Injustice and Unfair Power Dynamics related to Natural Disasters

There are many reasons one should look at both the scientific and ideas of power and justice with the world of The Fifth Season. There is no real way to completely disconnect the two ideals, as they are so interwoven throughout the novel. The Orogenes’ abilities and emotions, without proper training, can lead to earthquakes or other natural disasters, which becomes important when looking at the injustice and power difficulties they face throughout the journey. The power and justice and science behind some of the most destructive natural disasters are directly related throughout the story.

One of the main ways the audience can note this is by looking at the way the Fulcrum, and many other people, treat Orogenes. The humans and Guardians constantly look down, gawk at, and fear both the Orogenes. It has been so ingrained into society that these types of people learn to hide their true identities so as to not be taken away as once their secret comes to life, they are sent to the Fulcrum to be dealt with as the leaders see fit. This kind of treatment leads to a great power and justice imbalance as Orogenes are seen as nothing more than people needed to calm the quakes and do whatever the Fulcrum and their Guardian tell them to do. They seemingly lose all agency and freedom as soon as they are turned over to the Fulcrum, not even having a choice in their own procreation. The Orogenes are constantly oppressed and though they carry a gift or skill that cannot be taught, they are continuously looked at as monsters. One of the first things Schaffa says to Damaya, even, is “You’re a gift to the Earth– but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe,” then tells her that the only way she will become truly valuable and useful is if she comes to the Fulcrum and learns to control her power. From the start, the Guardian is striking fear and resentment into Damaya, teaching her that the Fulcrum is the only place she will feel safe, setting up the precedent for an unequal power dynamic and injustice. The Fulcrum also view their Orogenes as nothing more than objects, which becomes quite clear when looking at how they treat those who are not able to control themselves. The body in the node’s chair is described as “thin, its limbs atrophied,” as well as having tubes and things sticking out of it and a bag attached for it to poop in, which “needs to be changed.” If the Orogene is not able to control themselves, but their power is still useful, they are treated as objects, left in a half alive state until their body finally gives out. The Fulcrum holds all the power and ensures the Orogenes know what will happen to them if they choose not to be a part of the Fulcrum or if they cannot learn to control their abilities. There is an unjust system set inplace to ensure the power is maintained in the Fulcrum and that the Orogenes know they will always be considered “less than.”

The characters are directly related to the natural disasters themselves. Nur and Burgess write, “The depth of the earthquake focus also plays a large role; deeper earthquakes have lower intensities than shallow ones and spread out over larger regions.” The deeper the pain, fear, and injustice felt by Syenite, the more destruction she seems to cause. The audience can see this toward the end of Syenite’s conflict with the Fulcrum as they come to the island and try to take Coru back with them. Because Coru had been brought up on the island and there was little they could do at his age to train him the way they would have wanted to, Coru would have most likely become one of the children in a nodes station, being kept alive only for the needs of the Fulcrum. Syenite feared this truth and before anyone could stop her, “She opens herself to all the power of the ancient unknown, and tears the world apart.” Her fear of this unjust treatment for her child was so deep that she quite literally destroyed the whole world to ensure her child would not be kept alive in such a gruesome manner. This sense of destruction based on emotion can also be seen when Syenite tries to give Coru to Deelashat, another woman on the island, when she sees people from the Fulcrum trying to come onto the island. Jemison describes, “He clings to Syenite, screaming and kicking and– Evil Earth, the whole island rocks all of a sudden.” Coru has never learned to control his emotions and causes quales based on his emotional responses. The deeper the child feels, the more he rocks the island and though this does not relate directly to power or injustice, it circles back to the way earthquakes work.

The constant pressure placed upon Syenite, Alabaster, or any of the other Orogenes is also an important factor.  Alessandra Potenza explains in her article “Images of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano Show the Destructive Power of Nature in Action” that as cracks begin to open and pressure begins to build, lava is able to come out from the Earth and spread around, causing death and destruction in its wake. She writes, “The cracks appear because the magma is building up lots of pressure underground, causing the land to fracture and the lava to flow out.” Just as the cracks begin to appear in the ground and allow magma to ooze out because the pressure of the Earth has become too much for the ground to take, so do the Orogenes succumb to the pressure around them and begin to break as well. They learn to control this power, but most Orogenes are found because they allow their emotions to get the best of them, like Uche, Coru, or even Damaya. If they cannot learn to control their emotions, and this internal pressure builds and builds and builds until there is nowhere else to go but out, the Orogenes will, unfortunately, cause more harm than good. Schaffa tells Damaya, “It’s common for an orogene to discover themselves by killing a family member or friend. The people we love are the ones who hurt us the most, after all.” When the boy at school pushed Damaya, she felt angry and scared and having no training, she did what an Orogene does and ended up killing the boy– not out of hate or disgust, but because “the power within you does not distinguish. It does not recognize degree.” In other words, whether Damaya faced a big threat, like someone wanting to kill her, or a little threat, like being pushed, her power would react the same. There is a pressure inside of her, begging to be released. The Fulcrum uses this fear of killing people against the Orogenes, reinforcing, once again, the unjust power dynamic and giving themselves the upper hand in the end. 

The reason the reader needs to focus on both the scientific ideas in the novel and the themes of power and justice is because they go hand in hand. The way in which the characters react to the injustice they face or the power dynamics that are against them expertly parallels the natural progression of volcanoes or earthquakes. To truly understand the complexities of the Orogenes and the injustices they face, one must look at the science behind the natural disasters to get the full effect of how their situation causes their reactions.

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