Lithosphere Essay ENGL 111

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin, is a science fiction novel that is the first book in The Broken Earth trilogy. This novel takes place in a futuristic world where different groups of people have power based on their physical traits and abilities, which is a common theme across the dystopian and science fiction genres. This is a genre that I have personally never read before, or explored the elements that accompany it. Throughout reading The Fifth Season, there have been many eye opening allusions to, and different perspectives related to the real world that readers can make personal or societal connections to. This novel conveys many real world topics such as structural inequality, racism, oppression, and the process of racialization. More specifically, according to the University of Pennsylvania, “structural inequality describes disparities in wealth, resources, and other outcomes that result from discriminatory practices of institutions such as legal, educational, business, government, and health care systems” (Mini Collaboration). This means that different groups and communities are treated unequally compared to others, due to countless power structures, levels of respect, and access to resources. N.K. Jeminsin, continuously highlights this concept throughout her science fiction trilogy and it has been interesting as a reader to pick up on and discover these connections to our society. 

Geraldine Heng, a social justice activist and author, who enjoys reading and commenting on literature related to social issues and oppression, has written many pieces defining racism and the process of racialization. From her piece, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, Heng defines race and racialization as, “a repeating tendency, of the gravest import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental, in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups” (Course Epigraph). This means that race and the process of defining someone’s race is not something someone is born with, it is something that is socially constructed. Race is created by people in society and it is a process that is made by institutions to purposely give a certain group more power and privileges, while taking it away for others (Course Epigraph). Race is predetermined through history and is intentionally done to create a hierarchy within society where groups are treated differently. Throughout reading The Fifth Season, I was able to notice how N.K. Jemisin aligns her writing to this definition and topic.

One main way N.K. Jemisin conveys racialization and connects to Heng’s definition of the term through establishing inequality between groups and having a main group of people that are oppressed. The novel takes place in the Stillness where there are orogenes, people who have the power to control seismic events, and stills, who do not have any controlling powers. Orogenes are treated as less than stills due to their powerful ability of controlling seismic events. This group is feared and disrespected by the powerless people of the Stillness, making orogenes the minority group that is oppressed and discriminated against. For example, the main character Essun and her son Uche are orogenes and possess the seismic controlling powers (mini collaboration). Due to his powers, Uche is killed by his father, Jija, once he finds out this information. The book states, “these people killed Uche. Their hate, their fear, their unprovoked violence. They. (He.) Killed your son. (Jija killed your son.)” (The Fifth Season 58-59). Jija, who is a still, was terrified to find out that his own son is an orogene, and killed him instantly when he discovered this. This goes to show that there is deep rooted hatred and discrimination of orogenes and powerless people feel threatened by them, because Jija killed his very own son. Stills feel threatened by orogenes and result to violence towards them because they are considered dangerous. Thus, Uche’s death by Jija, his father, represents the fear and hatred that people have against orogenes (Mini Collaboration). N. K. Jemisin uses this as a parallel to racism within the real world through a fictional point of view for readers to uncover while reading the trilogy. 

Additionally, Jemisin racializes other groups within her trilogy as well. Even within the community of people with powers called orogenes, there is a systematic hierarchy. In the novel, many orogenes reside in the Fulcrum for a portion of their lives, which is a city that serves as a training ground for orogenes. They believe that it is important for every orogene to be able to control their powers and be able to use them correctly and safely when necessary. To break people up and create different groups there is a hierarchy of rings that categorize orogenes based on how well they can perform and control their powers. Orogene begin their training process as “grits” or have one-ring and eventually can reach the level of ten-rings. This sparked discrimination and hierarchy issues through one-ring orogenes being treated as inferior or less than, and ten-ring orogenes being considered as superior and the most powerful (Mini  Collaboration). To convey this, Jemisin writes, “For the other grits—and that’s what she is now, an unimportant bit of rock ready to be polished into usefulness, or at least to help grind other, better rocks—” (The Fifth Season 191). Through this, she is highlighting how grits or one-ring orogenes are treated as less than and are unimportant. The grits have access to less resources, are treated with less respect, and are seen as the lowest group within the Fulcrum (Mini Collaboration). This also alludes to systematic inequality and racialization within our society, it is just highlighted in a fictional way for readers to pick apart on their own. 

In my opinion, after reading the novel The Fifth Season, N.K. Jemisin wanted to write this trilogy to parallel racism within our world and society with her own science fiction spin. She wanted to break down systemic inequality that is simple enough for readers to grasp and understand (Mini Collaboration). She highlights the concept from Heng’s definition of race being socially constructed through the creation of discrimination towards orogenes in the Stillness, and the hierarchy of orogenes within the Fulcrum. By doing so, she is allowing for readers to go into the story with no biases and see the discrimination orogenes go through. This sheds light on the greater issue or racism in our society today and could potentially make readers think differently about the world around them such as identifying their own privileges and unintentional biases.

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