Immortality, Decapitation, Heroin, & Aliens: Markers of the Apocalypse

Lidabel Avila, Adelia Callear, Kendall Cruise, Madolley Donzo, Marlee Fancett, Kya Primm, Nicholas Parks, Maddie Butler

Ricky Rice, a former drug addict who works at the Utica train station receives a bus ticket––an invitation––to make good on a promise forged in Cedar Rapids. After making his trip to the secret foundation of the Washburn Library, he is employed to uncover the whereabouts of the Voice—a mysterious speaker that seldom reveals itself and whispers advice to the Scholars of the Library. Here, Ricky is later promoted to go on a trip West with another scholar, Adele Henry, to halt rogue scholar Solomon Clay’s plans of revanchism. After a mission to a sewer to find other possible secrets, Ricky is attacked by a mysterious figure that Adele refers to as one of “The Devils of the Marsh.” Throughout the time afterwards, Ricky grows weaker, eventually going to the hospital where he discovers that the symptoms of his sickness are synonymous with those of pregnancy. Him and Adele further track down Clay while Ricky has multiple flashbacks to his troubled past. He grew up in a heavily religious cult, worshiping the Washerwomen’s teachings that stated how other churches are all corrupt. Eventually, the Washerwomen’s followers found themselves in conflict with the police. Facing their end, the Washerwomen begin killing, or “sacrificing,” their followers to “save” them, including Ricky’s sister Daphne, whom he unknowingly shoved in front of him in a panic to escape. Later in his life, he made his way to Cedar Rapids to meet up with his childhood friend Wilfred, who also suffered from the trauma at the hands of the cult. This ended up being a set-up where he was trapped in a basement with stray cats who eventually began to seem to eat his soul, causing him to gather up the strength to escape. Additionally, we find out about Adele’s eventful and traumatic past where she was sexually assaulted, heavily tortured, and almost killed. She was then employed by the Library to help them find signs of The Voice, and eventually stop Snooky Washburn from selling the Library. In her mission to do the latter, she, along with Solomon Clay,  travel to Garland to convince Snooky not to go through with the sale. The trio travels into the Devil’s Well where they meet the Swamp Angels who work for the Voice. The Angels try to get Adele to shoot Clay but instead, for the sake of the Library, she shoots Snooky. The Angels, in the midst of the chaos, are subsequently killed. She later hears the Voice revealing a message to her which we discover is “Invite them back in.” Going back to the present, Ricky comes to the conclusion that he was impregnated by a Swamp Angel, and he is unsure if he will survive the delivery. Adele and Ricky then find Clay and his followers about to sacrifice themselves for their cause. Ricky goes to kill Soloman and two more Angels appear to help. The Angels sacrifice themselves to finish Clay’s death, prompting Adele and Ricky to leave. This sacrifice results in Ricky being the carrier for the last Angel. 

Upon hearing the message from the Voice, Ricky Rice exclaims, “What the hell does that even mean?”, prompting him to analyze both himself and his society—but more specifically, the Unlikely Scholars he surrounds himself with (LaValle 359). We learn that the Voice instructs Adele to “Invite them back in,” calling into question who the Voice is referring to, and how doing so might work to fulfill the goals of the Library (LaValle 364). We believe this articulation is referring to the redemption of multiple figures throughout the novel, which can be seen as a recurring theme that influences the character’s decisions. The most prominent instance would be the return of the Angels and the different responses the characters have to them, primarily reacting to their appearances. The vile and unusual appearances of the Swamp Angels sparks a plethora of emotions, ranging anywhere from fear, hatred, admiration, and even love. Adele is then reminded of the truth that the different appearances offer, which is that “the face of goodness may surprise you” (LaValle 265). This interaction lays the necessary groundwork for the later themes within the novel, reminding the audience that what may be visible to you is not the complete story, and maybe you have to look beyond your biased perceptions. Additionally, the Unlikely Scholars start off their redemption journey by breaking away from their criminal pasts, attempting to move forward from the time they were seen as despised and rejected by society. Due to their harsh rejection from society, they begin to internalize those ideas and project them onto others who also covet being perceived as  “normal.” Solomon Clay goes on to describe human beings by stating, “The despised become despicable. God damn! We’re worse than animals! We’re like monsters” (LaValle 282). On the journey of the Unlikely Scholar’s redemption, they abandon the past that held them back, however, many additionally reject the Angels on the basis of their appearance alone. They have become jaded and “despicable” in the eyes of the Voice because they refuse to look beyond their first impressions and see the power and asylum those beings bring. Ricky instead breaks from the typical pattern of the Scholars and accepts the help the Angels are willing to bring, despite their appearance. He begins to have a revelation and recognizes that objectively attractive people—such as Solomon Clay—may not possess the goodness that society expects of them. The ability to look beyond appearances speaks largely to a redemption arc, further connected to the idea of forgiving someone by seeing the situation from their perspective. 

The redemption arc throughout the novel, can be seen most intimately through the main character Ricky Rice as he considers his childhood traumas and how they’ve impacted the man he has grown to be and also the man he wants to become. As a child, Ricky Rice grew up within the cult of the Washerwomen and, as part of their religious duties, his parents had to go on “commissions,”  in which they would spread information about the cult door-to-door. When his mother was late to return from her commission because of an accident, Ricky’s father was “eager to go on his assignment and wasn’t willing to wait,” desiring “his full hundred and fifty days away,” since there would be “No children demanding” (LaValle 329). Ricky reflects that “Time alone is pornography for people with families,” which foreshadows the trauma Ricky has when his father must return from his commission to pick his child up from an orphanage and, after a brief lunch, drops him back off, briefly intending to leave him there before retunring to pick Ricky back up and bring him home (LaValle 329). Later in life, when in the face of death with the two spiritual cats chewing away at his soul through his leg, Ricky remembers this moment in his childhood and considers that “Leaving me behind wasn’t what had made my father feel guilty” and that “He’d felt guilty because leaving me behind had been so easy” (LaValle 338).  Ricky gains the realization that “the cats stopped eating. Not when I thought about what my father had done to me, or even when I admitted what I’d done to Gayle, but when I asked myself if I was satisfied with the life I’d led” (LaValle 339). As Ricky is battling to live and feeling unsatisfied with his life, he’s seeking redemption and he expresses, “I know I’ve been selfish. But there’s still some good in me. I can stop being a coward. I can be brave. I promise” (LaValle 339). Ricky explains his inability to forgive himself until he finds the courage to forgive his past and his parents, he says,  “You can’t forgive them unless you do. And I forgive them now” (LaValle 363). In order for Ricky Rice to move forward with his plans of redemption and individual growth, he must be challenged with the task of forgiving those who have taken part in his past traumas, as well as himself for the perceived mistakes he’s made in his life. By following Ricky’s redemption arc, readers see the expansion of his values concerning forgiveness and redemption, and he begins to see how these are applied to the society he lives in as well, which the angels seem to suggest with the line “Invite them back in.” This can be seen through many big machines, like the acceptance of the Unlikely Scholars into the Washburn Library, the homeless population by Solomon Clay, and the Angels—which have been perceived as devils thus far in the novel by humans. Highlighting aspects of redemption in this story allows us to gain insight on both the struggles Ricky encounters with forgiving, and an understanding of how redemption and forgiveness play a larger role in an apocalypse.

