Connotation and Denotation in the World of Pym

Hallie Edic and Katherine Lyons

The definition of denotation is the literal meaning of a word whereas the meaning of connotation is the feeling or idea that a word summons for the reader. In other words, denotation is the literal meaning while connotation is the feeling given to certain words by the world around it. The Word homework, for example, refers to work that you do outside of school which is the denotation; This word has a negative connotation for people because that is the feeling the word gives them.

This tension between denotation and connotation can be seen at the end of Pym when Garth, Chris, and Pym come across the land where the people are waving to them. The denotation of this scene is literally that they are pulling up to shore while the people on land are waving towards their boat. The connotation from this scene is what will let the reader know whether the ending of this novel was a good or a bad thing. One example of connotation at work is how the audience chooses to see the ending. Do they see the ending as happy or almost spine chilling? One reader of this novel could see the people waving towards the boat as welcoming the men to their land with open arms. Perhaps they are ready to welcome their new visitors happily and supply them with whatever they may need. On the other hand, the people waving could be a sign of warning or danger. Perhaps the waving is the people’s indication for the men to turn their boat away and not come any closer to the land. The waving could be the people’s method of telling the men on the ship that they are not welcome and they should not proceed. These two different readings of the end of the novel can change the entire finale of the work. Did Chris and Garth luck out and find people who were willing to help them after their long and crazy voyage or could they be sailing into their own death? The lack of any clear words or connotations by Johnson allows for there to be multiple different readings of the finale of Pym and does not offer a clear answer to readers as to how the men’s story concludes. This sort of idea may indicate that Johnson has a somewhat neutral take on the world. Maybe Johnson or Jaynes sees the world as being interpreted by each person around them differently. That saying that not there are endings in the world that can be left open to interpretation by the people who witnessed or experienced it. There is no one true definition of what happened at the end of the novel and everything in life is very similar to that idea as well: there is no one correct way to interpret something that happened.

In the closing scene of PYM Jaynes, Garth and Pym were the only people remaining after the snow monsters realized that sausage nose was actually Garth, they began to attack which led to an earthquake causing everybody to be killed besides the remaining three. This could have been predicted that these characters would survive due to the fact that they played a very big role in the story and were of most importance.  At the end people are waving from a distance on the land, but the readers are never told what type of emotion these waves were emanating; this gives the readers a chance to interpret this however they feel appropriate. Due to the fact that these people had been on this continent with no connection to the outside world this can lead the readers to believe that the people were relieved to see that the group who went on an expedition to Antarctica were still alive. There were not many details in the book that could lead the readers to believe that the people would be waving them away telling them to go back from where they just got freedom, but if the reader were to dig deeper and start thinking there could be alternative connotations for these waves. For instance if there was a bigger threat to them back at home like the government the people waving could be protecting them from legal trouble. Also the people could have been booing and wishing them back to the icy land because they had discovered supernatural creatures, and most people are scared of things that are non-human which could explain them wanting the group to stay as far away as possible from civilization. Perhaps the author used the word wave because it was nothing more than that but because there is no explanation the ending can be interpreted however the reader wants it to be. 

When looking at how this scene fits into the book as a whole, it can change the reading of the novel as well. Was everything the group did for nothing? Did they find Tsalal like they set out to and are they being welcomed by the people there or did they end up taking an extended journey to their death? At the end of the day, everything lies in how the reader decides to interpret it. Again, does the reader see their arrival in Tsalal as welcoming or as a warning of imminent danger if the men choose to come any closer to the land? Considering these people have never met Garth and Chris, and considering how poorly the snow creatures treated the humans when they intruded on their land, it is hard to believe that the people of Tsalal would be welcoming the men onto their land. It is more likely that the people are telling the men not to come towards their land and to keep sailing unless they are luring the men in in an attempt to enslave them just as the Tekelians did when the group stumbled upon their cave. 

The Spectrum of Apocalypse

Hallie Edic

Beth McCoy

ENGL 327 Black Apocalyptic Fiction

Essay One

One of the biggest struggles in the book was the idea of the apocalypse as a whole. What is an apocalypse and how does it relate to this novel? Within the first week of class, we discussed the idea that an apocalypse is not always the stereotypical end-of-the-world, fires blazing, zombies running rampant, dark and dingy atmosphere that most people assume, but, rather, it could be the end of one’s own personal idea of life. The most interesting idea in Wild Seed, to me, was how it was related to an apocalyptic novel and what exactly the apocalypse was. Wild Seed, though many would not think so at first glance, is an apocalyptic novel. After seeing this idea put into practice by Butler, it makes it easier for us as an audience to challenge our thoughts about what apocalyptic fiction really is. Heading into the rest of the course, I hope to be able to better grasp what constitutes an apocalyptic novel and continue challenging the basic idea of what this fiction entails. It will also be intriguing to see the diversity of apocalypses in the views of so many different authors throughout the course.

