s stoning of Rennanis and Nassun’s stoning of the Antarctic Fulcrum, and I thought that the similarities between these two places and what Essun and Nassun decided to do to them also illustrated interesting parallels between mother and daughter. The more I considered the series as a whole, the more examples I was able to pick out from the text that exhibited similarities between them. Rennanis and the Antarctic Fulcrum serve as only one example.

Both mother and daughter dream of escaping from their own lives, or people in their lives, and both are granted that escape not once, but twice. Essun (Damaya) escapes parents who keep her like a barn animal when Schaffa comes to whisk her away to the Fulcrum. She then escapes the control of the Fulcrum and the guardians by Antimony’s power when she brings her and Alabaster to Meov. Nassun, similarly, escapes her mother’s control when Jija whisks her away on a journey to Found Moon. Eventually, Schaffa also removes her from Jija’s household in Jekity. These are push factors for the plot, and also for character movement.

If we continue to examine relationships within the story, we can find similarities that seem to align with the movement I’ve mentioned above. Many of the reasons that Essun hates Schaffa are the same reasons that Nassun hates her mother. The broken hand is just a constant reminder of the way that Schaffa tried to get Essun to repress and control her orogeny, the same way that Essun attempted to make Nassun exhibit that repression and control. The similarities might also continue into Nassun’s distancing from Jija as he becomes a threat, even making an attempt on her life, in the same way that Schaffa has been a threat to Essun’s life. Both Essun and Nassun escape twice from parental figures who lack affection.

The similarities between mother and daughter follow into their beliefs and decision-making. Essun, in Meov, told Alabaster that she wished for something better. Nassun seems to wish for the same thing. The reason that she stones the Antarctic Fulcrum in The Obelisk Gate, she tells Schaffa, is because “This place was wrong… The Fulcrum is wrong” (269). In the end, however, both Essun and Nassun are motivated by love and justice (Did I do that? Yes, I did.). Essun is willing to sacrifice herself to save her daughter. Nassun is willing to sacrifice herself and, even further, to sacrifice the Stillness’s remaining human population in order to save Schaffa. So, while Jemisin’s trilogy takes the reader on a long journey with Essun to find her kidnapped (runaway?) daughter, I think that the narrative tells a story about a closing gap between them that is both physical and personal.

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