In the context of apocalyptic events, a common thread amongst the course readings for this semester has been the idea that an apocalypse proposes an opportunity for the chance to be ‘redeemed’. Andrew Santana Kaplan defines an apocalypse as “commonly associated with the end of the World, [but] etymologically, it primarily means to un-cover…” (Kaplan 81). To uncover something or a world can then be paralleled to the concept of redemption: to redeem a world, after it’s been destroyed, to a ‘healed’ version of what it once was. Linked to this definition of apocalypse in Kaplan’s essay, is the concept of ontological identity, specifically in relation to Blackness, and how it “ is necessary for the redemption of degraded Humanity” (Kaplan 76). Here Kaplan draws attention to the connections between recognizing and embracing one’s unnormalized identity and how that can assist in redeeming beings that have been harmed by the world around them—resulting in their individual world’s ending. When LaValle writes that a divine figure declares  Adele to “Invite them back in,” he is proposing that those who have been ‘degraded,’ to use Kaplan’s language, can be given the space to redeem themselves by those who choose to invite them into those spaces (LaValle 364). Similar spaces to evolve, uncover, absolve, and reclaim aspects of one’s life/world have been presented in various novels throughout the course of this semester.

Redemption in Wild Seed stems from the impending death by suicide of Anyanwu as she prepares to leave everything she has known––even Doro. Brought to this realization, Doro knows that the only way to save himself from loneliness is to appeal to Anyanwu; to change himself into an image she would accept. In this sense, Doro wants Anyanwu to invite him back into her life: to stay with him for the rest of their immortal time on Earth, and to comfort each other’s loneliness if it may arise. Anyanwu—having originally been willing to let Doro back into her life, giving him a second chance after the cat-and-mouse game they have played for the last few decades—becomes hesitant when Doro kills Susan, one of the women he brought to live on Anyanwu’s plantation. The death of Susan brings Anyanwu to the revelation that Doro may never change. That he will always look at his people as nothing more than a source for his own power. Anyanwu had allowed Doro back into her life because she thought that he had finally understood that his need for breeding his people didn’t make him any better than the slavers. However, she was presented with the notion that Doro’s inert nature was to use his people until he no longer needed them and then to discard of them by jumping into their skin. Anyanwu is resigned to death because if she can’t change Doro, then what is the purpose of being alive. Once he realizes how important she is to him, he decides that he’ll change for her. That he will stop breeding his people, and killing just for the sake of killing. That he will work towards being a better person––that he will redeem himself––if it means that she will remain with him.

The idea of redemption is almost a cliche in  American Desert, but after further examination, it tells the story of a battle between Ted and his ego while he grapples with whether he will let his surrounding society, as well as his family, back into his life after his resuscitation. Ted is a failed academic in his eyes and has yet to accomplish anything notable, causing the college he worked for to deny him tenure. This severe blow to his ego contributed to his lackluster relationship at home with his wife and kids. This feeling of inferiority led him to cheat on his wife in search of validation, something he felt a relationship with a younger student could provide. Then, on his way to die by suicide, he is killed in an accident, being decapitated, only to have his wound be shoddily stitched up. Nevertheless, he reanimates during his funeral, sitting up in his coffin during his wake. In his experience of being alive, dead, and then alive again, Ted was able to find value in his family and find value in himself, despite his past failures and wrongdoings. He realized if he wanted to be happy and at peace, he needed to kill his ego, and dying was the jumpstart to that realization. In terms of the line “Invite them back in” from Big Machine, Ted had invited his family and society back into his life, this acceptance was the final test of whether he had killed his ego and truly advanced and redeemed himself.  Accepting life for its varying experiences, and realizing that other people are just as important to him, relieved him of the apocalypse he was undergoing. In this he was able to find grace in his family, which finally gave him the allowance to die.

In Lagoon, redemption for the corrupt, oil-dependent society comes with the introduction and integration of the alien lifeforms which are looking to enter the society in Lagos. The journey of the novel works to demonstrate the city inviting the aliens into their communities, both in a more abstract, emotional way, but also literally in their inhalation of the garden-egg smelling vapor. The latter example of the city’s shift eventually reveals the true subject that the society is allowing back in: the natural world, with true redemption for the inhabitants of Nigeria lying within this olive branch. In one, the aliens making the water more inhabitable for those who live within it, even at the detriment of human life, and two, cracking down on oil company corruption, then replacing that facet of the economy with advanced technology brought by the aliens, Lagos was then better able to link the natural world to the industrial, and makes a space where both can thrive and work together to create a more cohesive unit. 

Opportunities for redemption through invitation also present themselves in Pym by Mat Johnson, a self-proclaimed parody of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, that explores a similar story to Poe’s from the perspective of a Black professor who’s just lost his job. Presenting the novel as a parody to readers does two things: one, it offers a ‘redeemed’ perspective on Poe’s racist narrative—one that explores the connotations of perceived invitations at the end of the novel—and two, it allows readers to understand that opportunities of redemption can be given to those who might not deserve them. But for the sake of the person offering this opportunity, it might give them the chance to reclaim something that an offender has taken from them.

Lidabel™: At the beginning of the course , we encountered Layli Long Soldier’s poem “Obligations 2,” where she writes, “As we / embrace   resist / the future    the present   the past / we work   we struggle…to understand   to find   to unbraid   to accept…the grief   the grief   the grief   the grief.” In connection with our exploration of the other novels, especially Big Machine, Soldier’s ability to force their readers through ‘the grief’ in her poem is highly comparable to that ability of the writers we’ve encountered this semester—LaValle, Butler, Johnson, etc—to do the same for their characters. As each protagonist navigates through moments in their lives that produce differing levels of grief, in their lack of capacity to move past this, they are obligated to move through it, utilizing their apocalyptic experiences to reflect on their deservingness of redemption. Ultimately we, the protagonists and us as readers, are confronted with the concept that we are allowed to grant forgiveness and redemption to both others and ourselves. We must hone the self and social degradation that is produced before, during, and after times of apocalypse as opportunities to bestow repossession amongst ourselves and others.

