Function of Second Person Chapters

In The Fifth Season, Jemisin uses the unusual literary technique of second person point of view in her chapters focusing on Essun. Essun is an orogene on a journey to find her daughter, who has been kidnapped by her husband after he murders her son. At first, I found the second person point of view to be off-putting: the only other time I can remember encountering it was when reading the Choose Your Own Adventure series when I was in middle school, and I never enjoyed those books. However, after the first few pages of the first chapter I began to appreciate the use of a second person narrator. I think the obvious function of the “you” is to emphasize Essun’s dissociation from herself after the trauma of finding her son’s dead body and realization that her daughter is missing. The chapter begins with “You are she. She is you. You are Essun. Remember? The woman whose son is dead” (Jemisin 15). With this opening line, the reader immediately feels Essun’s disconnection with her own body, while at the same time forming a connection with Essun’s feelings. The use of “you” in a sense places the reader in Essun’s body while she is detached from her own. The reader feels Essun’s trancelike, traumatized state as Jemisin writes, “You sleep a long time. At one point you wake… You puzzle over this, then feel the imminence of thought and have to fight, fight, fight, to stay in the soft warm silence of thoughtlessness” (18). In the days following her son’s death, Essun is capable of doing little more than sleeping and suppressing her thoughts. Jemisin’s use of second person becomes a powerful tool to allow the reader to experience and empathize with her suffering. Continue reading “Function of Second Person Chapters”