A Journey From Lithosphere to Core

Emily Rechlin : English 111

Throughout my time taking English 111 here at Suny Geneseo, I have grown as a writer and student, while also deepening my understanding of the course material. At the beginning of the semester, Professor McCoy introduced a trilogy, known as “The Broken Earth” which gave me insight into societal dynamics. Additionally, my peers and I delved into the complex relationships between myth, science, the process of racialization, gender-making, and class distinctions. Exploring these hierarchies and groups allowed me to deepen my understanding on the process of racialization which plays a large role in reinforcing these systems of power, oppression and identity. While reading Jemisin’s first book in the trilogy, “The Fifth Season”, my understanding of these concepts developed greatly, as in my Lithosphere essay, I was still attempting to understand Jemisin’s narrative and thinking when writing these novels. This narrative changed my way of thinking and view of these concepts, as I was challenged to deepen my understanding and change my preconceived notions, ultimately prompting a deeper exploration of racialization and power dynamics within fictional realms, which in turn shed light on real world problems that are occurring within society. 

 In “The Broken Earth” trilogy, and discussed in my Lithosphere essay, Jemisin portrays certain communities, in this case the Orogenes, as marginalized due to society’s misunderstanding of their unique traits that give them certain powers that others do not have. Because of these traits, the Orogene community are stigmatized against, much like marginalized communities in our own society, due to race, color, ethnicity, or in this case, their ability to manipulate seismic energy. Terms used in the trilogy such as “rogga”, are used to discriminate and be derogatory towards the Orogene community, once again mirroring the real world where marginalized communities are consistently discriminated against and given labels based on differences that society perceives as unconventional.  “To be safe, the Fulcrum will treat any children born to any rogga as potential roggas themselves, until proven otherwise… But once they’ve proven it, after that, they’ll be… people” (page 111, online). Because the Orogene community has certain abilities that they were born with, they are treated disrespectfully, mirroring real world scenarios. As I continued to progress through the series, my perspectives on racialization and power dynamics evolved alongside the narrative that continued to unfold. Characters such as Essun and Syenite allowed me to understand the complexities of intersectional identities and systematic inequalities more deeply. Throughout the series, these characters show a great deal of resilience, perseverance and overcoming of obstacles that they face, which allowed me to question my thinking and become aware of how identities can be shaped, as well as how social hierarchies operate. 

At the beginning of the semester, my understanding of social dynamics was characterized by what I have personally experienced and been taught. I have always been interested in topics such as oppression, power dynamics and racialization. The academic environment I have been surrounded by has always encouraged me to delve deeper into different perspectives of these topics, and in specific, focus on underlying structural forces that shape societal outcomes. I have always believed that societal structures are not inherently fair, however I did not fully acknowledge and grasp the complexities of this topic. Prior to reading the trilogy, I was comfortable with the amount of knowledge I had on these topics. However “The Broken Earth” trilogy has pushed me to diversify my perspectives and delve deeper.  

Because the Lithosphere essay I wrote during the beginning of the semester in this class was only based on the first book in this trilogy, as I continued to read through the second and third, Essun, a central character in N.K. Jemisin’s trilogy became a character that is considerably more intricate. This allowed me to explore further into Jemisin’s themes of the books. In the “Fifth Season”, Essun is grieving the loss of her son, who was murdered by his father due to his seismic abilities. This creates fire in Essun to find her daughter who has been taken and seek vengeance against her husband. Just like her mother, Nassun also possesses seismic abilities. We see the adventure Essun takes in the “Obelisk Gate”, and discover a caring and passionate side to her personality, ultimately helping and training Orogenes to use their powers and not be ashamed of them. 

 Jemisin does a great job of showing instances in which groups come together to face this adversity and confront the systemic injustices that had shaped their lives. An example being when Essun gathered the group of Orogenes at the fulcrum, and encouraged them to recognize how powerful they could be together and demand change. By doing this, Essun showed great perseverance and reminded me of resilience that was talked about in “The Fifth Season”, as well as discussed with my group members in our collaborative exercise. The novel notes “…what is important is that you know it was not all terrible. There was peace in long stretches, between each crisis. A chance to cool and solidify before the grind resumes.” (page 263, online). Although the Orogenes have been exploited and controlled due to their seismic abilities, Essun does an amazing job in emphasizing that though they may be unique, the Orogenes deserve freedom and rights just like anyone else. By exposing the Fulcrum and rallying the Orogenes together, Essun changed my point of view on these topics. Witnessing Essun rallying these Orogenes to promote change and awareness for their community was extremely empowering and showed how her journey from being a victim and facing tragedy to becoming someone that the Orogene community looks up to was inspiring. By using both individual agency and collective empowerment, Essun was an inspiration teaching valuable lessons on how to go about issues and allowed for me to reflect on the ways that I can impact society and create change where it is needed. Advocating for what you believe in is a great way to contribute to positive social transformation. I believe that my mindset shifting from the beginning of the semester only allowed me to deepen my understanding of what I was reading in the trilogy. 

