How the Rollercoaster Ride of Jemisin’s Setting, The Stillness, Contributes to the Reader’s Understanding

After interpreting the first book of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemison, I was curious as to how methods of manipulation that we saw with the Guardians could apply to subjugation of race and gender. The next two installations gave us an idea of how far back the oppression of those in the land of the Stillness went. The world had been turned upside down by a season (disastrous event), and our main character Essun and her friends were left to pick up the scraps. On their journey, they encountered the challenge of survival, along with the task of learning from their history.

            The GLOBE Integrative and Applied Learning outcomes states that transformational learning, “develops through such high-impact practices as international experiences, service and community-based learning, intensive research activities, internships, advocacy, learning communities, and capstone courses and projects.” These learning endeavors are crucially important and can be related to the life of our character Tonkee. They are a researcher at Seventh University, which is the authoritative higher learning institution of the Stillness. They spend their life’s work in nature, observing the life of Essun and the movement of the obelisks. Through their research they find truths of an ancient past, and are prepared to join Essun in her quest to calm the land.

            Considering the development of these characters throughout the novels, I am beginning to see the true subject of the story as being at the core of each individual we follow. Essun must grapple with her responsibilities as a powerful person in the land of the Stillness; this land is not for her, and she must work hard to keep her spirit alive amidst a time of great struggle. She attempts many loving connections in her life, and continues to fall into them despite her apparent aversion. Altruistically, the connections she forms end up inspiring her quest to end the seasons. While she is unable to restore the balance of the moon herself, an act of sacrifice inspires her daughter Nassun to complete her task for her. Essun’s spirit is then recycled into the body of a stone eater, and she begins her new life well prepared to advance her notion of peace. Alongside her, an old friend Hoa is there to recite the wonderful stories of the Earth’s past.

            This story shows us that there are more important battles outside of a fight against oppression. To know that they are at an uphill climb from birth gives the orogenes a reason to forgive themselves for their mistakes, and with this knowledge they can move on to continue their strife. Ultimately, it will come down to their peace of mind whether or not the world advances from their actions. Nassun must be convinced by her mother’s sacrifice in order to decide against destroying the world as they know it. Hoa describes how Essun realizes that the fight has become less important than her love for her daughter. He says, “You so wanted to make a better world for Nassun. But more than anything else, you want this last child of yours to live… and so you make a choice. To keep fighting will kill you both. The only way to win, then, is not to fight anymore” (The Stone Sky). Consequently, Nassun is inspired by the sight of her mother turned to stone, smiling at Nassun with tears in her eyes. She is unable to understand how someone was able to carry on with such hope, since her life has been full of death and destruction. She realizes that her mother’s life must have been this way too, and that she carried on nonetheless. This shared struggle gives her faith that her mother understood something that she does not, and she acts in accordance with her mother’s will instead of her own.

            My thinking therefore has shifted much like Nassun’s has. I am no longer looking for something or someone to cling to, but rather find assurance in the fact that others have. All of the people who have valued love of others above all else provide the inspiration that keeps life moving on. Instead of looking for inspiration, we can look for opportunities. There is a quote by the band Yes that I think relates to orogeny and the great change in the Earth that we experience during the trilogy. It reads, “Waiting for the moment when the moment has been waiting all the time. Reaching for the golden heights without a doubt you’re ready for the climb.” This reminds me of the revolution in the Stillness that is inspired by Essun and Alabaster’s use of the obelisks. The whole time that our story is in session, the obelisks float as apparent remnants of a lost time. There is always the opportunity for them to be used to restore the balance of the Earth, and it is only a matter of time until that opportunity is seized. A lost history delays this, but as we see in our story all knowledge is recovered in time.

            Another theme that has affected me since the conclusion of the first book is the idea of an underlying energy. The intricacies of orogeny and other magic are further dealt with by Jemison. We see that an understanding of invisible forces is something that has left the land of the Stillness. Our main characters reinvigorate themselves with their exploration of this, allowing them to channel their energy into great endeavors.

            All in all, I am very impressed by Jemison’s ability to construct a deep and layered realm of the Stillness. This stands out to me in comparison with other works of science-fiction, as the depth of the setting’s frame gives it a sense of realism. This makes it very enjoyable to follow not only our character’s developments, but also the development of the Earth. As a geography student, this is something that felt particularly exciting for me to experience.

Leave a Reply

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