Core Essay Engl 111- Ashley Tubbs

Within the “Broken Earth trilogy”, N.K Jemisin weaves a mystical and geologically profound world that, at its core, deals with racialization and bad-faith practices. Returning to the course epigraph, it explains that racialization is, “…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” (Heng 27). Keeping the course epigraph in mind, I will explore the continuous and new ways Jemisin outlines racialization and how it occurs within the setting of her trilogy. Jemisin artfully highlights this differentiation between people to create a hierarchy in familiar and atypical ways. The thread that Jemisin continues is the racialization of orogenes. As I explained within my lithosphere essay:

The difference that is racialized in the novel [The Fifth Season] is orogeny, which is ‘The ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events’ (Jemisin 462). This means that there are orogenes and there are non-orogenes, often referred to as “stills”.  Orogenes are placed under the “stills” control because they are regarded as dangerous and thus a lot of the prevalent issues in the novel are created (Tubbs 3).

This is a thread that continues through all of the books within this trilogy, and the level to which people are racialized becomes deeper and more profound as the books progress. That is the quintessential truth of this entire trilogy. The deeper I got into the storyline, the more I was able to see racialization and the origins of said racialization against orogenes and others. Orogenes were not the original oppressed people in the stillness, there was a time before orogenes and even then, people were oppressed and racialized. 

Within The Stone Sky, Jemisin eradicates any sense of familiarity I had thus far and begins to depict an ancient civilization, one that is viewed as truly perfect in comparison to the current civilization known as Yumenes.  This ancient civilization, known as Syl Anagist, was the one responsible for creating the mysterious obelisks depicted throughout the three books. Hoa, who I’ve known as a stone eater, explains this ancient civilization and how he was part of it. Hoa describes:

The people of Syl Anagist have mastered the forces of matter and its composition; they have shaped life itself to fit their whims; they have so explored the mysteries of the sky that they’ve grown bored with it and turned their attention back toward the ground beneath their feet. And Syl Anagist lives, oh how it lives, in bustling streets and ceaseless commerce and buildings that your mind would struggle to define as such (Jemisin 3). 

Syl Anagist created the obelisks to create a “plutonic engine”. Hoa, being from this ancient civilization, was part of this plutonic engine’s creation. Hoa explains, “The great machine called the Plutonic Engine is the instrument. We are its tuners. And this is the goal: Geoarcanity. Geoarcanity seeks to establish an energetic cycle of infinite efficiency. If we are successful, the world will never know want or strife again … or so we are told” (Jemisin 97).  This amazing machine and its supposed benefits come at a price within this world, as I’ve seen. The hidden power behind the obelisks and the engine itself is an oppressed people not deemed to be human. It’s pretty easy for this civilization to say all its “people” are treated fairly by defining those it doesn’t like as less-than-human. The people within Syl Anagist stripped of their humanity were called the Niess. In the book, the description of the Niess is:

Niespeople looked different, behaved differently, were different… Conquerors live in dread of the day when they are shown to be, not superior, but simply lucky. So when Niess magic proved more efficient than Sylanagistine, even though the Niess did not use it as a weapon … This was what made them not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all (Jemisin 210). 

This is the price for perfection. People stripped from their humanity and later abused all because they didn’t conform with their dictators. This truly is no different to how I saw the orogenes be treated. Orogenes were stripped from their humanity due to myth and bad-faith practices as well. The Niess were different in the sense they didn’t believe energy should be owned, but Syl Anagist manipulated this difference to strip them from their humanity and justify it by saying they weren’t as civilized as the rest of humanity. This is very similar to the myth I read that orogenes are dangerous and can be used, as demonstrated by the node maintainers.

