Growth & Reflection: Analyzing Geologic Events in The Broken Earth Trilogy

It is always strange to have to reflect on yourself, to go back in (meta) time and evaluate your ability to notice things, and see what it is that made you think about those things. Looking back to my ThinkING Essay, I feel very nuanced about my execution and my thought processes that I used to craft the essay. While I do remember working with real geologic events like “The Earth is Breathing”, “Buried in Volcanic Ash”, and others, I didn’t make any writing moves to work them into my essay. Even though I did discuss and analyze brief ideas of power and justice in The Fifth Season, I disregarded the part that asked about real world geologic sources—which I had realized through instructor feedback and some personal reflection at the time. My process in this essay will be to reflect on where I was and what I was thinkING about, application of my changed thinkING, and then why my thinkING has changed throughout The Broken Earth Trilogy

When I was thinking about the course concepts of Justice and Love, I began to try to bring my own collection of experience with these concepts in other areas of my life, as a frameworks perspective to have with me. A lot of my engagement with ideas of justice and power have been through the consumption of media, including TV shows, movies, and anime. I noted in the first “Care for my Growth” check-in that “I watch a lot of TV shows and anime where justice, truth, and peace are central themes and ideas…relating to this class… I find myself thinking about it a lot.” Given how much interest in those I’ve had it is fairly clear to see that one of my synthesis moves was to incorporate those into my thinkING process this semester. While I think that at some level this was helpful—and I recognize that this partially aligns with Geneseo’s GLOBE outcomes of “Integrative Inquiry” and “Application and Transfer”—I believe that this contributed to my oversight of the geological concepts/sources, and how they interact with The Broken Earth Trilogy

A major aspect of my essay was how Jemisin used the geologic concept of orogeny (the process of mountain formation especially by folding of the earth’s crust) and how that ability was given to Orogenes as a marker for oppression and control in the Stillness. The stripping of autonomy within this series is abundantly clear, and I still do believe that it is a key concept N.K Jemisin crafts into it. The Orogenes are shown to be a group controlled by the Fulcrum, they are feared and hated by the Stills, and the forced conception(s) I mentioned in my essay show that. Where I fell short in my ThinkING essay was a true comparison to geologic events, and this is when I knew I had to change the way I was working and thinking about The Broken Earth Trilogy.

Once we started working through the rest of The Broken Earth Trilogy, there was a noticeable shift in how I saw Jemisin use geological events/concepts to portray power and justice. When I started to actually look at these concepts and how they are literally put into the novels. Using the article “Buried in Volcanic Ash ” now to look at Jemisin’s use of geologic events, I could compare this aftermath to that of the Rifting, set in place by Alabaster. The ash in that article came as a result of a volcanic eruption in the Spanish island of La Palma, and tragically blanketed the landscape and homes of the people living there. Then looking at the Rifting and its impacts, you can notice the destruction and the ashfall that followed caused the displacement of peoples from their homes (Comms). Continuing from The Fifth Season, the impacts of the Rifting are still present and noticeable in The Obelisk Gate. One passage that shows the human impact is when Essun, Ykka, and others from Castrima-under go to the surface to gauge the damage: “Up here there’s nothing…Ykka’s just reacting to the starkness of the comm around her. So many silent houses, dead gardens, and ash-occluded pathways where people once walked…Yet it was also a real comm once, alive and bright and anything but still,” (The Obelisk Gate 30-31). The damage caused from the eruption is eerily similar to what happened to La Palma in November of 2021. I think by looking at real world events and seeing how events like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and other geologic events harm and change civilizations, that is what started to help me understand the connection to The Broken Earth Trilogy.

During the collaboration essay I saw even more concretely how comparing The Broken Earth Trilogy to the real world 2010 earthquake in Haiti brought up ideas of power and justice. When the group first started thinking about why we might want to look at Haiti and their experience, we almost immediately started drawing up any connections that we saw from just a first glance. There were so many ideas being brought into the discussion like how the earthquake had exacerbated issues that were already existing including political instability and food/water insecurity. During the research phase of the collaboration, a peer brought to our attention an article that claimed officials in Haiti had ignored warning signs of the fault-line being ready to rupture. This brought out the Jemisin phrase seen often throughout her trilogy “Oh. Oh.” as it aided us more in constructing the rest of our work. 

Through working out the “Human Impact” section of the collaborative essay, this felt like one of the bigger tests of my understanding of geologic concepts and justice. We had elected to split up within the group and each group of three would focus specifically on the section everybody felt they were most able to synthesize. In my subgroup, the three of us began by discussing how we thought we could best craft this section to portray the impact on Haiti, while also weaving in N.K Jemisin’s work. Upon discussing and narrowing down specific topics, we chose to compare the vulnerability of lives in Haiti, along with the lack of food/water resources, to the parts in The Broken Earth Trilogy where we noticed similarities. The number of casualties that were reported, as well as a tragic first hand account of a parent losing their child in the destruction, were directly connected to the vulnerability of people within the Stillness. This was a specific section that I found–while extremely saddening–gripping. It is a direct example of the tragedy and injustice that comes along with geologic movements and the destruction they can bring.

Another reason my thinkING changed over time was because I started to “Slow Down”, as Dr. McCoy often advises. By this I mean to say that I stopped rushing to try and interpret the series as a whole based on just one moment, and I also began to sideline my own outside  knowledge and experience with topics of justice and power. I stopped trying to make the course concepts fit into all situations. By doing so, I noticed my interpretations were more concrete and grounded in both the real-world and the text.

By being able to see where geologic concepts are used within the text, and through understanding the human impact these events have I do think there is a better understanding of how justice and power plays into this series. Consistently in this series groups of people are put in unjust situations, and are consequently put at the mercy of those in positions of power above them. What exacerbates these power dynamics are the geologic concepts that Jemisin weaves in, and this became most clear, as I’ve stated, during the collaboration effort in which our group compared and contrasted the 2010 Haiti earthquake with The Broken Earth Trilogy. The parallels between these fictional and real-world events and how justice and power implicates itself within them is something that I’ve gained through a process of slowing down, grounding myself in analyzing the texts, and opening myself to peer contributions/analyses.

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