Engl 111 Core Essay

It is now nearing the end of the spring 2024 semester for my English 111 class. Compared to how I started in the beginning I developed a lot, especially my view of N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. At first, I wasn’t excited to read the books, especially since there were 3 with lots of pages. It was also a genre of book I hadn’t read since I was a kid, so I was a bit wary of how the book would be once I had to start reading it. However, as I started to read the first book, The Fifth Season, I started to enjoy it a bit. This was able to help me write my first essay for this class, the Lithosphere essay. In my essay, I focused on how Jemisin uses racialization to create the setting and characters in her first book. 

However, I feel like this changed as I continued to read into the second and third books, where Jemisin started to focus on characters that weren’t as prevalent in the first book and when she started to focus on deeper issues like generational trauma within the characters. For example, Schaffa, who was Damaya also known as Syenite’s guardian. I would like to mention that Damaya, Syenite, and Essun are all the same person, the reason for the different names is due to the period of her life. Damaya is in early childhood, Syenite is in early adulthood, and Essun is in late adulthood. Back to Schaffa, he was seen as someone abusive and manipulative towards Damaya and Syenite in the first book. One instance was when he first met Damaya and broke her hand, but he also said he loved and cared for her. This will, later on, twist her view on what love is, affecting the way she raises her firstborn, Nassun. This can be seen in the second book, The Obelisk Gate, where we now get a point of view of Nassun’s story, a character that wasn’t seen or talked much about in The Fifth Season. Through her story in The Obelisk Gate, she tells us how her mom has broken her hand, similar to what Schaffa has done to her mom. Schaffa’s toxic love affected the way Nassun was raised by her mother, which created a sense of hatred inside Nassun toward her mother. I found this part interesting, since in our world, this would be called generational trauma, which is trauma that a previous generation experienced that gets passed down to the next, affecting the new generation psychologically with symptoms of anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, etc (American Psychological Association 2023). The way Jemisin incorporates generational trauma into her series started my love for this trilogy, especially since it adds realism and depth to her characters, which makes them more relatable. 

Another thing I like about Jemisin’s work is her word choice surrounding sensitive and emotional topics like love and sexual assault and how she showcases them in her book that fits into the storyline. For example, in my previous essay, I talked about Alabaster and Syenite’s physical connection, however, in the second and third books, we start to see more of an emotional connection, especially on Alabaster’s side. To give more context, in the book The Fifth Season, Alabaster can be seen as stubborn and honest, paired with Essun, and the two tend to misunderstand or yell at one another. In the first book, when the two were paired to go on a mission together and instructed to have sex with one another, this brought feelings of resentment and negative emotions (Lavallee 2022). This feeling of resentment is more seen with Syenite, where I mentioned in my lithosphere essay that when she’s done having sex with Alabaster she feels disgusted and “takes a shower, methodically scrubbing every bit of flesh she can reach until her skin burns,” (Jemisin 2015). This move by Jemisin in her first book was an eye-opener for me because it made me think about how in our world many victims of sexual assault end up feeling “dirty” within themselves and take multiple showers to feel clean (Loyola University Maryland n.d.). Jemisin’s careful word choice to show how the characters feel during certain moments in their life is once again a touch of realism that she does, to connect with the readers more. 

However, as we continue to read the trilogy the negative feelings the two shared have started to become more positive and romantic. In The Obelisk Gate, Essun quotes, “You hated him, loved him, missed him for years, made yourself forget him, found him again, loved him again, killed him. […] The loss of Alabaster is simply… a thinning of who you are,” (Jemisin 2016). Meanwhile in The Stone Sky, Alabaster writes in his diary, “Syen, I love you, I’m sorry, keep me safe, watch my back and I’ll watch yours, there’s no one else who’s as strong as you, I wish so much that you were here,” (Jemisin 2017). Jemisin’s words that she shows through her characters remind me to take care of and appreciate the important people in my life even if some are no longer present. 

