Fear vs. Love

There is power in fear, but there is also power in love. Throughout the entirety of the first novel, the audience can see Essun in all three stages of life– whether as Damaya, Syenite, or Essun– being driven by the fear instilled in her by those around her. Essun has never known what real love is. How can she love her daughter in the ways her daughter craves when she has never received that kind of love herself? When Schaffa came to pick Essun up, her parents had been keeping her in the freezing barn in their backyard, isolated from anyone else. Her parents were too scared to be around her. To a normal person, a parent should be lobbying and comforting, but for Essun (or Damaya, at the time), her reality was skewed. She did not seem fond of this treatment of her parents, as most people would not be, but Schaffa insists, “You’re very lucky… Don’t think unkindly of your parents, Dama. You’re alive and well, and that is no small thing.” Her parents may have been acting in her best interest by giving her to the Fulcrum, but to a small child who just wants her family to love her, she already feels the isolation setting in. She is taught to fear her powers and those around her because she can cause them harm if she is not trained. Already, she finds herself living in fear, which will only progress as she moves forward. Damaya saw the power she held when she killed the boy on the playground and felt the fear of the people around her, including her own mother, leading to her going with Schaffa to the Fulcrum. Syenite was fueled by the fear of what could happen to her or Coru, her first child, if the Fulcrum discovered them after years of being on the remote island. When the Fulcrum did manage to track her down, she killed her own son in fear of him being sent to one of the node stations where his body would be kept half alive in an attempt to still any Earthly shakes until he became useless. In the midst of her struggle with the Fulcrum leaders, she thinks to herself, “Everyone she loves is dead. Except Coru. And if they take him–… Better that a child never have lived at all than live as a slave. Better that he die.” She allows her fear of the Fulcrum catching Coru to kill him and, in the process, maybe even kill herself. She does not think about what could happen if she escapes, but, instead, lets her fear lead her into killing everyone around her. When Syenite inevitably escaped that situation and the Fulcrum once more, only to rename herself as Essun, marry Jija, and start a new life with him, she allowed her fear to control her again as she demanded her children keep their abilities a secret. Her fear did not influence her, it controlled her, leading to a strained relationship with her daughter, Nassun, who resented Essun for never showing her the love and comfort she always longed for.
In the final installment of the trilogy, when Lerna dies, instead of being affected by his death (as they have since began a relationship and even have a child on the way), she says, “I didn’t even think I loved him.” She does not seem fazed much at all by his sudden death, showing her lack of love for those around her and begins her journey again, fearful that her daughter will destroy the world and kill herself in the process. Every time she does something, it is in fear of what the outcome will be. It never has to do with her love for those around her, the world, or even herself, it is always, somehow, rooted in the fear that has driven her entire life. Essun allowed her fear to lead her life, giving her power to those around her instead of keeping it for herself.
Nassun, on the other hand, found and granted power in love. Nassun loved her father, Jija, despite his hatred for orogenes and the fact that he killed her younger brother, Uche, because he was an orogene. She looked beyond this because her father had been so kind and endearing to her throughout her childhood when her mother had not. Because of this love, she followed her father to a far away comm and vowed to learn how to not be an orogene so that they could live harmoniously together. When Nassun began finding a new love, both for her orogene and her teacher, Schaffa, the love and admiration she once possessed for her father began to fade and she realized her father could never truly love and accept her due to her orogene status. She had once feared her father and what he could do to her if she stepped out of line, leading to her saying or doing specific things to ensure she never angered him. When her love died down and she saw her father for what he truly was (an abusive, fearful coward), the power he once held over her dwindled, allowing Nassun to escape her father’s grasp and become an even more powerful orogene. She realized, “he’s said that he loved her, after all, but that obviously isn’t true. He cannot love an orogene, and that is what she is.” The power dynamic shifted. She blames her mother for the “loss of that perfect love,” which is how she describes the love she once shared with her father (the love he gave her before he realized she was the one thing he always hated– an orogene). Nassun thinks “You should have had us with someone stronger” placing the blame on her mother, whom she feels no love for because “She knows her mother can bear it.” The power was no longer in the hands of outside forces, but rather in Nassun’s own hands. She takes it into her own account to kill her father, gaining revenge for all of the fear, lying, and years of fake love he has provided her with. She gives herself power and learns to live for herself. She would soon relinquish her power to the likes of Schaffa and Steel, allowing them and their wills, respectively, to lead her decisions, but her awarding of this power was never based in fear, but always in love. She chooses to give her power away to Schaffa and follow Steal’s will because it will help Schaffa. All she wants is for someone to love her– all of her, not just the pretty parts, but the strong, orogenic parts as well. Nassun wanted to do whatever she could to make Schaffa comfortable, which is why she listened and followed Steel in the first place. He promised his will would help Schaffa feel better and escape his past guardianship and Nassun was so entranced she blindly followed him. Even at the end of The Stone Sky when Steal tells Nassun to “Put us broken monsters out of our misery, Nassun. The Earth, Schaff, me, you… all of us,” she allows her love for Schaffa to lead her. She wonders if making him a stoneater will ease his pain, but knows that living for the rest of eternity could be as unbearable as that pain is. She must choose to let him go– the one person who has ever loved her unconditionally– or make him live for eternity just so she does not lose him. When she decides to change the world, it says, “Marvel, instead, at how easily she loves, how thoroughly. Love enough to change the world!” Even in her final moments, Nassun wishes to use her love as a means of leading her decisions and changing the cruel world they have been living in for so long. Despite her terrible life, she allows love to peak in through the cracks of herself and guide her in her decision-making. Where her mother allowed her fear to dictate every move she made, Nassun allowed her love to do the same.
One could argue that Essun was also led by love– for Coru, for her children, for herself– but this is far outweighed when you realize that it is hard for Essun to love anyone because she never truly loves herself. As cliche as it might sound, Essun has never truly been loved by anyone. Every person she has come into contact with, besides maybe Innon, have had some reason to fear her or not love her. In the end, one of the hardest things for the characters to come to terms with is love. Orogenes are so despised by the world around them that they never truly get to know what it feels like to be loved and accepted unconditionally. There is alway some fear or hatred thrown their way by the people they are around, even if they are trying to protect them. Hoa sums it up perfectly when talking to Essun, saying, “I think… that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.” No matter how Essun and Nassun choose to live their lives, they will never get the opportunity to make someone love them back in the same unconditional way. This can be seen in the instances with Essun’s parents, her acquaintances at the Fulcrum, and even Jija. She could not make any of them love her or accept her the way she wanted them to and she began to fear those around her because of it. Jemison’s trilogy and her portrayal of Essun’s fear and Nassun’s love shows the complexity of life and of the world around them. These characters are just like metamorphic rocks– when they are put under pressure, they grow stronger, adding more layers to them as they progress. Their pressure is very similar, yet each character allows this build-up to shape them differently, drastically impacting how they lead their lives and what they live for. In the end, Nassun was always driven by her love for those around her and Essun was always fueled by the fear of what is to come.
From the first essay to this one, it was so interesting to see how different the two characters were in their journeys and how they adapted to the pressures they were put under. It was crazy to see how skewed Essun’s view on love was and how disconnected her and Nassun ended up being. Hoa’s quote, written above, about not being able to choose how people love you was so insightful and real and the characters expertly backed this idea up. The different kinds of love and the differences in motivations quickly became my favorite part of the story from the beginning of the semester until now.

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