Once again, there is continuity I’ve followed within the trilogy between Yumenes practices and Syl Anagist practices. Both civilizations have racialized and stripped people from their humanity in order to justify the abuse and exploit their power. A major bad-faith practice within Yumenes is utilizing node maintainers to quell micro shakes. From my understanding, Yuemenes didn’t have to force “uncontrollable” orogenes into this role, but it did it anyway because of fearmongering and a lust for control. People all throughout the stillness despise orogenes and believe them to be dangerous. Everyone knows of the node maintainers existence, but no one truly comprehends what happens to a node maintainer. Even the secret of the node maintainers is kept from orogenes and the reader alike, however; orogenes understand becoming one would be a punishment for lack of control. In The Obelisk Gate, Essun, an orogene who has a long history of abuse and pain throughout the trilogy reiterates that, “the most powerful orogenes, the ones who detect magic most easily and perhaps have trouble mastering energy redistribution as a result, are the ones who end up in the nodes” (Jemisin 205).  These node maintainers were a horror that I eventually learned about within the first book. They are orogenes who lack control and instead have their sessapinae severed so they react to every movement of the earth. The description of a node maintainer is elaborated in The Fifth Season. Node maintainers in that book are, “… small and atrophied. Hairless. There are things-tubes and pipes and things, she has no words for them- going into the stick-arms, down the goggle throat, across the narrow crotch” (Jemisin 139). Much like Essun, I also had no words when I read this horrific depiction. The description of the node maintainers showed me the cruelty of Yumenes and how it will stop at nothing to control orogenes. Orogenes could willingly calm the earth, but that is not the reality for orogenes. Much like the orogenes, the Niess people are used in a very similar way in Syl Anagist. Both instances stem from bad-faith practices from the powerful leaders not accepting those that are different. In The Stone Sky, Hoa describes this horrific place known to him as the briar patch. This is where he and I first encounter the Niess people and realize the cruelty of those who have power over him. Hoa describes:

They are still alive, I know at once. Though they sprawl motionless amid the thicket of vines (laying atop the vines, twisted among them, wrapped up in them, speared by them where the vines grow through flesh), it is impossible not to sess the delicate threads of silver darting between this one’s hand, or dancing along the hairs of that one’s back…Keeping them alive keeps them generating more (Jemisin 262).

Much like the orogenes used as node maintainers, the racialized people in Syl Anagist are used horrifically too for the benefit of Syl Anagist. Once again, I am forced to process the cruelty of a fictional empire and I am filled with revulsion from this heinous supremacy.  It is disgusting to me that a nation that supposedly honors all life would treat people in such a way. It saddens me to say I am not surprised the Niess are used in this manner because the treatment of the node maintainers shows me what people are truly capable of in this fictional world. 

Truly, my thinking with regards to myths being used to villainize and dehumanize certain groups of people has deepened as I continued to read the rest of the trilogy. From the lithosphere essay to this one, my thoughts on the use of myths to dehumanize continues to grow stronger, especially with the emergence of the Niess people. There are direct parallels between the Niess and orogenes, and their treatment has been very similar. Both are groups deemed to be different from everyone else, and it resulted in the stripping of their humanity in both cases. Sadly, the biggest similarity shared is the horrific treatment each group has suffered, either at the hands of the node stations or briar patch.  The Niess and orogenes have too many myths surrounding them stemming from bad-faith practices of the powerful, that the myths are believed to be true. Sylanagistines genuinely believe the Niess are uncivilized and untrustworthy. The people of the stillness genuinely believe that orogenes are dangerous and should be kept under strict control. This matters because this isn’t something completely fictional. These examples have real-life prevalence. There was once a time that people believed Africans stolen from Africa were less than human and even enjoyed their life of forced slavery. There was also once a time that Japanese Americans were believed to be untrustworthy, and this belief forced them into internment camps during WWII. If we can recognize racialization and bad-faith practices within fiction, then maybe we can begin to really address and unpack bad-faith practices within the U.S and those that were affected. While treatment of racialized groups, such as African Americans and Japanese Americans have improved, more improvement is needed. Recognition of the U.S’ bad-faith practices are the first step to improvement of society. The U.S’ story is not finished yet, so there is promise of a kinder society. 

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