Essun has three children over the course of the The Broken Earth series, yet only her daughter Nassun manages to live beyond infancy. Both sons die at extremely young ages, unable to even truly start living before being cut down. I believe there is importance in that, the the deaths of Corundum and Uche are both meaningful in their own ways, and collectively.
Corundum is the child Essun had with her companion, mentor and lover, Alabaster. To understand what his death represents, I must first determine what his life meant in the subtext of the novel. Coru was a child born outside of the Fulcrum, away from its malignant attempt at control over his entire being. As a child, he represents the future and a hope for change. His subsequent death inverses that hope, turning it into despair for an unchanging and cruel world. His death is the death of hope for the future, for him and his parents. Uche is the reinforcement of this cruel truth. Essun thought that by abandoning her previous self, that by taking on a new life entirely she could escape the impositions that it had on her. By being a fugitive she might be free and her children might be free. This was a delusion, her world is not one where orogenes can live free because they cannot be themselves freely and Uche’s death is proof of it. Without completely breaking the society that profits off of the dehumanization and enslavement of others, orogenes will never be able to live freely. Thus, Essun is forced to relive the shattering of her hope that her children might ever be free and it nearly kills her, rendering her motionless for days almost to the point of starvation.
Coru and Uche are both the inheritors of a legacy of brutal and often fatal oppression. Coru inherits very soon after birth, with the threat of being either made into a lobotomized node maintainer or a servile slave, the only way for Essun to prevent the miseries that plague her from hounding her son was to kill him. It was a mercy, rather than allow him to lead a life that guaranteed only suffering. Uche lived for a time, disguised as a still, but his inheritance caught up with him when his father realized his latent gift. When Uche was truly Uche before his father, Jija killed him. It is interesting to note that there is a trend of infanticide among the parents of Essun’s children, Uche being killed by Jija and Coru being killed by Essun herself. However these incidents are very far from each other, Essun doing what she did out of love and mercy, while Jija held only irrational hate and fear. In a way Uche’s death was a mercy in a similar way to how Coru’s death was one, though I doubt Jija had considered that. It is almost like a direct mockery of Essun’s act to keep her son free for her husband to murder her other son, a perversion of an ultimate act of selflessness and mercy turned into conceited hate. I wonder if the Earth saw either happen, and I wonder if it laughed at the misfortune of its enemy, or sympathized with a fellow parent losing its child.
One question I have is why were they both male? I’ve given it thought and my own limited perception seems to fail to produce a satisfying theme to suit the trend of sons being killed at an extremely young age. Jemisin’s careful consideration of the myriad of other such “coincidences” leads me to believe that the fact that both of Essun’s lost children being male was no accident. I did some light research but couldn’t find anywhere that people had been talking about why only Essun’s sons had died, why Uche had to be male instead of female.
I understand that Nassun needed to be female in order to draw parallels between her and her mother., but his doesn’t answer why Uche and Coru were specifically male. I will give it some more thought and perhaps come back to this post if an epiphany strikes me on why this is.