Lithosphere Essay

In our reading of “The Fifth Season,” the first in a trilogy known as “The Broken Earth” trilogy, written by N.K. Jemisin, we are quickly reminded of our course epigraph written by Geraldine Heng. In this epigraph, Heng states that racialization is not this substantive idea that we all have in our minds. Race is not a way of describing the appearance or looks of another, but rather a categorization, nearly a caste system of responsibilities and levels of power. This system has been and still is looked upon as both fundamental and essential to our society, thus creating an injustice within the society, not currently established by law but by human activities and tendencies themselves. This corruption has been found all throughout history as part of power dynamics. In “The Fifth Season,” we are introduced to Orogenes, specific members of society who have the innate ability to sense and control seismic activity such as earthquakes and volcanoes, among other geological forces. At an early age, Orogenes are trained by the Fulcrum, a group that seeks to control their abilities and “gifts” for the overall benefit of society. Orogenes are both feared and persecuted because their powers are deemed unpredictable and dangerous. Non-orogenes are protected by Guardians, a group that has a power that nullifies that of the Orogenes. This directly connects to the course epigraph, highlighting the idea that race is not just a way to differentiate individuals based on their appearance, but also a way to categorize people based on their abilities, tendencies and capacities.

Orogenes are at the bottom of the totem pole in “The Fifth Season” and are treated with the worst of the worst treatment. They are often ostracized from their own families and those closest to them, if not beaten or killed. In the beginning of the book, we meet Damaya. Damaya is one of the main characters in the novel and is found to be an Orogene by her parents. Upon this discovery, they quickly force her to sleep in a barn separate from their house. As strange as it may sound, that outcome is nothing short of extremely fortunate. Many orogenes are killed by their own parents and family the moment it is found out that they possess such powers. The life of an orogene is not an easy one, as it is filled with copious cruelty, grief, and frustration.

“I’m not a monster, Syenite. I’m just a – a girl. It’s not my fault I was born this way. It’s not your fault, either, and yet you all treat me like I’m some kind of demon. And then you wonder why I’m angry all the time! Maybe if you’d stop – maybe if you all just tried to be kind to me, I wouldn’t have to be so angry.”


After some time, Damaya changed her name to Syenite, as a way of leaving her past behind her. At her core, though, she was still an orogene, whether she liked it or not. The treatment would follow her despite the name change, and she would continue to be chastised by others. The neglect and abuse she faced at the hands of her parents were not the only instances of her experiencing racialization. As an orogene, she also faces hatred from all non-orogenes, exploitation by the Fulcrum, who enforce strict rules to ensure obedience and conformity. This exploitation and abuse from the Fulcrum makes the orogenes more like tools or objects than human beings. Additionally, orogenes are dehumanized. They are referred to by numbers rather than their names, further reinforcing the idea that they are disposable commodities that can be scrapped at a moment’s notice by anyone with power. Even the more important and stronger orogenes, who hold the more important tasks and jobs, are treated poorly. Regardless of your contributions to society or “The Stillness,” you are looked at as vermin and trash as an orogene. As mentioned before, they also experience physical abuse and violence at the hands of everyone.

There are many parallels between “The Fifth Season” and real life, especially relating to the course epigraph. In “The Fifth Season,” there are systems of oppression that specifically target certain groups based on their inherent characteristics. Similarly, in American society, groups like racial minorities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and women have all faced systemic oppression in their lifetimes. The fear that non-orogenes face toward orogenes can be compared to the xenophobia and prejudice that have historically tormented minority groups in American society, leading to segregation, discrimination, and violence. The dehumanization we see in “The Fifth Season” can be compared to historical and contemporary examples of exploitation and dehumanization of minority groups in American society, more specifically the slave trade until 1865 when the 13th amendment was signed. The marginalization that the orogenes face mirrors that of minorities in America. They experience redlining and unequal access to employment and education. Lastly, the resistance and liberation in “The Fifth Season” echoes events like the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and so much more.

Overall, “The Fifth Season” provides a powerful and moving critique of the oppressive and unjust systems in America. It also serves as a reflection of social and political dynamics in American society, underscoring the long-lasting struggles for equality, justice, and human rights.