Another part of the trilogy that shifted my thinking was the parental relationships Nassun shared with Jija, her father, and Essun, her mother. As I’m writing this essay, it made me re-read and reflect on the book. In The Obelisk Gate, we see more of Jija and Nassun and their relationship as they travel together. At the beginning of their relationship, we see that Nassun prefers her father over her mother since Jija doesn’t abuse or scold her like her mother. He was also a safe place for Nassun when she was younger, with him hugging and petting her hair/head. This got me thinking about how dads are usually stereotyped as the “fun parent”. Meanwhile, mothers are usually tasked with raising and disciplining their children, making them seem like the less “fun parent” (Grose 2020). This made me think about how I may have viewed my parents growing up and if those stereotypes were true in my household. 

Another example of a family dynamic in the book is the guardians and orogenes. In Jemisin’s blog titled “On Family”, she talks about the family the Fulcrum has created, and that the love created in this environment was conditional. Jemisin quotes, “Obey the Guardians, pass the tests, follow the rules, and receive love and respect as a reward. Disobey and receive broken bones, whippings, public humiliation, and potentially torture and lobotomization in a node chair,” (Jemisin 2015). Reading this blog post got me thinking more about the book and the types of love written, whether it was conditional, toxic, one-sided, etc. It also got me thinking about the family dynamic within Asian households. Though what’s said next isn’t true for every Asian family, it does hold true for some. In Asian culture, parents put immense pressure on their children to do well in school and have reputable careers like becoming doctors or lawyers. This can give off the message that the parents will only love or be proud of their children if they achieve something great, which shows conditional love, and if the child does not perform up to those standards there is little love (Huynh 2024). This once again got me thinking about my childhood growing up and the type of love I may have received from my parents. 

Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy series taught me tremendous growth, and reflections on my own life through her writing. From the beginning, her writing taught me a lot about race and society, but later on, it taught me more about character and personal growth. Thinking back on it, Jemisin’s writing also seemed very personal from her own experiences in life, which can be read from her blog posts. Since she’s also a woman of color her writing resonates with me, making her writing very personal. In conclusion, the meaningful words and real-world connections she makes in her book inspired me to think more about my life and the world I live in, which made me love and care more about this series than I originally thought. 


American Psychological Association. (2023). Apa Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/intergenerational-trauma

Grose, J. (2020, April 29). I don’t want to be a fun mom. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/29/parenting/fun-parent.html

Huynh, L. (2024, March 20). Dysfunctional Asian Family Dynamics: Asian therapist explains. San Jose Marriage Therapist & Counselor. https://liahuynh.com/dysfunctional-asian-family-dynamics-asian-therapist-explains/

Jemisin, N. K. (2015, October 30). On family. Epiphany 2.0. https://nkjemisin.com/2015/10/on-family/

LaVallee, Z. (2022, May 18). The reality of balance and Love in the broken earth trilogy. ImPossibilities. https://morrison.sunygeneseoenglish.org/2022/05/18/the-reality-of-balance-and-love-in-the-broken-earth-trilogy%EF%BF%BC/

Loyola University Maryland . (n.d.). Common reactions to sexual assault. Counseling Center | Loyola University Maryland. https://www.loyola.edu/department/counseling-center/services/students/concerns/sexual-assault/reactions.html#:~:text=In%20some%20instances%2C%20guilty%20feelings,referred%20to%20as%20survivor’s%20guilt.&text=Self%2Dimage%20frequently%20suffers%20as%20a%20result%20of%20the%20assault.

Ye, E. (2024, February 23). Lithosphere essay (the fifth season by N.K. Jemisin, Engl 111). ImPossibilities. https://morrison.sunygeneseoenglish.org/2024/02/23/lithosphere-essay-the-fifth-season-by-n-k-jemisin-engl-111/

The Implications of the 1650 Cusco, Peru Earthquake on Socio-Religious Reformation and its Parallel to N.K. Jemisin’s  Broken Earth Trilogy by Maria Loughlin, Mia Geiger, Emily Ye, Connor Benitez, & Jake Burggraff

It is March 31st, 1650 when tragedy overfalls the city. An extremely powerful earthquake strikes the city at 2:00 in the afternoon. Churches, homes, and buildings crumble, leaving the citizens in ruins and dust. Many try to save artwork and religious artifacts, some are successful while others are not. This story takes place in 1600’s Cusco, Peru. Cusco is the former capital of the Inca Empire, which fell out of power due to the Spanish conquest in the 1500s. It is located high in the Andes Mountains. 

