Unearthing the Core of N.K Jemisin’s Trilogy

Going into English 111 I knew nothing about N.K Jemisin, nor about her “Broken Earth Trilogy.”  I went into this class completely blind to the power behind her writing and stories. At the beginning of this semester I learned about N.K Jemisin’s life, which consisted of her witnessing the evils of racialization and the horrors of inequality and racism around her. N.K Jemisin is an African American author, her identity has shaped her experiences and in turn has shaped her writing. I feel that understanding her history and her story allows me to interpret her writing on a deeper level, and is important in understanding the novel to a greater extent. 

In my lithosphere essay,I unpacked how racialization is portrayed and used to maintain power in the first book of the trilogy and its parallels to the real world. I focused on a few aspects of racialization, on being the Fulcrum, which is a school seen in The Fifth Season, where Orogenes suffer from the impacts of racialization. I also focused on one of the slurs used against Orogenes in the novels, which is the term “rogga.” I discussed how Syenite’s (one of the Orogenes) relationship with the term develops from uncomfortable to a sense of reclamation, and how the slur enforces racialization of Orogenes. 

At the beginning of this journey, I believed the trilogy to be a powerful and unique way of exposing the parallels of racial inequality, discrimination in the world today and throughout history into a science fiction novel, while also incorporating Jemisin’s personal experiences with social injustices. 

At the end of this journey I believe the same, I still think that this trilogy spreads themes of injustice, inequality and discrimination and the consequences of it. The novels are a portrayal of parallels seen in the real world and throughout history. However, as we drove deeper into these books and into the semester we found that the entirety of the civilization and society where the protagonists exist is built on social injustice and the oppression of peoples, similar to many of our powerful nations today, including the United States of America . This is seen through the unearthing of Hoa’s story and his past throughout the novel. 

Hoa starts off as a mysterious character in the trilogy, as we move forward through the books we see how important his story is. Hoa is a stone eater, which means exactly what you might think, he eats stone. He also has extremely pale skin and eyes and white hair. However, he is also a very ancient being who has seen the civilizations before that of Essun, and the creation of the current one. In the last book of the trilogy, the Stone Sky, Jemisin really unpacks Hoas past. Before the Stillness (the realm that Essun exists in), there was Syl Anagist. Hoa and all the other Stone Eaters were forced to be tuners, which means he was a worker for Syl Anagist. The people of Syl Anagist were scared of the powers that the Stone Eaters had and how their features were so different from their own. The bright white eyes, hair and skin made the people of Syl Anagist uneasy. The fear of their powers and features fueled the people of Syl Anagist to control and strictly monitor those like Hoa, leaving the tuners to suffer the effects of racialization and discrimination. 

This can really be seen when Hoa is taken to see the inner workings of what powers the city, this is where Hoa sees the “briar patch.” The briar patch consists of “retired tuners” sent after they can no longer work or provide for Syl Anagist. The tuners after serving the Syl Anagist are sent to be stuck in a purgatory between life and death. The people of Syl Anagist do not trust the tuners to use their magic correctly on their own, therefore, when they can no longer work they place them in this purgatory. They are alive physically, but in a sense brain dead. “Keeping them alive keeps them generating more (power)” (Jemisin 2017). According to Hoa, “The briar patch’s victims have been here for years. Decades… Still alive, and yet not” (Jemisin 2017). There is so much to unpack with the idea of the briar patch and the inhumane treatment of the retired tuners. The briar patch sucks out all of the tuner’s magic and life force. Syl Anagist is being built on the suffering of millions of these tuners whose lives are taken to serve Syl Anagist by treating them like objects, beings only meant for keeping Syl Anagist running smoothly, due to their fear of their differences and powers. 

When I first read this I could only think about how many countries in our world were built on the suffering and expense of others. In the United States, our nation was fabricated through the horrors of slavery. The U.S was built on the suffering and inhuman treatments of human beings, just because white colonists believed themselves to be superior due to their skin color and culture. Just like the tuners in Syl Anagist, human beings were treated as machines, their only purpose was to work. In both cases, this discrimination and oppression was “justified” by physical difference in characteristics, this benefited those in power on both sides of the parallel. Syl Anagist was able to inhumanely create energy and oppress the tuners, and the economy in the U.S flourished through the horrors of slave labor. Just as Syl Anagist was built on injustice, so was the United States. The parallels of suffering seen in Syl Anagist and our own history highlights the racialization and disparities in both the book and our society. 

So why does any of this matter? Recently my Professor, Dr. McCoy, was told by Dr. Giorgis, one of the Professors of Geological Sciences here at Geneseo, that earthquakes and seismic events can have domino effects. One large earthquake, or one small one, can trigger a long line of consequences. The same goes for injustice. Jemisin shows through her books how the intense trauma from the pure discrimination, violence and oppression that Essun faced, developed her character that we see in the later books. The suffering that Essun was subjected to due to discrimination not only affected her but affected her children, her friends, her allies and enemies. Her daughter, Damaya, grew up with hatred and confusion. She murdered many, just as Essun did. Injustice and racialization affects everyone, not just those subjugated. Everyone in society feels the impact of it in one way or another. This goes for the trilogy just as it goes for real life. 

These books are so much more than the science fiction trilogy that I originally thought they were. N.K Jemisin puts a lot of thought in care into every detail of the story, the names, the characters, their actions. She portrays issues that readers can connect to the world that we live in today, and the consequences of them. Her incorporation of themes of oppression, racism and discrimination were clear in the novel, beginning to end. Jemisin made me think differently about characters, and question my anger or love towards them. She challenges a reader’s thinking and ensures they understand the emotion that is carefully embedded in the trilogy.

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