Lithosphere Essay- The Fifth Season

N.K. Jemsin created a “earth- shattering” trilogy that encompasses many different themes and real world situations. The first book in the Broken Earth trilogy is an amazing depiction of what science fiction should be. As someone who has never read science fiction, Jemisin has been able to keep me engaged, causing me to ask further questions and think about her writing in more complex ways. The parallels that exist between The Fifth Season and our world are very interesting to work through and are very eye opening for me as a reader to recognize. This book shows the ways the issues in our world can be looked at from different angles or perspectives while still having the same consequences there are in real life. Specifically, the discrimination, oppression and racialization of groups of people that are individuals of the minority. 

Racialization is a major thread throughout the book that has major effects on the paths each character goes through. Orogenes are racialized in the Stillness simply because of the powers they possess, the characteristics they were born with. The definition of racialization from the University of Winnipeg is, “The concept of racialization refers to the processes by which a group of people is defined by their “race.” Processes of racialization begin by attributing racial meaning to people’s identity and, in particular, as they relate to social structures and institutional systems, such as housing, employment, and education. In societies in which “White” people have economic, political, and social power, processes of racialization have emerged from the creation of a hierarchy in social structures and systems based on “race.” The visible effects of processes of racialization are the racial inequalities embedded within social structures and systems.” This is essentially a categorization of people based on their physical characteristics, or in the case of the orogenes, their capabilities. From my mini collaboration I discussed structural inequity and it causes them to be treated differently in every aspect and in the Fifth Season even killed. This also has to do with structural inequity which is very prevalent in the novel. From the respected 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.” This is a concept that has its roots in imbalances of power. Power is a possession of control and influence over others. Those who choose to use their power and turn it into oppression is how structural inequity is formed. Oppression based on my research is deeply and widely spread racist beliefs that have effects all over. It affects laws or policies, behaviors, and feelings while having a negative impact on certain groups of people. This is a racist system and cycle that hands out power/privilege to some and takes it away from others. Structural inequality is everywhere in our world and even in fiction and literature it takes its own shape. 

Examples of racialization, oppression and systemic inequality are all throughout this novel. To start off, the dedication of this book is, “for all those who have to fight for the respect everyone else is given without question.” This highlights the differences in power that ends in certain groups receiving benefits from their status while others reap worse consequences. Orogenes are considered non- human even though they are, which is just a way to separate them further. In chapter 4 it reads: “It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation.” This quote states the orogenes are considered feral which is awful in general. This quote highlights how Syen has had to adapt herself to be able to fit in, change herself and somehow become adequate to others when she knows they will never truly value her or see her fully. Even in the orogene community she is seen as less than due to her breeding. This idea of being seen as less than and the internal struggle that goes on in who this prejudice is put on is not only true for the orogenes but also every minority individual that has to face it everyday in our world due to racialization. 

Systemic inequality has major connections in this novel and starts from birth for these characters. “They kill us because they’ve got stonelore telling them at every turn that we’re born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human.” The brutality that the orogenes must face and fear due to the history of hatred that has come before them comes right back to systemic inequality. Essun’s son was even killed by his own father because he found out he himself was an orogene. This is an example of how deeply this hate can go and it knows no bounds. It is a vicious cycle that continues on the back of a wretched history of oppression and blatant, blind hatred for them. Being an orogene in general is always attempted to be kept a secret in order to escape persecution and even being killed. As a white woman in America I am lucky to say I can’t say I have had to experience this. Through my reading it has given me a closer look at the prevalence and truly awful effects that these racist acts have on communities and the world in general.

The course epigraph includes Geraldine Heng’s definition of race. Heng believes that race is constructed through culture and isn’t purely just inside of them. Race has a way of either working for you, or being done to you. This is dependent on if you are on the receiving end of power or power is being used on you. Heng’s definition defines oppression and race through different lenses and allows the reader to see its effects in different ways. The racialization and systemic inequality can take form while also being able to draw connections between our world and literature.

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