It is important to set the scene, as this earthquake not only physically destroyed the city but also had religious and societal impacts. As said before, Cusco was the heart of the Inca Empire, which was ruled by South American Natives. According to Britannica, the Incan Empire“extended from the Pacific coast and Andean highlands from the northern border of modern Ecuador to the Maule River in central Chile.” (See figure 1) According to Cusco by Mark Cartwright, the city was built in the form of a puma and was dominated by fine buildings and palaces including gold-covered and emerald-studded temples. The city flourished with art, religion, and architecture. The city had a population of around 40,000 with another 200,000 in the surrounding area (Cusco, Mark Cartwright). Cusco was honored by the Inca subjects as a sacred site. Soon, however, Spanish conquistadors changed the trajectory of the Empire. In 1532, Spanish soldiers led by Francisco Pizarro, overthrew the Inca leader Atahualpa and conquered Peru (History Crunch). Due to previous European travelers who had brought diseases to South America, the Inca Empire was weakened, giving the Spanish an advantage. The takeover resulted in the Spanish forcefully changing and controlling the fallen Empire. The Spanish completely changed the system of rule in order to try and keep the Inca out of power(Lumenlearning). In addition, the Spanish changed systems of agriculture, which had been finely honed by the Incas over years of time. Heavy manual labor taxes were forced upon the Inca, which was called “mita” (Lumenlearning). Overall the Spanish forced their culture, economic, and political policies onto the Inca and held power over them.

Figure 1: Features a map showing the Inca Empire and Cusco. 

Figure 2: Evidence of destructive events based on archeological discoveries including the collapse of buildings as well as other archeological artifacts.

Despite the magnitude of destruction of the earthquake, the amount of casualties was fortunately quite minimal. “Structural survey and Empirical Seismic vulnerability assessment of dwellings in the historical Centre of Cusco, Peru” (Brando 2019) determined that the earthquake caused extensive damage, which spread to neighboring towns and was felt as far as Lima, Peru. From a geographical standpoint, the magnitude of the earthquake on a Richter scale was above 7 MM, similar to the more recent earthquakes that occurred in 1950 and 1986. The cause for earthquakes has to do with two important concepts that include the shifting of tectonic plates and fault line boundaries. Tectonic plates are large sections of the Earth’s crust that float on the semi-fluid asthenosphere, and fault lines are the boundaries and gaps where these plates meet. When friction and pressure is caused by the movement of these massive sections via sliding, they begin to collide, or move away from one another along the fault lines. This is what leads to the phenomena of earthquakes. According to the figure shown above (Figure 2), it can be observed that Cusco sits directly on the Cusco fault line and is also very close to the Tambomachay fault line (approximately 4 km). Oftentimes if one fault line is triggered causing a high enough magnitude earthquake, a fault line nearby can also cause another earthquake at a lesser magnitude which occurred in this case.

 Furthermore, the earth earthquake not only destroyed the land but had lasting effects on religious circumstances. It crumbled various Inca temples and sacred locations. The Catholic church took advantage of this by aiding the recovery with their practices. It is also important to highlight the fact that it is human nature to seek answers and reasons as to why bad things happen, especially in regards to religion. In the case of the earthquake, religious authorities in Cusco interpreted the catastrophe in their own Catholic perspective which left a lasting influence on the natives, among others, “in which the cataclysmic results seemed to explode straight from the Bible” (In 1650, a massive earthquake hit Cuzco…). With destruction everywhere people turned and the wish to seek for answers increasing as a result of this devastating event, it made it much more feasible for the religious authorities to swoop in as a beacon of hope and slowly transform ideologies from one to the next. It was also very common back then for people to connect such disasters to religion rather than science to explain what was going on with the world. When people have their religion to look at when disasters happen it gives them a sense of comfort and the fact that after this catastrophe, the Catholics saw that people were having doubts about their religion and decided to swoop in and spread their ideas connecting the earthquake to the Bible, leading many to change religions and follow their Catholic ways.

