The Power Of StoryTelling

The initial draft of this thesis concentrated mostly on islands, especially islands and their distinctive qualities. When I looked at islands from this angle, I realized why some people only saw them as tiny and undeveloped. However, the latest version of this paper aims to investigate how the Dominican Republic is one of those islands that too have been misrepresented when in reality it is majestic, culturally rich, and valuable. Furthermore, I will be focusing on the novel The Stone Sky by N. K. Jemisin. The reason for picking the third novel in the series is because of the way Hoa is telling the story. This is similar to what I am aiming to do with this paper, I am pushing to tell a different story about the Dominican Republic, one that has not been tarnished by the media. Additionally, the third book demonstrated to me as a reader the struggle that orogens faced personally. Orogens are repressed, dehumanized, and considered dangerous. Because of their misrepresentation and othering within society, orogens and islands are comparable.

The persecution and often misunderstanding of orogens is linked in many ways to how Western nations regard the Dominican Republic. For example, much of the headlines about the Dominican Republic focus on tourist deaths, botched plastic surgery, poverty, and the “dangerous” neighborhoods that surround the island. The article “11 U.S. Tourists Have Died in the Dominican Republic in 2019. Should You Cancel Your Trip?” it notes “The headlines about American tourists dying and have fueled speculation among travelers that the Caribbean country is an unsafe destination for travelers. Safety concerns began to arise in May, when three seemingly healthy American tourists suddenly died in the same resort within the same week. The FBI has confirmed that it is assisting Dominican police with the investigations. The State Department said there has been no evidence of foul play and no sign that the deaths are connected” (Martinez, Bates). Around this same time ​​Delta Airlines advised travelers with tickets to Punta Cana that they would be able to cancel or reschedule their flights “due to recent events.” These headlines that advise many Americans to rethink their decisions it sadly hinder the representation of the Dominican Republic. In this interpretation by the media, it urges people to see the “ugly” before truly looking underneath it all.  The labeling of the term dangerous can be applied to this situation as well as to the novel. Within the novel, we are met with Jija who was the husband of the main character Essun who also killed their son because he was a orogene. This scenario in the trilogy is mind-boggling but it also changed how I viewed the story as well. Jemisin made it clear to readers how tarnished the reputation of orogenes is by having a father kill his child with his bare hands. This left an imprint on me because within our society we are taught that parents are our shields of protection but this was proved otherwise in this novel. However, through Jija’s actions, he was reassuring the public that the world would be a better and safer place with one less orogene regardless of the orogene being his son. 

Hoa as the narrator of the novel and the one who is using his power to tell the story uses his interactions with Essun to illustrate the other sides of orogenes that are never focused on. He begins the novel by introducing Essun, “You are Essun, the sole surviving orogene in all the world who has opened the Obelisk Gate. No one expected this grand destiny of you. You were once of the Fulcrum, but not a rising star like Alabaster” (1). One thing Hoa does with this section introduces us to who Essun is. Through his introduction readers are met with a woman who was raised in the Fulcrum but was overlooked by many.  As Hoa continues we see Essun grow and develop, “And here, now, long free from the ordered, structures of the Fulcrum, you have become mighty. You saved the community of Castrima at the cost of Castrima itself; this was a small price to pay, compared to the cost in blood that the enemy army would have extracted if they’d won” (10). The emotions I felt while reading this section were pride and strength; throughout the novel, readers battled with defining Essun based on her behaviors and actions. However, after hearing Hoa’s version of the story, I was greeted by an Essun who had never given up. She fought for a community that struggled to welcome her yet she still protected it in order to preserve them all. The strength in Hoa’s narrative is crucial; via his portrayal of Essun as a human being, I was confronted with an orogene that seeks to preserve the human race rather than an orogene that needs to be eliminated due to their unwarranted power.

Based on Hoa’s introduction of Essun, I believe it is my turn to reintroduce the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic was inhabited by the Taino who called the island Quisqueya “mother of all lands”. The Taino people were people of culture, art, and traditions. As their society grew, they produced yuca, sweet potatoes, maize, beans, and other crops, reaching a peak by the time of European contact. Similar to the story we have heard for so long, Christopher Columbus settled on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and the aftermath was catastrophic.  Due to European infectious illnesses, the Tanos was virtually wiped off. Other factors included abuse, suicide, family breakdown, and starvation. This wiping of the Taino during the European’s exploitation is similar to the Seasons within the trilogy. The Seasons were responsible for vast starvation, illnesses, and even death. The Dominican Republic’s story is ultimately fighting for freedom, something that is rarely mentioned. For instance, the Dominican Republic was a French colony from 1795 to 1809, from 1822 to 1844 it was unified with Haiti, and between the 19th century, the Dominican Republic was in constant wars with Spain, France, and Haiti. The story that unfolds is one where the people of the Dominican Republic fought for their independence and freedom. 

One thing I have the power to do is tell my audience the magical place that is the DR just as Hoa can retell his love for Essun. One story is one told by my mother. The journey of her youth:

The roads were long, sandy, and rocky, remember we had no sidewalks back then. I always had to look behind me to make sure no motorcycles were coming. On one hand, I had my bag that didn’t carry much and on the other hand, I had your aunt’s hand. My hair was in pigtails, I had on the school uniform baby blue top and navy blue skirt. Going to school was not the fun part but the part that I did love was coming back from school when the island was awake. Coming back to school my hair was always undone and I used to love running with my nearly unattached sandals.  The roosters would be out and roaming, the ladies with buckets on their heads used to sell a bunch of stuff, and every corner you turn there was a friendly dog. The warmth would slap my face, and the sun would beam on my face, but my legs kept running (Maria I Frias). 

Hoa, similar to my mother, told his version of his story. One that encompasses love and compassion, one that revolves around Essun. 

“I don’t have anything left now”.  Hoa says, “You have comm and  kin. You’ll have a home, once you reach Rennais. You have your life.”… Hoa says to your slumped back, “I can’t die.”…He’s saying you won’t ever lose him. He will not crumble away like Alabaster, You can’t ever be surprised by the pain of Hoa’s loss the way you were with Corundum or Innon or Alabaster or Uche, or now Jija. You can’t hurt Hoa in any way that matters. “It’s safe to  love you,” you murmur, in startled realization” (172).

What Hoa did in this section was humanize Essun. I did not see Essun the orogene I saw Essun the woman who has lost so much that is now afraid to love. Throughout the description of other non orogene characters in the novel, I was exposed to the hatred for orogene. Hoa allowed me to see the other side of the story. One where Essun feels lonely, abandoned, and scared. Hoa who is a stone eater illustrates that even though to some he is not alive he is present. 

Telling your story is essential in a world that seeks to erase many experiences. When I tell my story it is one that is filled with truth and magic. I told my version of the story about the Dominican Republic filled with my own experiences upon traveling there. A land that has gifted my family life and happiness. Hoa in a similar way informed me about the different stories one will hear depending on who you hear it from. The power a storyteller holds is incredible, we have the power to speak the truth, pass down generational stories, and keep our names alive even after it is our time.  

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.