Lithosphere Essay- Emily Rechlin

In the trilogy “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin, the way individuals are categorized based on their race is an essential part of the story. This reflects on real world dynamics of power, oppression and identity. The first book explores how individuals are placed into certain groups and societal hierarchies based on traits they may have inherited such as orogeny, ethnicity and social status. The process of racialization in this book plays a large role in reinforcing the systems of power, oppression, and identity, as a central theme in this book follows the dehumanization of a certain group as well as exploitation and violence due to their racial orogeny. This book has allowed me to make a connection about how I view certain things in the ‘real world’ in comparison to how certain groups in the book are treated. 

A primary concept in this book follows the comparison of orogene individuals to “normal” individuals. In the world of the Stillness, orogene’s are individuals who carry certain traits that others do not, such as the ability to manipulate seismic energy. Due to the unique traits that they were born with, the orogene community are subjected to discrimination and stigmatizations that become marginalized within society due to the misunderstanding and fear that surround these powers. Moreover, they are given a discriminatory and vulgar word for orogene, which is rogga. “To be safe, the Fulcrum will treat any children born to any rogga as potential roggas themselves, until proven otherwise… But once they’ve proven it, after that, they’ll be… people” (page 111, online). These individuals are treated in the most disrespectful and prejudiced way due to an ability that they are not able to control. This is seen in society today, as an individual who is perceived as different (i.e. skin color, sexuality, ethnicity) are also treated this way. Additionally, the quote stated above explains the potential orogene child will not be treated as a person until they prove themselves to be “normal”, justifying societal decisions to create these marginalized groups, while maintaining their power and place in the hierarchy and ongoing the everlasting cycle. 

Furthermore, the process of racialization in this trilogy could be connected to both myth and science. The myth of the orogenes plays an essential role in this trilogy in that they are believed to be dangerous and uncontrollable, causing society to place them at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are placed in the fulcrum at a young age and are watched and exploited consistently. “The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it, too, or why is she here?” (page 59, online). This myth justifies the oppression that they face by the upper class. Myth, however, can also play a role as a source of resistance and empowerment for marginalized communities, and this is shown through Essun, a character in the novel, who despite being discriminated against finds strength in the myths that have been passed down through her ancestors, which allows her to affirm her identify and find hope in a what seems to be hopeless world. The world that N.K. Jemisin makes it almost impossible for orogenes to fit in, and this goes along with Heng’s definition, “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content”; ultimately meaning that race is not about the inherent qualities that an individual has, rather how the qualities or characteristics of that individual are perceived by society. Once again going along perfectly with the orogene community. Due to their unique characteristics that they were born with, they are treated and perceived differently and as a threat, therefore treated with disrespect. 

 Additionally, science plays a large role in racialization in this book. Science is used as a justification to distinguish orogenes from non-orogenes. This is done by the upper class society, as they make it a point for everyone else to be afraid of orogenes because they are dangerous and untrustworthy due to their differences that others do not have. As previously stated, this aligns perfectly with societal situations that play out daily, as certain groups who society has chosen to be marginalized against have differences that they were born with, causing them to be put at the bottom of the hierarchy of societal structures. Furthermore, science allows for the groups of power to justify oppression, as they can express that they are scared of what powers the orogene individuals may have that are still unknown to them. By going about the approach in a biased way, their opinions are not going to change even if the orogene community has not shown danger to them. 

The process of racialization is shown once again throughout the book when Syenite fears Alabaster due to his ranking being higher. It is hard for Syenite to defend herself when her ranking is lower even though she does not agree with Alabaster’s decision making. Again, proving that rankings in society are a pivotal factor in how you live your life as well as how you are ranked. Once again mirroring real life situations, as individuals who are minorities do not have the same amount of power or say that individuals who aren’t do. N.K. Jemisin took this idea from the real world and was able to perfectly portray it in the novel. Once again going along with Hugh’s definition, due to the fact that our society has predisposed racialization, it makes it extremely difficult from the start for those who are born as a minority or certain race to succeed, as they are already perceived as less than even though they have no ability to change the way they were born. Society separates people and determines how deserving they are of a successful life for no reason other than their race, gender or sexuality. The fifth season does an amazing job at mirroring this, although it is not about race, it shows the injustices that certain groups face only because of the way they were born. N.K. Jemison portrays orogenes as a perfect metaphor for this, and demonstrates the process of racialization throughout the book in a very unique and interesting way.  


Jemisin, N. K. (2016). The fifth season: The broken earth. Orbit. 

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