Though people generally consider an apocalypse to be the end of the entire world, Kaplan explains, “Afro-pessimism’s apocalyptic thought is not reducible to its demand for the end of the World” (81). It is almost as though the apocalypse is a spectrum, ranging from something as small as an individual’s world to as large as, maybe even, the universe. Kaplan also writes, “Though the apocalyptic is commonly associated with the end of the World, etymologically, it primarily means to un-cover, which is precisely how Paul uses it. For Paul, apo-kalupsis names the un-veiling of the messianic event and the passing figure of this World” (81). How, then, does this relate to Butler’s world. Though Paul’s ideas are more rooted in the idea of the Messiah and, in that sense, religion, there is a large event in Butler’s work that constitutes as the “un-veiling” of a large, inescapable event: The realization that Anyanwu will never be able to completely get rid of Doro. This occurs in the third book of the novel following Anyanwu’s initial escape from Doro and her formation of her own town. As soon as he finds her and her new home, she has an inkling that things will begin to go arry, as they always have in Doro’s other civilizations. Anyanwu even thinks, “He had settlements everywhere, families everywhere. She had only one, and he was taking it… She could live on and on and have nothing. He would see to it” (Butler 241). If the sexual assault of daughter and the death of her son were not enough to show her how blatantly awful Doro’s reign over her town was, his senseless killing of Susan, one of her closest friends, was enough to lead her to suicide. Doro’s intervention into her town, which had done remarkably better than any of his had in the centuries he had been cultivating them and stealing people to repopulate, would be the end of her world as she knew it– her own personal apocalypse. Her only reprievement from Doro’s grasp was the sweet release of death. This realization was a great unveiling to Anyanwu. She knew, in that moment when he killed Susan, that she would never know peace, for they were the only two immortal beings in the world. She would have to deal with Doro and his horrible ways of life for the rest of her time on Earth. To relate this to Kaplan and Paul’s arguments, it almost seems as though Doro is the Messiah (though not in a good way) coming to stake claims on Anyanwu’s city and threatening the end to the city (and Anyanwu’s world) as they know it. This interpretation of an apocalypse is one that is more on a personal scale, unlike the general idea of an apocalypse. The entire world is not ending, but, rather, Anyanwu’s personal life. Really, though, Anyanwu’s apocalypse could, arguably, have started the moment she met Doro. Though she did not understand exactly what she was getting into when she met him, it was clear, even then, that there was no escaping Doro anymore. Anyanwu had lived for hundreds of years being undetected by Doro, but now that he had her scent, she was his, whether she liked it or not. Any feeling of choice or decision was merely a facade to convince Anyanwu to come with him willingly. Doro says, “You belong with me, with the people I’m gathering. We are people you can be part of– people you need not frighten or bribe into letting you live” (Butler 23). Doro appealed to Anyawu’s desire to live a peaceful life, but later to her desire to have children she did not need to bury. Doro’s discovery of Anyanwu was the end of her life as she knew it– the beginning of her own personal apocalypse. She had gone from constantly watching her back, killing only for protection, and only really needing to watch out for herself and her kinsmen to being enslaved by an immortal being with no idea what it meant to be human anymore. There was no escape for her once the apocalypse began with even her greatest escape being short-lived compared to her lengthy time on Earth. The question Kaplan ends his essay with stands in the eyes of Anyanwu, “do I die with Blackness, or do I remain invested in the katechontic- power- of- the- anti- Black- World?” (85). Essentially, does Anyanwu die with her honor, at her own will or does she fall victim to Doro’s eventual wrath and destruction of the world as a whole. Not only that, but a katechon has been believed to hold back the dealings of the antiChrist in religious texts. When the katechon is removed, the antiChrist is able to fully manifest. It seems as though in Butler’s story, Anyanwu would be the katechon and Doro would be the antichrist. Isaac, Doro’s son, had told Anwayu before he died that she needed to “live so that [she] could save the human part of [Doro]” (Butler 295). Anyanwu explains to Doro, “But [Isaac] was wrong. I cannot save it. It is already dead” (Butler 295). Isaac believed the only thing keeping alive what little humanity Doro had left was Anyanwu, but Anyanwu explains that she is too late. Doro argues, though, that she is the only reason he still feels any human emotion and promises to be better as long as she does not end her life and leave him alone. In a way, Anyanwu is Doro’s world, and her death would be an apocalypse of his own. Had Anyanwu gone through with her plan to commit suicide, thus removing the katechon from the equation, Doro could have become much worse than before and completely destroyed the rest of humanity and the world as it was, disrupting the normal ways of life more than he already had. In many ways, Butler’s novel relates directly to Kaplan’s explanation of the Black messianic beliefs in Afro-Pessimism’s apocalyptic thought.