Encomiendas served as the lifeblood that sustained the Spanish colonization of Latin America. These grants, approved and enforced by viceroys to the Spanish king, entitled colonists to indigenous land and labor. Indentured servitude of the indigenous peoples and enslaved African peoples allowed the Spanish conquistadors to gut the original structures of Cusco and distort them to serve colonial demands. Catholic churches were built by enslaved Africans and Cuscueños in the skeletons of Cusco’s religious buildings. At the time of the earthquake, the malignant changes of colonial influence were well underway, transforming many of the “undesirable” traditional aspects of the grand city to more closely fit Spanish ideals. The Spanish sought to commandeer the city of Cusco into a Spanish colonialist utopia, but progress towards this end was slow and intensive. The 1650 earthquake thus provided an unprecedented opportunity for the Spanish colonists, as the widespread devastation of native and Spanish buildings alike meant that rebuilding the city would no longer be impeded by the preexisting city, but could be built anew in a pure, Spanish image. Similarly, this pressing need for reconstruction efforts could cement colonial control over and subjugation of indentured servants. In a letter to the Spanish king following the earthquake, Spanish colonists made an explicit request to extend their encomiendas, tightening their grip over the lives of the enslaved peoples, but also extending the terms of their servitude over additional generations. The Spanish colonists suffered as a result of this unprecedented earthquake but saw it as a prime opportunity to erase what little of the indigenous culture remained, and to build back in a more pure Spanish vision.

The artwork that emerged after the earthquake represents Spain’s impact on the town’s reconstruction, religion, and art style to fit their ideal standards as mentioned in the previous paragraph. For example, the Andean baroque style (see Figure 5) combines Christian and indigenous symbols (Hajovsky 2018).  The colonization of Cusco can be seen in the artwork of religious paintings, European architecture, and city layout. 

Figure 3: (Hajovsky 2018): This painting by an unknown artist shows the town of Cusco during the 1650 earthquake. Many of the Spanish settlers flocked to the town center where their religious building was and surrounded the sculpture of Santo Cristo (Holy Christ), as it was taken out of the church and paraded and placed into the center of the town. 

In the top left corner of the painting is a Marian apparition, a symbol in the Catholic religion where it represents the intervention of a divine power that can provide medical healing, messages, etc (Otto 1985). In this instance, the Marian apparition showcased a light to stop the earthquake, which is why many of the Spanish settlers surrounded the Santo Cristo. This would later become a symbol in Peru of a figure that can stop earthquakes called the Nuestro Señor de los Temblores (Our Lord of the Earthquakes) (Tripoli 2017). However, the religious symbols in the painting were painted to rejustify the reconstruction of the indigenous building of Cusco to their Spanish image and the forcing of Catholicism onto the Cusco people as the earthquake ruined much of their native architecture. 

The painting also shows a dominant perspective of the Incas religious and social culture but has been changed to showcase more Spanish architecture (Hajovsky 2018). An example of this change is the way the buildings are set up in a gridlike pattern and the construction of new buildings to fit their European ideals (Hajovsky 2018). The symbols of Catholic saints, and angels, in the sky show that the Spanish thought it was their Catholic right to conquer Cusco and to change the buildings, culture, and religion of the indigenous people. This was a “manifest destiny” mindset that the Spanish church and state had when they conquered not just Cusco but many other Latin American countries (Eckler 2020). This painting depicts how Spanish settlers thought this earthquake was something that their gods and Catholicism gave to change Cusco into their European ideals and forcibly spread their faith with the creation of Temblores that “stopped the earthquake” and protected them from it (Max 2010). Furthermore, the creation of the Temblores was done by the Spanish to appeal more to the Cusco people and have them be converted to their religion through this manipulation. 

Figure 4: (Leibsohn, Mundy 2015): Map painting of Cusco by an unknown artist. It was made in 1643 before the earthquake. In the map, the bottom and middle center of the map show a cross, religious buildings, and the houses are also in a gridlike pattern. This style represents the Spanish settlers’ ideals of what they wanted Cusco to look like. The upper portion of the map has more mountains and rivers, with many of the buildings clustered together, signifying what Cusco looked like when inhabited by the indigenous people. 

