Journey to the Core of N.K. Jemisin’s ‘The Broken Earth’ Trilogy

At the beginning of my journey through N.K. Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth” trilogy, I discussed how the narrative manipulation of science fiction could be compared to the very real processes of racialization, gender-making, and class differentiation. After rereading my Lithosphere essay from the beginning of this semester I was reminded of how I felt at the end of reading the first novel. There was still so much left unsaid and still such a long way to go in the story, but I had finally started to see the direction in which the story was headed. In my initial analysis, I noted Jemisin’s depiction of societal hierarchies but specifically the stark division among different groups of people such as the orogenes, Guardians, and non-orogenes. I reflected on our course epigraph, quoted from Geraldine Heng, and emphasized how race is a construct imposed upon individuals rather than something that is inherent to someone’s being. I noted that the systematic discrimination faced by orogenes paralleled our real-world racial inequalities, and that this novel could serve as a reflection of our contemporary social issues. I was also intrigued by the multiple names and personalities of Essun and how they portrayed her transformation through various names and roles, but we don’t discover this until the end of the novel. This fluidity of names echoed Heng’s notion that race is only a “primary name” that is assigned to individuals based on societal constructs rather than intrinsic qualities. Through Essun, Damaya, and Syenite, I observed how societal expectations and stereotypes shaped each of their experiences and interactions depending on who they were with.

Now looking back after having finished the trilogy and reflecting on my Lithosphere essay, I can acknowledge that my thinking has shifted, although not that much. I think that Jemisin peeled back more layers that revealed a deeper explanation of the complexities in issues of race, gender, and class. For example, in the third novel when we discover the history of Syl Anagist it plays a crucial role in understanding the Stillness, and the power that Corepoint possesses. The history of Syl Anagist adds depth to making sense of why the Stillness society is the way it is. I think in my initial analysis I had a very surface level understanding of the oppression that occurred in the novel. I narrowed it down to just the oppressor vs the oppressed when there is a much more nuanced exploration of power dynamics and complicity that needs to be discussed. One significant shift in my thinking pertains to the portrayal of bad-faith manipulation. Previously, I focused solely on the clear exploitation of marginalized groups by those in power, but after finishing the trilogy I recognize now that there are subtler ways in which internalized oppression can contribute to systemic injustices.

Characters like Alabaster and Schaffa are examples of people who embody the complexities of moral ambiguity. They challenged my notion of a hero and a villain, and I never truly knew how to feel about them. For example, Schaffa was originally a mentor figure towards Essun when she still went by Damaya and helped her in troubling times, however it became apparent that Schaffa was untrustworthy when he found Essun and essentially forced her to kill her son Corundum. However, when Schaffa is nearly killed by the earth he comes out of his injuries to find Nassun and he helps her. By helping Nassun he shows that he is capable of loyalty. Alabaster, on the other hand, held many secrets, one of them being that he is the one that caused the Rifting. Alabaster is at least a little more trustworthy and leans more toward a “hero” status than Schaffa does due to his relationship and help with Essun.

Despite my original thoughts of the trilogy becoming more advanced my shift in perspective does not change the core principles of what the trilogy offered. The trilogy’s critique of systemic injustice and its call for empathy and solidarity still reigns true with me. This trilogy tugged at my heartstrings and at points made me question which decisions were right and which ones were wrong. It showcased how in-depth systemic issues are and why they are not so easily reversed. This trilogy also emphasized the importance of people in power having the ability to shape the world, or even people who aren’t necessarily in a powerful position but have power, like Nassun. While they may not be able to shape the world exactly the way they want it, they are most definitely able to make changes in it. For example, the world took so much from both Essun and Nassun, and while Nassun wants the world to end she knows that Essun’s last wish is for Nassun to “Open the Gate, pour the Rifting’s power through it, catch the moon. End the Seasons. Fix the world.” (pg. 387) Despite the struggle Nassun has gone through and the hatred she had for her mother at certain moments in the trilogy she chooses to follow her mother’s wishes.

My journey through N.K. Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth” trilogy has been a continual process of reflection and growth. One that has even changed my perspective on certain plot lines as well as left me conflicted in certain parts of the story. One question that I had from the very beginning of the series that was answered very well was why Jemisin starts the series with the line, “You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember?” The entirety of this series I was wondering why this story was being retold in that way. That the person, Essun in this case, could not recall any of the events and needed the story to be retold. I think it is a very full circle moment that at the end of the series we discover that Essun has become a stone eater and does not remember anything from her now past life, and this whole series is Hoa retelling it to her. I wonder now what this new Essun will think of the story. Will she find herself coming to the same realizations she had when she experienced the story firsthand, or will she have a different view of how things went now that she is hearing it from an outside perspective. While my thinking may have shifted a bit than what I originally thought, what stands true is the transformative power of storytelling as a constant source of inspiration.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.