Maddie™: This notion of our individual understanding and perceptions of the apocalypse determines the apocalyptic outcome. The bridge explosion, while horrific, can be viewed as a terrorist attack, which was not foreign knowledge to the characters in Big Machine, allowing them to band together and move forward. The result of the apocalyptic chaos caused by the explosion that was inflicted on the people on the bridge, caused unity, “couples, trios, and quartets of the people walked together on the streets. Holding each other up. Some of them were crying, others still shocked. But no one seemed abandoned” (LaValle 353).  Lack of familiarity in the face of the apocalypse is what caused the characters in American Desert to convert to chaos and violence rather than unification. Different types of the apocalypse are the bridges to encourage each individual’s apocalyptic outcome. Ricky Rice talks about the challenges in individual perceptions and basic human nature, “they were just human beings. No matter how many visions and dreams and visitations, they were still just folks at first. They didn’t know if they were right. They could only hope” (LaValle 366).

Madolley™: A pre apocalyptic event is a phase before the actual apocalypse, where individuals are preparing for what they perceive to be an end of their world or end of worlds. If one believes the apocalypse to be the birthing of the last angel then the entirety of Big Machine is a pre apocalyptic world that serves as the catalyst for not only Ricky and Adele but also for residents of Garland and anyone associated with the Washburn Library. Ricky is brought to the library by the Voice, taught how to search for odd occurrences/any presence of the Voice, and is then sent on a case-specific task. In Garland, Ricky is under the assumption that he’s there to help Adele deal with the Solomon Clay situation, however, it is revealed at the end of the story that the Dean only sent Ricky there because it was preordained by the Voice. That he couldn’t send his best scholars for fear of Ricky not making it out of the birthing of the last angel. Everything that happened in Garland: the explosions, the bombing, even the cult of Solomon Clay is a cover for the Dean’s ideology of enslaving this angel. Once Ricky and Adele are made aware of the plan, they are on the run. They know that it is their duty to tell everyone their story in order to stop the apocalypse from occurring, because if the Dean gets his way, who’s to say there won’t be more destruction of the world? With the introduction of the growing angel in Ricky, both his and Adele’s worlds are ending as they try to figure out where to go from there.

Kendall™: Within Big Machine, the machine of the Washburn Library operates explicitly under the pretense of their faith in The Voice. This release of control is innate to the structure of faith, and is what allows the apocalypse of this novel, as well as ones we have read previously in the course, to occur. At the end of the novel, when Ricky “invites” the Angles of the Marsh to control him and have faith in their actions, he allows them to assist him in shooting Solomon Clay and chooses to carry to term the last angel. These choices ultimately are what lead to the true apocalypse at the end of the novel, and in this way faith serves as the catalyst for the apocalyptic event, the birth of the last angel. This is also seen in novels like Lagoon, where when Ayodele dies and releases the mist, allowing for the final show of the invitation of the aliens and their society into Lagos, this then leads to the worldwide apocalypse in the body of the novel. This faith in the aliens and that they wish to better nature and society is what leads to the uncovering of the corrupt nature of not only Lagos and Nigeria, but allows for the same to be integrated in the world around them. Through these avenues the way that faith operates in the bodies of these novels help to further perpetuate the apocalypses of the characters in these novels.     

Adelia™: The Library serves hundreds of people, both in occupations, shelter, and purpose in life. It allows the addicts and lost individuals that are brought to the Library to discover a way to change themselves, giving them a new and more proactive life. The katechon is denoted by The Nomos of the Earth as “the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world” (Kaplan 80). Through this definition and its application to Big Machine, the primary force that acts against the chaos within society is the Washburn Library with its persistence in hindering its opposers. Not only does the Library implement order within the outside world, it creates a sanctuary for those repudiated from humanity. Santana Kaplan describes the katechon, in modernity, as “civil society”, or rather, “the World”, where the understanding of the two lies within how civil society is the center of “Human values” and this sets in place the Biblical interpretation of the World in “modernity” (Kaplan 80). In this interpretation, both aspects possess a shared “anti-Black structure” (Kaplan 80).  Through civil society being the katechon–yet holding a basis of anti-Blackness–it serves as both the stopper and agitator for the apocalypse; the Washburn Library stands in as society within Big Machine and henceforth reinforces tranquility for themselves, yet creates the disruptions within society, as the apocalyptic instigators come from within. Furthermore, the Washburn Library creates an opportunity for redemption for those rejected by society. This notion of redemption creates an intangible abstract katechon flowing through the overall goals of the Library and within each of the Unlikely Scholars as they attempt to discover the whereabouts of the Voice in order to reach salvation/acceptance by said higher power. Through redemption comes the action of working towards bettering oneself within society, yet it still remains the society in which initially rejected the Scholars and might continuously do so due to its anti-Black nature. 

Kya : We can also identify the dismissal of the homeless man’s statement and his subsequent exile from the bus as the katechon of the novel. In a plea to the bus riders, the homeless man says, “We even worse than animals…We like monsters” (LaValle 13). Despite the truth of his statement, it goes ignored because they couldn’t be bothered by his outbursts, even if it meant leaving him out in the cold. Had Ricky and the machine invited the man back in, they could have spurred redemption and thus, the apocalypse earlier. Meanwhile, Solomon Clay goes on to say the exact sentiment later in the novel: “We’re worse than animals! We’re like monsters” (LaValle 282). Solomon’s use of proper grammar and his non-threatening appearance appealed to Ricky because they perceived the homeless man as unruly and improper—and thus was someone to be ignored, unworthy of their forgiveness. By the end of the novel, Ricky acknowledged the mistake of “sacrificing” the homeless man and he effectively began the library and the world’s journey to redemption–looking beyond their initial perception and judgment to begin inviting them back in. 