Figure 5: (University of Arkansas 2017): A religious building of the Andean baroque style. Andean baroque is an architectural style that mixes Catholicism from Spain and Cusco religion and culture. For example, they replaced the door handles with animals used in Andean imagery (University of Arkansas 2017). This hybrid art style shows how Catholic colonialism is slowly turning Andean symbolism into that of Catholicism. 

In the aftermath of the 1650 earthquake that devastated Cusco, Peru, the city stood amid destruction. After the shaking stopped, the Spanish settlers saw a chance for social reconstruction and a way to reshape Cusco in the image they wanted. As a result of this, the native culture drastically changed in many ways. The art at the time also shows a mix of Christian and native contributions that depict the clash of cultures and the emphasis on segregation nurtured and influenced by conquistadors. So why does this matter? The Cusco earthquake was much more than just an earthquake. It destroyed art and religious items while also proving how intensely colonization has affected ancient civilization. This can be parallelized to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy, where during the Syl Anagist chapters, we repeatedly see how Hoa’s race was used for torturous labor like the encomiendas. In the book, Hoa finds out what the briar patch really is, a place where his race gets the life and magic sucked out of them, however, they’re still alive in order to keep making this magic to keep the obelisk alive. These obelisks are used by Syl Anagist to keep the city alive, with their slogan of “Life is sacred in Syl Anagist,”. This can be seen with the encomiendas in Cusco since Spain forcefully made them do labor to turn their city to their European ideals. Another connection between the book and Cusco, was when Keleni took Hoa and his friends on a tour of their origin and they saw how they were able to use magic for art and culture. This is similar to Cusco before they were colonized by Spain, where the city was rich in indigenous art and culture. However, later in the book the readers find out that when Syl Anagist came over and conquered them, they used their ideas of how they harnessed magic to create what their city is now, however since they couldn’t do it like them, they used those people to build it, by once again using their life and magic. This connects to Cusco, because after the earthquake Spanish settlers in Cusco tried to further enslave the encomiendas to rebuild the city in their Spain ideal image, and when this did happen, many paintings and Andean baroque architecture emerged, however, much of the indigenous material and symbolism remains in such art. For example, old indigenous buildings in Cusco still remain today, becoming a tourist attraction, just like how Keleni gave Hoa and his friends a tour of the old society. In conclusion, N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy connects to Cusco’s history of colonization where both Hoa’s kind and Cusco people were used and abused by those who conquered them.


“Encomenderos in Cuzco Petition the King after the Great Earthquake of 1650.” Vistas.ace.fordham.edu, vistas.ace.fordham.edu/lib/17th/encomenderos/. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Hajovsky, Patrick Thomas. “Shifting Panoramas: Contested Visions of Cuzco’s 1650 Earthquake.” The Art Bulletin, vol. 100, no. 4, 2 Oct. 2018, pp. 34–61, https://doi.org/10.1080/00043079.2018.1464358. Accessed 15 June 2022.

“The Spanish Conquest | World Civilization.” Courses.lumenlearning.com, courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/the-spanish-conquest/#:~:text=Diseases%20that%20the%20population%20had.

“Map of Cuzco · VistasGallery.” Vistasgallery.ace.fordham.edu, vistasgallery.ace.fordham.edu/items/show/1779. Accessed 24 Apr. 2024.

Publicación Especial N ° 14 -Resúmenes Ampliados Del XIX Congreso.

Brando, Giuseppe & Cocco, Giulia & Mazzanti, Claudio & Peruch, Matteo & Spacone, Enrico & Alfaro, Crayla & Sovero, Simone & Tarque, Nicola. (2019). Structural Survey and Empirical Seismic Vulnerability Assessment of Dwellings in the Historical Centre of Cusco, Peru. International Journal of Architectural Heritage. 15. 1-29. 10.1080/15583058.2019.1685022.

Eckler, Camden. The Roots of Exploitation and Inequality in Latin America, 2020, scholar.utc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1289&context=honors-theses.

