Lithosphere Essay ENGL 111- The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season, a novel written by N.K. Jemisin, explores many themes of systemic oppression and discrimination throughout its course. The overarching concept of systemic inequity refers to “systemic inequalities are specific policies, standards, and practices, as well as attitudes and prejudices combined to create institutionalized and even structural problems of inequality in the society (Alliances for Africa; definition from mini collaboration).” The Fifth Season illustrates many parallels to real world issues by highlighting inequality and social hierarchy based on certain traits individuals carry. Throughout this novel, we experienced orogenes, who possessed the ability to manipulate and control geological forces. As a direct result of the power held by these individuals, they become subjected to face structural and systemic inequalities throughout their journey in the novel. Within this fantasy world, The Fifth Season skillfully incorporates themes of power, systemic oppression, discrimination, and injustice.

Geraldine Heng, famous for her literary knowledge on social and cultural encounters between worlds, perfectly illustrates the concept of a world where people manipulate others in ways that can racialize or group individuals (course epigraph). She describes how race is not something that everybody inorganically has in them. Heng believes race is constructed through culture; it is a process done to people and for people by institutions. In other terms, she details how if you are on the receiving end of power and privileges, some may say race is done for you and not to you. According to Heng, it is a management system to hand out power and privileges to some people, and take it away for others (course epigraph). This perfectly corresponds to the material seen within The Fifth Season, as the readers are exposed to groups of people who have power and privileges, such as orogenes, and others who do not. In other words, Heng’s quote works to emphasize the hierarchical order that was created in this particular society in order to manage individuals’ differences. 

As explored through the concepts of orogenes, the fulcrum, and social stratification, the readers are able to get a more in depth image of these systemic inequalities prevalent within the text. The orogenes, despite having the power to control seismic activities, are marginalized and feared by the society they live in. An example from the novel shows the ways in which it was almost seen as a joke that orogenes would ever be able to create laws and hold figurative power. “We could try letting orogenes run things.” She almost laughs. “That would last for about ten minutes before every Guardian in the Stillness shows up to lynch us, with half the continent in tow to watch and cheer (Jemisin, pg 124; concept from mini-collaboration)”. This passage vividly illustrates the prevalent discrimination and animosity directed towards orogenes throughout the novel. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on the distinct treatment of orogenes, such as restrictions on their choice of drink. This illustrates the unfair expectations and responsibilities placed upon this group— “orogenes aren’t supposed to drink. Ever. The power to move mountains plus inebriation equals disaster waiting to happen (Jemisin, pg 148; concept from mini-collaboration).” Something such as not allowing a certain group of individuals to make their own decisions is a result of systemic or institutionalized discrimination, fostering an environment that hinders equal opportunities and undermines fundamental human rights. 

As seen in The Fifth Season, the fulcrum is an institution that trains orogenes, as well as controls their powers to manipulate geological forces. The fulcrum as a whole plays a significant role in the narrative, as it explores themes of power, control, and oppression. Jemisin portrays the fulcrum as a training facility in which the orogenes are taught to focus and control their gift of being an orogeny. This concept highlights how the fulcrum functions as a restraint that prevents the orogenes from using their power as a means of destruction. Once an orogene enters the fulcrum, they are immediately stripped of their power and their humanity. This idea is prominent in Damaya’s experience at the Fulcrum in which she learns quite quickly that “Friends do not exist. The Fulcrum is not a school. Grits are not children. Orogenes are not people. Weapons have no need of friends (Jemisin, pg 297).” This quote also highlights the social hierarchy present within the readings, as the readers are given the opportunity to explore which groups of people are given rights depending on their status throughout the novel. Hierarchy is almost seen as inevitable, and each society grapples with its own share of traits that make others in power (concept from mini collaboration). Another example which highlights the hierarchical status seen within the Fifth Season is detailed through the grits. There are ten different rings that orogenes can receive based on how well they control their powers; ten ring orogenes are considered to be the most powerful in this society, as their treatment is based on the ring value that they hold. We see how Alabaster holds ten rings, placing him at a large advantage of power throughout The Fifth Season. “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 (Jemison, pg 191).” This shows the power of the rings that one can obtain throughout the novel, placing them at an advantage in society. 

Overall, N.K. Jemisin creates a fictional narrative which highlights real world concepts and ideas. The Fifth Season highlights many parallels to real world issues by demonstrating inequality and social hierarchy based on the certain traits that individuals carry. By incorporating multiple themes of power, oppression, and hierarchy into this fictional narrative, readers gain perspective through the orogenes. Just as orogenes are deemed as inferior to non-orogenes in order to maintain the societal order, real world parallels can be drawn to the concept of racism, whereas certain individuals are granted more power— inadvertently contributing to structural racism. Although it may not be intentional, structural racism continuously occurs as a direct result of the desire to keep and maintain order in a society. These explored themes and concepts created a beautiful plot that the readers were able to immerse themselves into throughout the entirety of this science fiction novel. 

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