Nick™: The apocalypse for Ricky started when he lost his sister to the washerwomen, his apocalypse ended when he accepted what his life was and what he had experienced. This is similar to Ted, where his apocalypse was arguably his whole life; even before he had “died” the first time, his apocalypse ended when he had freed himself from what he had done, experienced and went through. Ted and Ricky both ended their apocalypse when they set their minds free and freed themself from the trauma that had controlled their lives. They also ended their apocalypse when they let go of their ego, Ted was tormented from the “what if’s” in his life and Ricky was tormented by his ego in terms of holding onto his past or future self-importance, understanding that accepting and letting go has purpose and value in achieving calmness of the mind. As well,  Doro had a huge impeding ego that caused the death of countless peoples and uprooting of many lives in a negative way.  His apocalypse was his ability to never die and this apocalypse was only able to end when he let go of his ego, which meant lending his life over in support of Anyanwu and stopping his destructive habits and release of his power hungry cravings. 

Marlee™: Big Machine attests to a series of apocalypses through Ricky Rice’s life, from his childhood through his adulthood, and suggests that there will be more apocalypses down the line. This interpretation draws from Santana Kaplan’s characteristics of apocalypses, and that “The paradigm is not merely a particular phenomenon, nor is it a universal, but is rather a ‘singular case that is isolated from its context only insofar as, by exhibiting its own singularity, it makes intelligible a new ensemble” (Kaplan 18; quote from Agamben’s Signature). The first singular case Ricky experiences that marks a major apocalypse in his life is when he is separated from his childhood with the Washerwomen during the shoot-out in the staircase, and reflecting on it later in life, he considers that maybe he’d also died on that day. With this realization, Ricky is able to begin to consider the other apocalypses of his life: when he finds part of his soul eaten away by spiritual cats in a basement in Cedar Rapids, when he becomes an Unlikely Scholar, and now, as he is pregnant with the last living Angel. This, however, will not be the last apocalypse in Ricky’s life, which he seems to acknowledge in the concluding chapter. There are only more apocalypses to come.

For Your Viewing Pleasure – Title Possibilities:

  1. The Man, The Myth, The Legend: Ricky Rice
  2. To Our Ancestors: Please Forgive Us for Forgetting We are Fish
    1. What Ricky Rice’s Search For Redemption Has Taught Us: We All Need to be Forgiven for Forgetting We Are Fish
  3. We’ve Forgotten We’re Fish but Ricky Rice Hasn’t: Returning to our Syngnathidaen Roots
    1. We’ve Forgotten We’re Fish but Ricky Rice Hasn’t: Becoming a Syngnathidaen Marsupial
  4. The Last Angel on Earth: Surviving Doomsday through Male Pregnancy 
  5. Ricky Rice,  Syngnathidae Extraordinaire
  6. Seahorses are Not Marsupials but Ricky Rice Is and Yet Both Are Pregnant
  7. Marsupials for the Divine
  8. Apocalypse and Redemption: A Murder of the Ego
  9. A Hivemind’s Perception of the End
  10. Chick-fil-a’s apocalyptic end
  11. The straightforward path of the Apocalypse 
  12. Apocalypse: The New Plan B One-Step
  13. Redemption in Light of the Apocalypse 
  14. Seeking Redemption: Through Title Generation, We’ve Created our Own Apocalypse
  15. End of it all: the apocalypse, Ricky, and this class
  16. Redemption despite Destruction
  17. Heroin and Decapitation: The Apocalypse is the Cure
  18. Cults, Heroin, Redemption, & Pregnancy: A Ricky Rice Story
  19. Ricky Rice: a realization that pregnancy is actually, indeed, hard (and not giving)
  20. Immortality, Decapitation, Heroin, & Aliens: Markers of the Apocalypse

The Need to End All Worlds [for the sake of better beginnings]

The act of reconstruction is a constant performance. To go about rebuilding anything—city, country, mindset, world, language, or person—there must be the original pieces of what was destroyed or, at some levels, taken. Apocalyptic events (or people) can result in such losses, leading to forms of recovery that can take small eternities to complete. Seeing as an apocalypse marks the end of a world, and [re]construction the beginning or continuation of one once established, it is possible to infer that one cannot exist without the other. However, there may be times where an apocalyptic restoration is in order: to build a better product than what was created, and ultimately dismantled (in some cases, some that would have benefited from a dismantling or two), the remaining fragments must be razed to the ground, and a new foundation must be built. This isn’t to say that all things must be destroyed for the sake of their betterment or progression, but it is definitely an avenue that can be chosen. All things don’t always have to come to apocalyptic ends, but they still carry the capacity to do so. As presented to readers in Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and accompanied by Andrew Santana Kaplan’s essay “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” the endings of worlds have heavy consequences, with very little thought into the reconstruction of them if these endings are sudden or these worlds are deeply rooted in the mentality of a forceful majority. And, often, apocalyptic restoration is chosen out of desperation in the aftermaths of these events. But how else can one build a more suitable, stable, [human] home if the old one isn’t burned twice? 

To first focus on the word apocalypse: the end of an established world. Because popular representations of apocalyptic scenarios are often seen to be drastically affecting an entire country or planet, people tend to engage with the word in disbelief, assuming it to be more of an impossibility than a probable event. But a world of any kind will always have the possibility of getting destroyed. Even in the case of Anyanwu, Butler’s main protagonist in Wild Seed, as God-like and immortal as she is, her worlds still had the capacity to end. While the tragedies that led to the loss of her spheres were on a relatively personal scale, it is important to understand that most devistations are felt the most at individual levels. Doro—Anyanwu’s counter throughout the story, and another God-like being she shares the burden of immortality with—and his actions are the central cause to a lot of the pain she experiences, as he continuously breeds powerful beings into existence (with and without her) and kills others to sustain his life. This cycle of creation and taking life is essential to understanding his apocalyptic nature of being. Doro takes individual worlds and creates new ones consistently, doing so to ensure his doesn’t meet a devastating conclusion. However, as he extends this nature in his interactions with Anyanwu, both giving her new worlds to take care of and taking those she cared for already, Doro is faced with the consequence of possibly losing her at the end of the novel, when Anyanwu threatens to take her life in response to the high amount of suffering he forced her to endure for centuries. The taking of her life would have been an act of apocalyptic restoration, in that she was choosing to eliminate one world in the hopes that a new one be built in the wake of her loss and Doro’s guilt for all the pain he has caused. Now, while ending her life would have resulted in the loss of two worlds, hers and Doro’s—as he was heavily dependent on her by the end of the novel: “Sun Woman, please don’t leave me,” (Butler 296) he cried as he realized what a great loss she would be to him—her choice to keep living resulted in circumstantial changes for the both of them, with each of them coming to a compromise about their relationship to one another. This came after the possibility of an apocalypse preceded by several others: a reconstruction caused by too many instances of ruin.

