As creators, we do not have the capacity to control the way people think. Everyone has free will to think and believe what they want to. This can make publishing works difficult because there is always that fear of being judged or misunderstood. Whenever anything is released to the public, whether it be a painting, an article, or a book, it is essentially left at the mercy of the beholder. The human mind is a vast place and it has the capacity to interpret and distort things in many different ways. But as Dr. McCoy says in the class syllabus, “You never know how your story might change the world for someone, especially someone who might be struggling… “ and isn’t that why some of us write or create art to reach out to other people who may be thinking the same thing and help others work through what they are feeling? Even if they come to a different (but not wrong) conclusion then the author had intended, a spark has been ignited that gets readers thinking. Through reading The Broken Earth trilogy and getting the opportunity to discuss in groups big and small during this semester, I have realized how diverse people’s perspective can be even though we are all reading the same text. Everyone has a different backstory that has led them to this moment. Everyone has different priorities and things they care about. This makes it so that different people can interpret the same writing many different ways.
For me in order to get a better grasp on what I was thinkiNG about I did some research into what authors themselves thought about readers finding symbolism in their work that they didn’t intentionally put in. In 1963, a high school boy by the name Bruce McAllister sent a survey to 150 well-known authors essentially asking them about their intent behind the symbolism in their books and their opinion on readers that find meaning where the author hadn’t intended there to be. He posed the question, “Do readers ever infer that there is symbolism in your writing where you had not intended it to be? If so, what is your feeling about this type of inference? (Humorous? annoying? etc.?)” There were many different responses but the one that stood out to me was from Ralph Ellison, “Yes, readers often infer that there is symbolism in my work, which I do not intend… It is sometimes even pleasant, indicating that the reader’s mind has collaborated in a creative way with what I have written.” In my first blog post, I talked about subconscious metaphors in the English language. I think this is a reason why people can interpret in different ways. Those subconscious metaphors make us see things in a way that hadn’t originally been intended. This interaction between authors words and the unique mind of the reader allows creativity to flow freely and inspire readers to do some thinkiNG.
Jemisin has done many interviews and she has made her opinions and thoughts very clear but at the same time in the books, I believe that she creates moments for readers to stop and reflect on whatever topic she presents. Personally while reading the books I never felt forced to think one way or another. Instead, I’ve felt prompted to take a moment and form my own opinion. One instance is her constant commentary on what childhood really is: a non-consensual experience. In my one of my blog post I wrote about how the Fulcrum manipulates and brainwashes the orogene children and how in a similar way adults, in particular, the public education system, force children to behave a certain way. It’s clear that Jemisin is commentating on how adults treat children but what she is actually saying is more unclear and left to the readers to determine. I chose to interpret all this in two parts. Part one being how adults restrict children in the education system and sometimes at home. With Common Core in place, children have no room to nurture their sense of self, all they have time for is learning academic topics. I can’t speak for anyone else, but when I’m at home taking care of my younger siblings I often find my self say no you can’t do this or no you can’t have that. Part two is how capable children can be. We can see that when kids are put in a situation where they are given the chance to take a stand, they will rise to the occasion and start a movement. This is my perspective as someone who could be still be considered a child and someone who constantly thinks about the future of our nation. It is possible for an adult with children to have a different opinion or someone who has read Octavia Butler’s work, where Jemisin has drawn inspiration from, to have a better insight into what Jemisin is saying. Jemisin also often gives paragraphs or sentences where readers might feel like they need to press pause and let what Jemisin says really sink in. In The Stone Sky on page 334, Jemisin writes, “Life is sacred in Syl Anagist – as it should be, for the city burns life as the fuel for its glory… But for a society built on exploitation, there is no greater threat than having no one left to oppress.” When I read this I had to pause and reread a few times to really process what Jemisin had written. I can see two possible interpretations for this powerful moment. The first relating to slavery and the oppression of people of color. For as long as Europeans have inhabited the Americas, people have color have been oppressed and degraded. It is such an ingrained part of American history and many people’s way of thinking that still today Black, Hispanic, Middle Eastern people (to name a few) are forced to deal with disrespect and paranoia. However, another way this can be interpreted has to do with the way humans abuse the Earth. We use fossil fuel which comes from life that once was, we use it to power close to everything and it is not so slowly killing the planet we inhabit. Not to mention the deforestation that is happening. We take from the Earth without giving back. Both these are plausible interpretations of what Jemisin is saying and I’m sure if we were to have a group discussion and have everyone share their opinions that would be even more interpretations. We all have different beliefs and causes we support that changes the way we perceive art and literature. I think that Jemisin demonstrates my point the best in an interview with Wired, she says:
I didn’t set out to write big heavy themes. I did not set out to write an allegory for slavery and caste oppression. I set out to write a story about a woman grieving her child. I set out to show what made her extraordinary. I set out to write a world in which people who are powerful, who are valuable, are channeled into systems of self-supported and externally imposed oppression, and how you keep people who can throw mountains from throwing mountains—and running the world.
Yet here we are reading the book in a class entitled Blackness, Love, Justice. We have all found a part of ourselves in Jemisin’s work and connected in a deep way with what Jemisin had to say.
When we first began our process of self-reflecting I wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to go in. I toyed with many different ideas like restarting the world or what the bias of a reader is. But in the end, I found myself drawn to the idea that we can find different meaning in the same text and all still be right and an engaging conversation. It all started from a quote from Elena Ferrante in an interview from The Guardian, “I believe that books, once they are written, have no need of their authors. If they have something to say, they will sooner or later find readers; if not, they won’t.” In a world where there are so many different sides and so many people screaming their opinions without trying to listen and understand those around them, I think it’s important to know that everyone’s opinion matters. Everyone’s opinion is valid even if you completely disagree it is much easier to have a conversation when everyone is listening and trying to see the other side rather than trying to out-scream the other person.