Thinking about these ideas in the context of Wild Seed will help me, as well as the rest of my peers, understand how this thought can be applied to literature and how we can deduce these findings in our other works. Most notably, for me, I want to see how each author, again, reveals their own ideas about apocalypses and where each one falls on the spectrum.

Fear vs. Love

There is power in fear, but there is also power in love. Throughout the entirety of the first novel, the audience can see Essun in all three stages of life– whether as Damaya, Syenite, or Essun– being driven by the fear instilled in her by those around her. Essun has never known what real love is. How can she love her daughter in the ways her daughter craves when she has never received that kind of love herself? When Schaffa came to pick Essun up, her parents had been keeping her in the freezing barn in their backyard, isolated from anyone else. Her parents were too scared to be around her. To a normal person, a parent should be lobbying and comforting, but for Essun (or Damaya, at the time), her reality was skewed. She did not seem fond of this treatment of her parents, as most people would not be, but Schaffa insists, “You’re very lucky… Don’t think unkindly of your parents, Dama. You’re alive and well, and that is no small thing.” Her parents may have been acting in her best interest by giving her to the Fulcrum, but to a small child who just wants her family to love her, she already feels the isolation setting in. She is taught to fear her powers and those around her because she can cause them harm if she is not trained. Already, she finds herself living in fear, which will only progress as she moves forward. Damaya saw the power she held when she killed the boy on the playground and felt the fear of the people around her, including her own mother, leading to her going with Schaffa to the Fulcrum. Syenite was fueled by the fear of what could happen to her or Coru, her first child, if the Fulcrum discovered them after years of being on the remote island. When the Fulcrum did manage to track her down, she killed her own son in fear of him being sent to one of the node stations where his body would be kept half alive in an attempt to still any Earthly shakes until he became useless. In the midst of her struggle with the Fulcrum leaders, she thinks to herself, “Everyone she loves is dead. Except Coru. And if they take him–… Better that a child never have lived at all than live as a slave. Better that he die.” She allows her fear of the Fulcrum catching Coru to kill him and, in the process, maybe even kill herself. She does not think about what could happen if she escapes, but, instead, lets her fear lead her into killing everyone around her. When Syenite inevitably escaped that situation and the Fulcrum once more, only to rename herself as Essun, marry Jija, and start a new life with him, she allowed her fear to control her again as she demanded her children keep their abilities a secret. Her fear did not influence her, it controlled her, leading to a strained relationship with her daughter, Nassun, who resented Essun for never showing her the love and comfort she always longed for.
In the final installment of the trilogy, when Lerna dies, instead of being affected by his death (as they have since began a relationship and even have a child on the way), she says, “I didn’t even think I loved him.” She does not seem fazed much at all by his sudden death, showing her lack of love for those around her and begins her journey again, fearful that her daughter will destroy the world and kill herself in the process. Every time she does something, it is in fear of what the outcome will be. It never has to do with her love for those around her, the world, or even herself, it is always, somehow, rooted in the fear that has driven her entire life. Essun allowed her fear to lead her life, giving her power to those around her instead of keeping it for herself.
Nassun, on the other hand, found and granted power in love. Nassun loved her father, Jija, despite his hatred for orogenes and the fact that he killed her younger brother, Uche, because he was an orogene. She looked beyond this because her father had been so kind and endearing to her throughout her childhood when her mother had not. Because of this love, she followed her father to a far away comm and vowed to learn how to not be an orogene so that they could live harmoniously together. When Nassun began finding a new love, both for her orogene and her teacher, Schaffa, the love and admiration she once possessed for her father began to fade and she realized her father could never truly love and accept her due to her orogene status. She had once feared her father and what he could do to her if she stepped out of line, leading to her saying or doing specific things to ensure she never angered him. When her love died down and she saw her father for what he truly was (an abusive, fearful coward), the power he once held over her dwindled, allowing Nassun to escape her father’s grasp