Next: to speak again on behalf of the allowance of being. Kaplan’s essay explores, mostly philosophically, what it means to be in an anti-Black society. He writes that, “In order to this preserve its metaphysical void, the modern World ‘systematically murders [black] relationality…antiblackness is the systematic and global death of this primordial relation [to the Being],’” (Kaplan 74). In other words, to be born Black into an anti-Black society is to be born but perceived as a ‘non-being’ for the sake of segregation and separatism. One of Kaplan’s main arguments is that this mentality, as well as the questions brought about it, are rooted in anti-Black language that was ultimately used to create multi-institutional racist systems. While there has been a lot of recent work around dismantling the foundation of the systems, Kaplan suggests that concepts such as Black faith and Afro-pessimism can offer a way to fully eliminate this ‘original’ language and re-establish new terms on which these systems should be built on. A kind of apocalyptic restoration to assist in, or help begin, the construction of a fully anti-Black world and society. In doing so, there would be an increase in huminization towards marginalized communities and their beliefs. However, doing so would also mean the end of a familiar world to many, even one rooted in anti-Black paradigms. But, this necessary torching of the familiar will benefit all those who have been left to wonder if they are allowed to partake in being

In examining the many apocalypses in Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed, and the proposal of a particular one by Andrew Santana Kaplan, it can be said that change is near impossible without worlds coming to an end. Layli Long Soldier wrote in her poem Obligations 2 of moving through time with compassion, “to understand, to find, to unbraid, to accept, to question / the grief, the grief,  the grief, the grief.” The form and structure of the poem makes it very unlikely that a reader can get through any reading of it without being forced to move through the grief.* Every apocalypse will result in a grieving of sorts, but restoration comes in growing through that, and understanding that grief is a side effect of the world ending.

*This realization was made after several readings of the poem in class and was brought to our attention by Dr. Beth McCoy as a way to get us thinkING about how to move through a lot of the books we will be reading throughout the semester.

To Control What Breathes: A Greedy & Fruitless Endeavor

Earlier in the semester, I reflected on N. K. Jemisin’s use of unyieldingly strong power—that of Orogenes and the Earth’s in her first novel of The Broken Earth trilogy, The Fifth Season—and how it stands against those who attempt to harness or manipulate it. I claimed that, “both the natural world and orogenes…[are] subjected to great degrees of restraint by individuals in power,” (Avila) all the while containing an immense amount of power within themselves. In navigating the rest of The Broken Earth trilogy, I have examined this notion further, revisiting the conclusion that humans and the geological environment that surrounds them have autonomy regardless of oppression. Therefore, trying to put restraints on those that have and can develop autonomy is not only a pointless effort, but one rooted in a desire for personal gain. I described how, “Orogenes—under the watchful eye of a discriminatory society, the Fulcrum and their Guardians (if given the ‘opportunity’)—and the geological world—at the hands of law makers, large corporations, humanity, and capitalism—are both underestimated in their capabilities,” (Avila) and that limitations, such as these, are to no avail if the ones implementing these limits don’t understand, or refuse to acknowledge, that they are severely unmatched in their strength compared to the ones they try to control. In their underestimation and, more importantly, exploitation of others, they are blind to signs of resistance and ignorant to the failure of prior attempts to dominate people and places. This observation, both in the novels and in actuality, can get others considering how they approach learning about and interacting with the natural world and others in it. 

Fracking & Faults: A History of Exploitation & Enslavement

There are several repercussions to all parties when it comes to dismissing, placing restraints on, and trying to defy powerful, living beings. All that is sentient comes with stressors and, with it, its breaking points. Earth has its fault lines and, similarly, humans have their physical and emotional boundaries. Both, when subjected to centuries of abuse and misuse, are subject to snap under pressure. 

Firstly, let us explore this concept under the lens of N. K. Jemisin’s world in The Broken Earth novels. The first in the trilogy, The Fifth Season, introduces readers to the supercontinent of ‘The Stillness’ and the power dynamics within it: Orogenes, both in/from the Fulcrum and out of it, under the firm hand of Guardians and stills, being forced to serve them and their seismic needs in order to keep the overly active Earth at bay. Orogenes that do not find themselves constrained by the internment of the Fulcrum are referred to as ‘ferals’ (as if the animalistic treatment of Orogenes wasn’t enough to convince stills and Guardians that they should not be considered human). Regardless of background, all oroegenes are expected to be enslaved and utilized to protect the continent and its inhabitants from cataclysmic events or minor geological inconveniences. One of the major characters in the trilogy, Alabaster, notes in the first book, “‘They are gods in chains…The tamers of the wild earth, themselves to be bridled and muzzled,’” (Jemisin 167). Similar to how orogenic people are viewed and assumed to be subservient, the geosphere below them—Father Earth, as Jemisin’s characters refer to him—has historically been used as a source of power by humans of all abilities (Orogenes, Guardians, stills, stone eaters, etc). In the second novel, The Obelisk Gate, we learn that humans originally began digging into Father Earth to contain and use his power for a variety of reasons. Jemisin delves into the specifics of this repeated cycle of exploitation in the final novel of the trilogy, specifically, but more on that later. 

There are obvious parallels between Father Earth and the Earth we know in the real world: both under constant suffering of human induced climate problems and self-indulgent practices that deplete them of their natural resources. However, a quality they seem to share with orogenes and marginalized people alike is that of overpowered beings refusing to acknowledge their humanity or existence as a living entity. For centuries, people on The Stillness have rejected the idea of orogenes being people and Father Earth being alive, both with their own intentions, drives, and [super]natural abilities. Likewise, people in marginalized communities and the Earth, as we know it, have been subjected to others ignoring their basic needs for respect and survival. Jemisin draws attention to this and urges readers to reflect on the power dynamics of their environment through the use of her ‘fictional’ world.

Shakes & Eruptions: ‘Unexpected’ Resistance

Because those in power have been, and are, so accustomed to the ones they enslave being subservient, they are constantly under the impression that resistance is the last thing they have to worry about. I noted in my previous reflection on Jemisin’s novels, “Stills and Guardians, much like companies and everyday people in relation to the earth, are so convinced that the power they hold over orogenes is so absolute and concrete, they would never expect them to act on their own accord…” (Avila). However, regardless of circumstance, the oppressed always have the strength to establish a sense of autonomy, even if it’s rooted deep within them. There are several accounts of resistance in Jemisin’s trilogy and several countries’ histories in the real world, especially when examining first hand accounts of those who have been oppressed. To understand why an entire group of people (or, in Jemisin’s case, an entire sentient globe) chose paths of defiance against those who have enslaved them for so long, one must be conscious of two concepts. One, that oppressors will most likely attempt to record the history of the oppressed—often shaping the minds of readers and researchers into perceiving the oppressed as ‘deserving of their suffering’—and two, that the most accurate depiction of ones experience with discrimination and resistance will always be written by the abused. 