Max. “Black Jesus.” Wayne To The Max, 14 Dec. 2010, waynetothemax.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/black-jesus/.

“A New World Take on the Baroque.” Honors College Blog, University of Arkansas, 2017, honorsblog.uark.edu/a-new-world-take-on-the-baroque/.

Otto. “Dictionary of Mary.” Catholic Book Publishing, 1985, catholicbookpublishing.com/products/dictionary-of-mary-full-color.

Tripoli. “A Lesson in Colonialism at Cusco Cathedral.” BashfulAdventurer.Com, 16 Jan. 2017, bashfuladventurer.com/lesson-colonialism-cusco-cathedral/.

Lithosphere Essay (The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, ENGL 111)

The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages by Geraldine Heng talks about race and how it was a social construct during times of historic Europe. She states, “Race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content,” (Heng 2018). Both Heng and N.K. Jemisin, the author of the book The Fifth Season uses racialization, a process of categorizing, marginalizing, or regarding according to race (Merriam-Webster dictionary n.d.) in their works to bring to light how race affects the way certain groups of people are treated. In N.K. Jemisin’s book she makes many parallels to race in our world regarding character and world-building. This parallel specifically surrounds a group called orogenes a group of people who have the power to control the kinetic energy to redirect or make seismic events. Orogenes are looked down upon by non-orogenes who see them as dangerous and must be controlled for their safety and well-being. Though N.K. Jemisin does not specifically hint at what race the orogenes are, the way orogenes are treated in her book is very similar to how many minorities in the United States are treated. On her blog, she mentions, “ Yet race in our world is a social construct, not anything related to actual biology, so it makes sense that a world which has such complicated feelings about orogenes would conceptually fission them off from the rest of humanity” (Jemisin 2015). What she says in her blog tells us that the orogenes are feared because of their power and the things they can do with it, and due to this non-orogenes fear them. Her words also tell us that orogenes are only feared due to their uniqueness from the rest and the way they behave is also different to non orogenes. Due to their fears and lack of understanding, negative stereotypes of the orogenes are created, so if one of them were to act “feral” it would feed into the negative stereotypes the non-orogenes created of them. This also relates to my thesis since many stereotypes that were created against minorities were only made due to our differences with one another whether that was by culture, physical looks, etc. Furthermore, stereotypes are also a type of social construct that justifies the social power one group has over another (Augoustinos, Walker 1998). All in all, Jemisin’s creation of stereotypes for her characters mirrors real minorities that are created from a group of people with more power who have a lack of understanding and fear against minority groups. 

However, it isn’t just stereotypes that Jemisin makes in her book to parallel our world, but also traits that oppressed groups have. By adding such traits to her book, specifically her characters it adds realism and meaning to them. The Fifth Season shows this with, 

“If the problem is that ferals are not predictable…well, orogenes have to prove themselves reliable. 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? It’s somewhat flattering to think that despite her feral status, they actually want something of her infused into their breeding lines. Then she wonders why a part of her is trying to find value in degradation,” (Jemisin 58). 

This quote represents a parallel of racialization because Syenite, a female orogene knows that orogenes who don’t know how to control their power are considered feral and unpredictable which scares non-orogenes. In order to not be considered a feral, she goes to Fulcrum, a place where orogenes are taught to control their power to learn her limits, in order to protect herself. This quote also connects back to Heng’s words because the fulcrum is a structural institution that was made to manage the differences between orogenes and non oroegenes. However, creating such an institution, essentially makes her and many other orogenes degrade themselves for the sake of others in order not to be viewed in a negative light. A quote in The Fifth Season states, “But this is what it means to be civilized—doing what her betters say she should, for the ostensible good of all. […] That means her own apartment; no more roommates. Better missions, longer leave, more say in her own life. That’s worth it. Earthfire yes, it’s worth it,” (Jemisin 60). This quote shows Syenite degrading herself by doing things she does not want to do but does anyway to not get punished, to get stronger, and most importantly have more power and control over her life. This is similar to how minorities do code-switching, which is a way to change the way they talk, act, dress, etc for the comfort of others and to get job opportunities and fair treatment/service (McCluney et al. 2019).  Syenite’s words show code-switching because she degrades herself during a mission with Alabaster, a male orogene, where they have sex together every day to create an orogene offspring. Though she does not want to do this and feels disgusted with herself for doing such a task, she does it anyway to prove herself at the Fulcrum to get a higher rank among the orogenes and have a better quality of life. Another character that also shows this trait is Essun, and Jemisin states on her blog that she has that trait that oppressed people have due to her experiences where she can hide and protect herself like any other orogene/feral, but also act arrogant and eccentric if needed (Jemisin 2015). Jemisin uses stereotypes and code-switching as a form of racialization to add depth to her characters and make them relatable to our world. 