As I reflect on the journey through N.K. Jemisin’s “The Broken Earth” trilogy, the exploration of themes such as identity, power and resistance prompted me to shift from passive acceptance to one of active engagement in order to advocate for justice and equality. Challenging the oppressive systems that have been in place is an essential first step in striving for a more compassionate and just society. 

Lithosphere Essay- Emily Rechlin

In the trilogy “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin, the way individuals are categorized based on their race is an essential part of the story. This reflects on real world dynamics of power, oppression and identity. The first book explores how individuals are placed into certain groups and societal hierarchies based on traits they may have inherited such as orogeny, ethnicity and social status. The process of racialization in this book plays a large role in reinforcing the systems of power, oppression, and identity, as a central theme in this book follows the dehumanization of a certain group as well as exploitation and violence due to their racial orogeny. This book has allowed me to make a connection about how I view certain things in the ‘real world’ in comparison to how certain groups in the book are treated. 

A primary concept in this book follows the comparison of orogene individuals to “normal” individuals. In the world of the Stillness, orogene’s are individuals who carry certain traits that others do not, such as the ability to manipulate seismic energy. Due to the unique traits that they were born with, the orogene community are subjected to discrimination and stigmatizations that become marginalized within society due to the misunderstanding and fear that surround these powers. Moreover, they are given a discriminatory and vulgar word for orogene, which is rogga. “To be safe, the Fulcrum will treat any children born to any rogga as potential roggas themselves, until proven otherwise… But once they’ve proven it, after that, they’ll be… people” (page 111, online). These individuals are treated in the most disrespectful and prejudiced way due to an ability that they are not able to control. This is seen in society today, as an individual who is perceived as different (i.e. skin color, sexuality, ethnicity) are also treated this way. Additionally, the quote stated above explains the potential orogene child will not be treated as a person until they prove themselves to be “normal”, justifying societal decisions to create these marginalized groups, while maintaining their power and place in the hierarchy and ongoing the everlasting cycle. 

Furthermore, the process of racialization in this trilogy could be connected to both myth and science. The myth of the orogenes plays an essential role in this trilogy in that they are believed to be dangerous and uncontrollable, causing society to place them at the bottom of the hierarchy. They are placed in the fulcrum at a young age and are watched and exploited consistently. “The Fulcrum has a reputation to maintain; that’s part of this. So’s the training, and the uniform, and the endless rules they must follow, but the breeding is part of it, too, or why is she here?” (page 59, online). This myth justifies the oppression that they face by the upper class. Myth, however, can also play a role as a source of resistance and empowerment for marginalized communities, and this is shown through Essun, a character in the novel, who despite being discriminated against finds strength in the myths that have been passed down through her ancestors, which allows her to affirm her identify and find hope in a what seems to be hopeless world. The world that N.K. Jemisin makes it almost impossible for orogenes to fit in, and this goes along with Heng’s definition, “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content”; ultimately meaning that race is not about the inherent qualities that an individual has, rather how the qualities or characteristics of that individual are perceived by society. Once again going along perfectly with the orogene community. Due to their unique characteristics that they were born with, they are treated and perceived differently and as a threat, therefore treated with disrespect. 

 Additionally, science plays a large role in racialization in this book. Science is used as a justification to distinguish orogenes from non-orogenes. This is done by the upper class society, as they make it a point for everyone else to be afraid of orogenes because they are dangerous and untrustworthy due to their differences that others do not have. As previously stated, this aligns perfectly with societal situations that play out daily, as certain groups who society has chosen to be marginalized against have differences that they were born with, causing them to be put at the bottom of the hierarchy of societal structures. Furthermore, science allows for the groups of power to justify oppression, as they can express that they are scared of what powers the orogene individuals may have that are still unknown to them. By going about the approach in a biased way, their opinions are not going to change even if the orogene community has not shown danger to them. 

The process of racialization is shown once again throughout the book when Syenite fears Alabaster due to his ranking being higher. It is hard for Syenite to defend herself when her ranking is lower even though she does not agree with Alabaster’s decision making. Again, proving that rankings in society are a pivotal factor in how you live your life as well as how you are ranked. Once again mirroring real life situations, as individuals who are minorities do not have the same amount of power or say that individuals who aren’t do. N.K. Jemisin took this idea from the real world and was able to perfectly portray it in the novel. Once again going along with Hugh’s definition, due to the fact that our society has predisposed racialization, it makes it extremely difficult from the start for those who are born as a minority or certain race to succeed, as they are already perceived as less than even though they have no ability to change the way they were born. Society separates people and determines how deserving they are of a successful life for no reason other than their race, gender or sexuality. The fifth season does an amazing job at mirroring this, although it is not about race, it shows the injustices that certain groups face only because of the way they were born. N.K. Jemison portrays orogenes as a perfect metaphor for this, and demonstrates the process of racialization throughout the book in a very unique and interesting way.  

References 

Jemisin, N. K. (2016). The fifth season: The broken earth. Orbit.