To begin with a prime example of opposition in an unjust society, Ella Forbes’ essay, African Resistance to Enslavement: The Nature of the Evidentiary Record, goes into detail on how false narratives led those who participated in the slave trade and people, centuries after, who learn the eurocentric history of slavery, to assume enslaved people were passive or too weak to resist. She explains how very little resistance was recorded or released publicly to enforce this narrative, though, she writes, “The narratives of Africans who had been enslaved offer the most Afrocentric look at resistance…although Eurocentric writers have dismissed them as abolitionist propaganda,” (Forbes, 39-40). Comparably, there are several instances in The Broken Earth trilogy where the practice of resistance was heavily erased through ‘Imperial history’ excerpts, typically found at the end of chapters in the novels, or was made to feel impossible through heavy surveillance. (Contrarily, in terms of the Fulcrum or fragment complexes, where Tuners were held, [again, more on these later], little or concentrated surveillance was presented to those being forced into labor because they were brainwashed to be cooperative: “No need for guards when you can convince people to collaborate in their own internment.” (The Stone Sky, Jemisin 5).) 

In order to contrast these narratives, Jemisin’s use of changing perspectives between chapters assists the reader in understanding the actuality of a suppressed person’s suffering, and, ultimately, the motivation to fight against their oppressors. For instance, Jemisin guides readers through the first novel by switching the perspective of narration from Essun to Syenite to Damaya. Once it’s revealed that they are all the same character, just at different times in her life, readers have a better understanding of Essuns overall experiences, eventually leading her (Syenite) to destroy the city of Allia and the island of Meov when under the attack of Fulcrum Guardians. In the second book, The Obelisk Gate, readers are given a surprising point of view to read from: (Damaya/Syenite’s) Guardian Schaffa. It is through this narration that we learn he, and all Guardians, are technically under the control of Father Earth himself, and have been for hundreds to thousands of years. However, when Schaffa develops a close relationship to Nassun, Essun’s daughter, his will overpowers that of the Earth’s and his commands. This painful act of defiance—quite literally, as it is killing Schaffa to do so—is another experience that would have been overlooked if the narrative had only stuck with a single character’s perspective. While it is disclosed that Father Earth was the true entity and source of control behind the cruelty of the Guardians, it is fully unveiled in the final book that this forced mastery was also a personal, confrontational reaction to years of exploitation at the hands of people who did not acknowledge the personification of the Earth. These people, the Sylanagistine, sparked the war among humanity the characters in Jemisin’s novels are presented with and must navigate for survival.

A Blind Eye to Rubble: Neglected Warning Signs

The ancient people and society of Syl Anagist is made known to readers in The Stone Sky, the final book in the trilogy. Here is where N. K. Jemisin reveals the parallels between that world and the current one of The Stillness (like a reverse foreshadowing). To name a few:

  • In the world of Syl Anagist, orogenic power is combined with magic, harnessed from the core of the Earth. The individuals who can channel this unification of abilities are called Tuners. I don’t think I have to explain who they compare to the most in The Stillness.
  • Tuners live and work out of a complex of buildings that surround a cities ‘local fragment’ (later known as the obelisks in The Stillness), where they are not permitted to leave unless for work or with a Conductor (those who oversee and give them orders). Their own ‘Fulcrum’ and set of ‘Guardians,’ how fitting.
  • Surrounding each fragment/obelisk, there are thick vines (‘sinklines’) with Tuners intertwined in a half-dead state to power the magic within the fragments, providing a constant source of power to the surrounding city (Jemisin 262). These can be connected to the node stations in The Stillness, where strong, young Orogenes are put in wire chairs to keep the strata stable for its surrounding Comms. 

When the Tuners came to realize their eventual fate was to either be killed or placed into a sinkline, that their existence was merely for the depletion of the Earth’s resources, and they were forever meant to serve others that saw them as less than human, they devised a plan to destroy the Conductors’ attempt at containing more magic. This resulted in the loss of the Moon: dooming it into an abnormal orbit away from the Earth, causing the deadly Seasons on the continent of The Stillness. The Earth combatted this act as best as he could, using the power of the fragments the way the Tuners did to cause this catastrophe in the first place. As a form of merciful vengeance, he turned Tuners into what the people on The Stillness know as stone eaters. (It is also speculated that he turned Conductors into Guardians by placing shards of iron from the Earth’s core into their sessapaines). The stone eaters, and this mostly unknown history of the world, act as a warning sign to future generations and societies of people who try to dehumanize and utilize people for their abilities and identities. 

In reference to the world we live in today, there is a widely ‘understood’ concept of history repeating itself, as people refuse to acknowledge historical warning signals and allow major unjust or destructive events to occur. Japan, most notably, has its own cautions set in stone. Martin Fackler, in an article titled Tsunami Warnings, Written in Stone, investigates centuries old stone tablets across the coast of Japan with messages carved into them: warnings to not build structures, live, or frequent certain places because of previous destruction in them caused by tsunamis. He explains how some people abide by these instructions, while others (mainly modern architects, engineers, and companies) were convinced that “advanced technology and higher seawalls would protect vulnerable areas…” (Fackler). When driven by greed, personal gain, superiority complexes, and insensible perspectives, whole areas of the world, and groups of people within them, can meet detrimental fates. This is true for business and home owners on the coast of Japanese islands, as well as the Earth and characters in Jemisin’s trilogy, who endured traumatizing experiences founded on the ignorance of others. When starting to explain the world of Syl Anagist to the reader, Hoa, the primary narrator, states, “Well, some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don’t lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place,” (Jemisin 7) as to further establish this positionality.

Emancipated Respiration: Conclusion

A combination of unwillingness to accept cautionary tales, underestimation, and forced utilization of living beings under the control of others has helped form the basis of atrocities in The Broken Earth trilogy and several issues of discrimination and exploitation our own world. See, the oppressed have always been dismissed as weak in physical and emotional capability. Conquerors never want to admit that their ‘submissive’ counterparts live and potentially function under their own free will. That they, too, have the potential to start wars and end them. The Earth and the humanity it inhabits are subject to the depletion of their strength by people in all positions of power. However, historian Will Durant has written, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.”* While this can exhibit the idea that civilization lives because the earth has allowed them to, and that this can change at any point, his sentiment leaves me wondering: Is anyone really in control of anything? The ability to live [breathe] and produce life is not a privilege granted to establish dominance: it is to be used as a means of connection and collaboration. While we can’t preach this to the ground below us, we can start with the people who dig their toes into the sand and dirt of Father Earth for the fun of it.