and become an even more powerful orogene. She realized, “he’s said that he loved her, after all, but that obviously isn’t true. He cannot love an orogene, and that is what she is.” The power dynamic shifted. She blames her mother for the “loss of that perfect love,” which is how she describes the love she once shared with her father (the love he gave her before he realized she was the one thing he always hated– an orogene). Nassun thinks “You should have had us with someone stronger” placing the blame on her mother, whom she feels no love for because “She knows her mother can bear it.” The power was no longer in the hands of outside forces, but rather in Nassun’s own hands. She takes it into her own account to kill her father, gaining revenge for all of the fear, lying, and years of fake love he has provided her with. She gives herself power and learns to live for herself. She would soon relinquish her power to the likes of Schaffa and Steel, allowing them and their wills, respectively, to lead her decisions, but her awarding of this power was never based in fear, but always in love. She chooses to give her power away to Schaffa and follow Steal’s will because it will help Schaffa. All she wants is for someone to love her– all of her, not just the pretty parts, but the strong, orogenic parts as well. Nassun wanted to do whatever she could to make Schaffa comfortable, which is why she listened and followed Steel in the first place. He promised his will would help Schaffa feel better and escape his past guardianship and Nassun was so entranced she blindly followed him. Even at the end of The Stone Sky when Steal tells Nassun to “Put us broken monsters out of our misery, Nassun. The Earth, Schaff, me, you… all of us,” she allows her love for Schaffa to lead her. She wonders if making him a stoneater will ease his pain, but knows that living for the rest of eternity could be as unbearable as that pain is. She must choose to let him go– the one person who has ever loved her unconditionally– or make him live for eternity just so she does not lose him. When she decides to change the world, it says, “Marvel, instead, at how easily she loves, how thoroughly. Love enough to change the world!” Even in her final moments, Nassun wishes to use her love as a means of leading her decisions and changing the cruel world they have been living in for so long. Despite her terrible life, she allows love to peak in through the cracks of herself and guide her in her decision-making. Where her mother allowed her fear to dictate every move she made, Nassun allowed her love to do the same.
One could argue that Essun was also led by love– for Coru, for her children, for herself– but this is far outweighed when you realize that it is hard for Essun to love anyone because she never truly loves herself. As cliche as it might sound, Essun has never truly been loved by anyone. Every person she has come into contact with, besides maybe Innon, have had some reason to fear her or not love her. In the end, one of the hardest things for the characters to come to terms with is love. Orogenes are so despised by the world around them that they never truly get to know what it feels like to be loved and accepted unconditionally. There is alway some fear or hatred thrown their way by the people they are around, even if they are trying to protect them. Hoa sums it up perfectly when talking to Essun, saying, “I think… that if you love someone, you don’t get to choose how they love you back.” No matter how Essun and Nassun choose to live their lives, they will never get the opportunity to make someone love them back in the same unconditional way. This can be seen in the instances with Essun’s parents, her acquaintances at the Fulcrum, and even Jija. She could not make any of them love her or accept her the way she wanted them to and she began to fear those around her because of it. Jemison’s trilogy and her portrayal of Essun’s fear and Nassun’s love shows the complexity of life and of the world around them. These characters are just like metamorphic rocks– when they are put under pressure, they grow stronger, adding more layers to them as they progress. Their pressure is very similar, yet each character allows this build-up to shape them differently, drastically impacting how they lead their lives and what they live for. In the end, Nassun was always driven by her love for those around her and Essun was always fueled by the fear of what is to come.
From the first essay to this one, it was so interesting to see how different the two characters were in their journeys and how they adapted to the pressures they were put under. It was crazy to see how skewed Essun’s view on love was and how disconnected her and Nassun ended up being. Hoa’s quote, written above, about not being able to choose how people love you was so insightful and real and the characters expertly backed this idea up. The different kinds of love and the differences in motivations quickly became my favorite part of the story from the beginning of the semester until now.

