Power + Authority in Damaya’s Narrative

“Pick up your book”, “Be quiet!”, and “I told you to..” are all examples of commands, directives, and instructions that we in one way or another have encountered throughout our lifetime. But, what makes us obey them? Well, we obey our commands due to the idea that a figurehead or authority figure told us to do so. These individuals include, but are not limited to: our parents, teachers, family members, and many more.

Merriam-Webster best defines “authority” as “the power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior”. Authority can sometimes be beneficial when it elicits positive structure and organization. But, authority sometimes falls into the wrong hands and those who have it use it to their advantage, not worrying about others.

In The Broken Earth trilogy, there seems to be a common theme of authority roles within the text, specifically during Damaya’s narrative. Her parents were in charge of her, and because they were “superior”, felt little to no remorse for the living conditions to which they subjected her. During the winter, they locked her in a barn, prohibiting her from basic necessities– including those as simple as a bathroom and jacket. As mentioned on page 31 of The Fifth Season, “Mother draws up in surprise. ‘We gave away her coat.’ ‘Gave it away? In winter?’” Damaya’s parents gave away her coat to a cousin because they didn’t know that orogenes could feel the cold, and believed she was faking it. Little did they know that she was actually in very desperate need of it. Her mother also describes in the text that Damaya had “pretended to be  child when she was really a monster.” This speaks to the type of authority figures that her parents are — uncaring and protective only of themselves. Damaya’s anger towards this treatment is articulated on page 27 of The Fifth Season, when it mentions that, “Damaya hates her parents, she hates them, and anything that will make them suffer make her feel better.”

Throughout the book, another character that takes an authority position is Guardian Schaffa. He initially takes good care of Damaya making sure she is safe while providing food during their journey to the Fulcrum. But, he also uses his power to teach her to never oppose him and to control her powers. He intentionally breaks her hand in order to teach her control and stability. But, she still manages to respect him.

In analyzing this, I believe that Damaya’s parents use more of an authoritarian style of parenting, while Schaffa is more authoritative. “Authoritarian parenting is a parenting style characterized by high demands and low responsiveness. Parents with an authoritarian style have very high expectations of their children… Mistakes tend to be punished harshly” (Verywellmind.com) As seen throughout the book, Damaya’s mother and father did not do anything to help her. In comparison to Essun, they did not think that she was still a person and helped her control her abilities. Instead, they informed the Fulcrum about her so she could be processed. On page 31, it states, “Mother had raged, her face streaked with tears, while Father just sat there, silent and white-lipped.” This proves that although upset about the decision to let Schaffa take Damaya, they were still rendering her to him, since she disappointed them. That disappointment wasn’t developed on the person and character Damaya was, but rather to the simple fact that she had been born with orogenic abilities.

In contrast, Schaffa proves to follow more of an authoritative parenting style. Verywellmind.com states, “Authoritative parenting is characterized by reasonable demands and high responsiveness. While authoritative parents might have high expectations for their children, they also give their kids the resources and support they need to succeed.” Though Schaffa does take Damaya on a journey to grow her abilities, he is also very nurturing. This is seen at the beginning when he asks her mother to assemble a package for her, full of clothes, food and a coat. He not only fulfilled his duty of taking Damaya away, but also started to care for her. On their way to Yumenes, they spend their night at an inn, and Damaya is filled with the comfort she never received including “sleeping in a bed that is bigger than hers and Chaga’s put together” (Jemisin 85).

In analyzing both of these responses to her parents and Schaffa, it is evident that she responds well to the authoritative parenting style. Damaya doesn’t love her parents because they see the worse in her. Their type of punishment is to minimize the person she is and see her as an animal despite only being a human with special abilities. They never apologized for protecting themselves over her, as they were afraid she would become a monster and kill them. But, as for Schaffa, despite his painful ways to show power and authority, he also nurtures her and explains his reasoning for his actions. In The Fifth Season, he says, “I hate doing this to you. I hate that it’s necessary. But please understand: I have hurt you so that you will hurt no one else” (Jemisin 99-100). This alludes to the type of person Schaffa is– caring, responsive and kind.

Damaya had a hard past to conquer and that was built upon so much repression from her own family. She never knew what it was like to be nurtured as she spent most of her time thinking that her parents hated her. But, Schaffa, unintentionally shifted her mindset, as he did for me. He was no longer just “the person who picked up Damaya” but a guiding support for her as well.  

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