*I made the mistake of crediting this quote to Robert Byrne in my precursor essay to this post. It was, indeed, coined by American historian and writer Will Durant. Sincerest apologies!

Generational Trauma and Healing: Not Just For Humans

By: Maria Pawlak, Abby Anderson, Makayla Williams, Elizabeth Roos, Hallie Edic, Francheska Colon, Emilee Coughlin, Lidabel Avila

More than a decade after the infamous Boxing Day Tsunami left hundreds of thousands dead, the Krakatoa caldera threatened to once again bring death and destruction to Indonesian shores. The area is extremely seismically active, particularly in the Sumatra region. As the region’s residents and those throughout the country received warnings that their worst day might be one-upped by a similar volcanic force, many found themselves forced to face the possibility that everything they had worked to rebuild could be washed away by something over which they have no power. Considering how long the Krakatoa caldera has been active, and how many deadly natural disasters occur in the area, one could wonder why generations of people choose to stay, suffer, rebuild, and stay again and again. However, it’s a very human instinct: to react and rebuild. This instinct is on display throughout N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy. 

This sci-fi/fantasy trilogy features a world called the Stillness, which experiences cataclysmic events with an alarming frequency. Entire cities, continents, and peoples are wiped out and rebuilt and yet, Jemisin’s characters continue living doggedly on, through grit teeth and white knuckles, but also through love, family, and culture. A mirror of that same human instinct is found when considering the caldera itself. Recently after the initial, extremely lethal tsunami of 2004, the caldera exploded again, bringing new death and destruction with it. Strangely, this new destruction arrived with a new name: the Child of Krakatoa. Humanity’s instinct to map patterns of familiarity onto trauma is stark, made evident by the generations of people living where their ancestors perished, people who had the instinct to call a consecutive event of destruction a child. As a way to refer to the repetition of destruction and the generational experience communities have within it, we will use the term “generational trauma.” This term has become a buzzword, which strips away meaning, but it’s our aim to use it specifically as a way to refer to generations of people and land who survive through repeated ruinous events. Through examining how art intersects with trauma in seismic events of death and destruction, we can investigate humanity’s determination to make sense of suffering and rebuild generation after generation.

To fully understand the seismic generational trauma of the area, we must first detail the repeating history of the cataclysmic events in the Krakatoa region. Starting the morning of December 26th, 2004, a 9.1 quake ruptured a 900-mile stretch of fault line where the Indian and Australian tectonic plates meet. The quake caused the ocean floor to suddenly rise by 40 meters, triggering the massive Boxing Day Tsunami. More than 100,000 people died in the city of Banda Aceh after the first of several hundred-foot waves hit the shoreline, pounding the city into rubble. By the time the water receded, nearly 230,000 people were killed, making this one of the deadliest disasters in modern history—claiming casualties in Thailand, India, Sri Lanka, and even South Africa. Since this disaster, many governments and aid groups have prioritized disaster risk reduction and preparedness. However, years later, in December 2018, the volcano of Anak Krakatau, the ‘Child’ of Krakatoa, underwent ongoing eruptions in the Sunda Strait that caused undersea landslides, triggering a tsunami that struck beaches in Sumatra and Java. However, there was no warning prior to the disaster, resulting in the deaths of over 400 people. Since this occurrence, the Indonesian government is now working to add volcano sensors to its warning system. Data now shows that the Anak Krakatau has continued to erupt as frequently as every year since 2018, and research shows it will continue to do so for many years. This record of the area’s seismic activity depicts not only the repeated damage done to Indonesia and its surrounding areas, but also the human efforts to rebuild after each of these devastating events.

Before continuing to speak about the human story of the Boxing Day Tsunami, it’s important to pause and examine the environmental story. Beginning with a  prologue, the effect the seismic event had on the environment right before the tsunami hit is compelling. According to the presentation Social and Economic Impact of December 2004 Tsunami, just before the tsunami struck the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, there were “changes in bird calls,” as well as an overall shift in bird and marine animal behavior. After the tsunami hit, however, there was a decrease in local fish populations, as well as salt intrusions into freshwater water sources. Additionally, there was “severe damage to ecosystems such as mangroves, coral reefs, forests, coastal wetlands, vegetation, sand dunes and rock formations, animal and plant biodiversity and groundwater,” as well as a “spread of solid and liquid waste and industrial chemicals,” greatly polluting the water of islands hit by the tsunami that would not clear until years afterward. Thankfully, eight years later, the ecosystems of the islands hit by the tsunami have greatly recovered. The changes in the photos of locations such as Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia, waterways have been cleared of debris and greenery such as grass and trees have returned, even as these locations have been developed by humans.

Moving from the environmental impact to the human impact allows us to witness the instinct to react and rebuild. The first novel of N.K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy opens with the quote, “Let’s start with the end of the world, why don’t we? Get it over with and move on to more interesting things.” The blasé tone the narrator takes demonstrates his repeated exposure to massive destruction, similar to the people of the Krakatoa region. It’s commonplace. While that apathy is not identical to our world’s reaction to destruction, there is something to be said for how areas of repeated seismic events carry “generational trauma” with them. In terms of the 2004 Tsunami, the human impact was overwhelming, with 220,000 human lives lost. Countless more were deemed missing. To make things worse, in the 2018 tsunami, Jakarta’s tsunami detection buoys were mysteriously non-functioning, leaving people scrambling at the last minute to find safety when the disaster was imminent—resulting in more deaths. 

However devastating the human impact, it was not ubiquitous throughout the region. Countries with more funds, greater access to western support, and charity found themselves in better positions. Thailand suffered more losses than that of Sri Lanka or Indonesia, though they were able to rebuild their country, but places like the Banda Aceh in Northern Indonesian are in real need of assistance to rebuild. By 2014 Indonesia had been fully rebuilt, but it took an entire decade. Regardless, the trials for the Indonesian people haven’t ended with the rebuilding of infrastructure. In Jemisin’s world, many mental illnesses plagued the people of the Stillness; for Indonesia, after the tsunamis the rate of post traumatic stress reactivity increased significantly, and remains in the minds of those who underwent this disaster.