Furthermore, Jemisin uses racialization in other ways for her characters, such as creating their powers. Jemisin mentions on her blog that orogenes share traits of oppressed groups like “Blackdar” (Jemisin 2015). Blackdar is a way for African Americans to detect if someone has African ancestry just by looking at them (Blackdar definition n.d.). She shows that trait with orogenes by having them be able to tell who is an orogene by their “sess” which is when an orogene uses their powers to control or create seismic activity. Another example of this “Blackdar” racialization in her book would be with the character Ykka, a female orogene who has this magical ability to call orogenes to her. It also allows the character to know who is an orogene as well when she meets them because they respond to her call. Jemisin repeatedly uses racialization to create her characters, world, and powers for The Fifth Season which mirrors our world in terms of social power and people.

N.K. Jemisin also uses racialization for the setting of The Fifth Season, which mostly takes place in the Stillness, a supercontinent. Stillness can be compared to Pangea, which was a real supercontinent back during the late Paleozoic Era until the very late Triassic (USGS What was Pangea? n.d.). Just like Pangea is made up of the many continents we know today, so is the Stillness in Jemisin’s fictional world. N.K. Jemisin talks about the Stillness and the people who inhabit it who have racial phenotypes we have in our world, including eye shape, hair, skin color, etc (Jemisin 2015). The places on the supercontinent also resemble certain countries in our world like the island Meov, a place that has a lot of earthquakes and tsunamis. Meov’s natural disasters and geology are quite similar to Japan’s since it’s a string of islands (also known as an archipelago) with three tectonic plates rubbing against each other, causing a lot of earthquakes (Japan National Geographic Kids 2021). Jemisin mentions how certain parts of the Stillness would resemble certain races like the Artics would be White, the East Coast would be Black, the West Coast would be Asians, and so forth (Jemisin 2015). Overall, Jemisin’s idea of racializing the Stillness is a great way for readers to visualize the characters and make them more relatable to certain people in terms of real-world experiences. Not only that, but it makes it easier for readers to connect the dots of what kind of stereotypes she’s trying to make with her characters based on real people. 

In conclusion, Jemisin uses racialization to create her characters and setting in The Fifth Season allowing readers to make real-world connections to issues involving race and geography. As well as using Geraldine Heng’s research paper about race in historic Europe, Jemisin can show her readers that race is a social construct, which Jemisin mentions on her blog when writing her book series. For example, creating negative stereotypes that are associated with orogenes, causes them to have to code-switch to protect themselves and others for fair treatment. Another example would be how Jemisin uses geography and geology to create the events and setting for the book. Jemisin’s idea of using science and social construct to create The Fifth Season is something that allows readers to think and educate themselves while also enjoying what her book has to offer. 


Augoustinos, M., & Walker, I. (1998). The Construction of Stereotypes within Social Psychology. Theory & Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1177/0959354398085003

Berlatsky, N. (2015, July 27). NK Jemisin: The fantasy writer upending the “racist and sexist status quo.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jul/27/nk-jemisin-interview-fantasy-science-fiction-writing-racism-sexism 

blackdar. (n.d.). Blackdar – Wiktionary, The free dictionary. Wiktionary. https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/blackdar#:~:text=Noun,ancestry%20by%20observing%20that%20person. 

Heng, G. (2018). The invention of race in the European Middle Ages. Cambridge Core. https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/invention-of-race-in-the-european-middle-ages/878223724345B49D515AA39DF3A0B617#fndtn-information 

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