Injustice and Unfair Power Dynamics related to Natural Disasters

There are many reasons one should look at both the scientific and ideas of power and justice with the world of The Fifth Season. There is no real way to completely disconnect the two ideals, as they are so interwoven throughout the novel. The Orogenes’ abilities and emotions, without proper training, can lead to earthquakes or other natural disasters, which becomes important when looking at the injustice and power difficulties they face throughout the journey. The power and justice and science behind some of the most destructive natural disasters are directly related throughout the story.

One of the main ways the audience can note this is by looking at the way the Fulcrum, and many other people, treat Orogenes. The humans and Guardians constantly look down, gawk at, and fear both the Orogenes. It has been so ingrained into society that these types of people learn to hide their true identities so as to not be taken away as once their secret comes to life, they are sent to the Fulcrum to be dealt with as the leaders see fit. This kind of treatment leads to a great power and justice imbalance as Orogenes are seen as nothing more than people needed to calm the quakes and do whatever the Fulcrum and their Guardian tell them to do. They seemingly lose all agency and freedom as soon as they are turned over to the Fulcrum, not even having a choice in their own procreation. The Orogenes are constantly oppressed and though they carry a gift or skill that cannot be taught, they are continuously looked at as monsters. One of the first things Schaffa says to Damaya, even, is “You’re a gift to the Earth– but Father Earth hates us, never forget, and his gifts are neither free nor safe,” then tells her that the only way she will become truly valuable and useful is if she comes to the Fulcrum and learns to control her power. From the start, the Guardian is striking fear and resentment into Damaya, teaching her that the Fulcrum is the only place she will feel safe, setting up the precedent for an unequal power dynamic and injustice. The Fulcrum also view their Orogenes as nothing more than objects, which becomes quite clear when looking at how they treat those who are not able to control themselves. The body in the node’s chair is described as “thin, its limbs atrophied,” as well as having tubes and things sticking out of it and a bag attached for it to poop in, which “needs to be changed.” If the Orogene is not able to control themselves, but their power is still useful, they are treated as objects, left in a half alive state until their body finally gives out. The Fulcrum holds all the power and ensures the Orogenes know what will happen to them if they choose not to be a part of the Fulcrum or if they cannot learn to control their abilities. There is an unjust system set inplace to ensure the power is maintained in the Fulcrum and that the Orogenes know they will always be considered “less than.”

The characters are directly related to the natural disasters themselves. Nur and Burgess write, “The depth of the earthquake focus also plays a large role; deeper earthquakes have lower intensities than shallow ones and spread out over larger regions.” The deeper the pain, fear, and injustice felt by Syenite, the more destruction she seems to cause. The audience can see this toward the end of Syenite’s conflict with the Fulcrum as they come to the island and try to take Coru back with them. Because Coru had been brought up on the island and there was little they could do at his age to train him the way they would have wanted to, Coru would have most likely become one of the children in a nodes station, being kept alive only for the needs of the Fulcrum. Syenite feared this truth and before anyone could stop her, “She opens herself to all the power of the ancient unknown, and tears the world apart.” Her fear of this unjust treatment for her child was so deep that she quite literally destroyed the whole world to ensure her child would not be kept alive in such a gruesome manner. This sense of destruction based on emotion can also be seen when Syenite tries to give Coru to Deelashat, another woman on the island, when she sees people from the Fulcrum trying to come onto the island. Jemison describes, “He clings to Syenite, screaming and kicking and– Evil Earth, the whole island rocks all of a sudden.” Coru has never learned to control his emotions and causes quales based on his emotional responses. The deeper the child feels, the more he rocks the island and though this does not relate directly to power or injustice, it circles back to the way earthquakes work.

The constant pressure placed upon Syenite, Alabaster, or any of the other Orogenes is also an important factor.  Alessandra Potenza explains in her article “Images of Hawaii’s Kilauea Volcano Show the Destructive Power of Nature in Action” that as cracks begin to open and pressure begins to build, lava is able to come out from the Earth and spread around, causing death and destruction in its wake. She writes, “The cracks appear because the magma is building up lots of pressure underground, causing the land to fracture and the lava to flow out.” Just as the cracks begin to appear in the ground and allow magma to ooze out because the pressure of the Earth has become too much for the ground to take, so do the Orogenes succumb to the pressure around them and begin to break as well. They learn to control this power, but most Orogenes are found because they allow their emotions to get the best of them, like Uche, Coru, or even Damaya. If they cannot learn to control their emotions, and this internal pressure builds and builds and builds until there is nowhere else to go but out, the Orogenes will, unfortunately, cause more harm than good. Schaffa tells Damaya, “It’s common for an orogene to discover themselves by killing a family member or friend. The people we love are the ones who hurt us the most, after all.” When the boy at school pushed Damaya, she felt angry and scared and having no training, she did what an Orogene does and ended up killing the boy– not out of hate or disgust, but because “the power within you does not distinguish. It does not recognize degree.” In other words, whether Damaya faced a big threat, like someone wanting to kill her, or a little threat, like being pushed, her power would react the same. There is a pressure inside of her, begging to be released. The Fulcrum uses this fear of killing people against the Orogenes, reinforcing, once again, the unjust power dynamic and giving themselves the upper hand in the end. 

The reason the reader needs to focus on both the scientific ideas in the novel and the themes of power and justice is because they go hand in hand. The way in which the characters react to the injustice they face or the power dynamics that are against them expertly parallels the natural progression of volcanoes or earthquakes. To truly understand the complexities of the Orogenes and the injustices they face, one must look at the science behind the natural disasters to get the full effect of how their situation causes their reactions.