The death and destruction of the tsunami have been transformed by artists as a means of finding peace in chaos, showing humanity’s need to create something beautiful from pain and rebuild the community. In The Stone Sky, Houwha the tuner learns the difference between art and utility upon encountering an engine created differently than others: “It had the same fundamental structure as other plutonic engines. Only its purpose is different—no, no. That’s too simple an assessment. What’s different here is…philosophical. Attitudinal. The Plutonic Engine is a tool. This thing? Is…art.” Examples of art are seen through the events that occurred after the Boxing Day Tsunami. For example, in the Aceh provincial community, World Food Programme personnel developed a school meals program for survivors in which children were allowed to sketch images of their experiences. Ten of the children were reunited with their drawings a decade after the life-altering event. Fir, a survivor, made a sketch of loved ones he had lost. He reveals, “It was bittersweet. I am really glad that my house and [immediate] family were not affected, but on that day I lost something greater, my relatives.” Fir uses this experience as a way of finding peace in what he lost in the tsunami. As most humans do, Fir employs art as a means of recovery from trauma and loss. These creations show the necessity of the human race to find beauty in destruction and use art as a method to comprehend and heal. 

In examining the colossal seismic events at and as a result of the Krakatoa Volcano, and the art that has emerged from the events’ equally destructive aftermaths, our attention is brought to a variety of issues which trace a pattern of human response and resilience to natural disasters throughout history. Additionally, we see that some people are vastly limited in their access to resources to combat these ramifications. Those who are responsible for this lack of accessibility, or for the practices that lead to the catastrophic event themselves, are never the ones highly affected by either. While attempts were made in relief efforts after the tsunami in 2004, they were not adequate for the community of people in the area that were already subject to external discriminatory factors before the event. Exploring these impacts can highlight the necessity for better safety education and accessibility to resources. 

Lastly, it’s difficult to reconcile our explosive, violent planet with the gentle image of Mother Earth, which is why N.K. Jemisin’s depiction of the planet is not only male, but aggressive. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy takes this long-upheld personification and twists it; in the Stillness, Father Earth is fully alive, completely aware— endlessly bent on revenge after being exploited. In doing this, Jemisin emphasizes humanity’s need to keep personifying the earth, but their contradictory practice of dehumanizing it in its treatment. At the same time, her protagonists also feel the effects of dehumanization; Essun spends her formative years being polished into a weapon, and her fear of how orogenes are treated causes her to train her daughter, Nassun, in the same emotionless way. This reiteration of abusive methods of control is just one way Jemisin acknowledges the cyclical way trauma takes effect. In the same way the earth and orogenes alike are and have been taken advantage of with no consideration for their safety, people in impoverished and underserved communities devastated by the tsunamis in the Krakatoa region are not fully supported before or after decades of destruction. Talk about generational trauma.

Not very gneiss.

To Control What Breathes

Robert Byrne stated, “Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice.” The notion of nature not being able to be controlled is a harsh reality (only supported by the rapid evolution of the current anthropocene). N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season brings light to this concept with her ‘orogene’ characters – beings capable of sensing the inner workings of the geosphere, while being able to use it to their advantage if needed. However, as both the natural world and orogenes are powerful forces within themselves, greater than the ability and strength of most other living things, they are both subjected to great degrees of restraint by individuals in power. Orogenes – under the watchful eye of a discriminatory society, the Fulcrum and their Guardians (if given the ‘opportunity’) – and the geological world – at the hands of law makers, large corporations, humanity, and capitalism – are both underestimated in their capabilities. One cannot simply put limitations on what can inevitably cause catastrophe (or stop it).

Restrictions aren’t the only issues pertaining to these forces of nature. The dismissiveness of their power is undoubtedly both a sign of disrespect and a threat to their environments. In disregarding the magnitude of their abilities, as well as their willingness to use them, people end up undermining their potential impact. In an article about the possible endangerment of New York as a result of nearby fault lines in proximity to New York City, it was reported that many old fault lines, discovered due to small clusters of earthquakes happening near or on them, were thought to be inactive and therefore not a danger to surrounding areas. However, earthquake researcher Lynn R. Sykes found that they were still very capable of generating damaging earthquakes. In fact, one of these fault lines can be found near a nuclear power plant just outside the New York City area. If an earthquake of high enough magnitude were to occur, it could potentially cause high structural and economical damage, not to mention affect the lives of several people. But the evidence of possible seismic activity was buried in the minds of people and corporations, too stubborn to realize the likelihood of the earth beneath them not caring about their lives on the surface. 

Similarly, the orogenes in Jemisin’s story experience their own kind of ignorant dismissiveness. In allowing her orogene characters to harness the grandiose power of the earth they stand on, she gives them an almost endless amount of abilities. Specifically when more experienced characters like Alabaster can sense sound waves and vibrations through rocks, as well as ‘quell,’ or calm smaller earthquakes with casual ease. In this particular instance, Jemisin draws attention to the immense amount of power orogenes can posses, all while being restricted by Guardians and people at the Fulcrum, where concentrations of orogenes learn how to control their powers as well as how to use them for the benefit of ‘stills’ (people who don’t possess their abilities). To stop even the minutest of earthquakes from happening is a task no one can do realistically, only showcasing the strength of orogenic power. Orogenes like Alabaster aren’t ignored in their strength; in fact, people all over their continent are well aware of their capabilities, channeling that knowledge into fear or intolerance. What stills and Guardians fail to recognize, however, is the will power each orogene can still obtain. Without forced teachings on how to control their abilities, orogenic power is based on instinct – when their mind and body are convinced they’re in danger, their ‘torus’ (the base of their powers) reacts accordingly. Naturally, it’s just a way for the body to protect itself. That instinct is still within them, it has only been suppressed by the abusive lessons at the Fulcrum. Stills and Guardians, much like companies and everyday people in relation to the earth, are so convinced that the power they hold over orogenes is so absolute and concrete, they would never expect them to act on their own accord, without direction or approval from the ones at the Fulcrum. Yet, much like how the earth doesn’t ask permission to commit catastrophic events, they are entirely capable of doing so – “‘They are gods in chains,’ Alabaster breathes… ‘The tamers of the wild earth, themselves to be bridled and muzzled,’” (167). 

It is through her convincing narrative in which readers can understand that, yes, a human being is capable of harnessing and controlling the force of the almighty earth, and yes, they can still experience ignorance, hatred, and torture for being born with something they did not ask for. In pressuring people (and geological phenomena to an extent) to suppress, change, or disregard their natural abilities and gifts for the sake of personal gain, or personal comfort, their value is minimized to the rest of the world, furthering them from a place of justice.