The Earth is Flat and Other Conspiracy Theories

By: Lidabel Avila, Madolley Donzo, Kendall Cruise, Lauryn Bennett, Marlee Fancett, Maddie Butler

When defining a word, it’s important to remember that understandings of words go beyond the dictionary definition and have societal notions that affect them as well. A dictionary definition is known as a “denotation,” which is, defined by Google, the “literal meaning/primary meaning of a word.” Meanwhile, words also have a “connotation,” which is “an idea or feeling that a word invokes in addition to its literary or primary meaning.” Also according to Google’s dictionary function, a “flat-earther” can be defined denotatively as “a person who believes that the earth is flat.” Moving to the “informal definition,” the connotations of this term can already be seen within the further definition of “a person who holds outdated or disproven beliefs.” Since their beliefs are often accepted as “outdated or disproven,” being a flat-earther is often associated with a lack of intelligence since they refuse to accept modern scientific findings and refer nearly solely to the Bible in understanding the shape of the world. In order to accept this worldview of a flat land surrounded by an impassable icy rim, flat-earthers often believe in other theories that can be labeled as conspiratorial, like—but not limited to—believing that multiple governments have collaborated to craft images of Earth from outer space. Characters within Mat Johnson’s novel Pym also interact with conspiracy theories, which is  foreshadowed in the first part of the book when Chris Jaynes says, “I should say here that, in America, every black man has a conspiracy theory” (89). Some of these conspiracy theories explored through characters in this novel include Chris Jaynes’ belief that Edgar Allen Poe’s story about Arthur Gordon Pym is true as well as Garth’s belief that Thomas Karvel is hiding out in Antarctica. As Chris says, though, these theories are actually “true,” and they function to reveal much more about the selfishness of the characters and how this greed leads them to develop false perceptions of paradise (89).

The tension of the intended meaning of the waving at the ending of Pym stems from the perspectives of the narrator, Chris Jaynes, as well as others in the novel in their differentiations between perception and intention, which can be seen most clearly from the characters’ in novels perceptions of personal paradises, which double as their own personal conspiracy theories. At the end of the novel Chris Jaynes and Garth Frierson finally arrive, with a late Arthur Gordon Pym, to Tsalal, which has been Chris Jaynes’ own personal paradise, and sees a man on the island who has spotted them waving at them. The tension with the connotation and denotation of the word waving is the many intended meanings it could have based on the motives of the one waving. Chris and Garth, we can assume based on the fact that they waved back and Chris’ earlier assertion of, “That’s what waving and shaking hands are all about: showing we have no weapons to attack with” (125-126), is that this waving gesture is one that is friendly. This is a flaw of their own narcissistic perspectives of their worlds, focusing in on their own preconceived notions of the world and projecting that onto those on the island of Tsalal, where as far as we know Western/colonial hands have not touched. To the Tsalal people, this gesture of waving could have a multitude of meanings such as a sign asking for help, looking for attention, an attempt to scare away Garth and Chris, or they could be interpreting it correctly as a greeting and showing of passivity. The character’s projected views on the waving is mimicked in the projected views a variety of characters have of their own paradises. 

In terms of Garth’s perceived paradise, Karvel’s dome holds dual habitation for Chris Jaynes’s Hell. Chris Jaynes tends to be prioritizing his own paradise, and as a result leaves any other perception of paradise in the dust. His reaction to Garth’s paradise is a perfect example of this: “In my terror I realized that this was not my heaven, this was Garth’s. This was my hell. I was trapped inside a Thomas Karvel painting” (234). Chris is not focused on understanding Garth’s version of paradise, but rather is only interested in his version and sees any other version as ‘hell.’ Chris’ egocentric view is a main factor in how he interacts with and views his world. In his mind he makes the subjective objective and projects his own comfort of his false paradise onto others, refusing to accept the separate desires and enjoyments they might have. In Chris’ description of Tsalal he goes on to say, “‘Tsalal? What do you know about Tsalal?’ Even if there was no world left above us anymore, did that make this goal of discovering Eden any less lofty…Tsalal was the world my crewmates and I were destined for” (213). He not only sees Tsalal as his final destination, but the one of his crew and of Dirk Peters, who he plans to bury there despite the man having had negative feelings about the island personally when he had been alive. This goes to show that Chris has no desire to see Tsalal in any purview that does not support his deeply rooted conspiracy of Tsalal being this uncolonized, independent piece of land that would take them in and welcome him gladly. This goes to show how Chris’s connotation of the wave given to him and Garth upon their arrival to the island could not be interpreted by Chris in any other way but as a friendly gesture, in conjunction with Garth who at this point is forced to believe in Chris’ fantasy after the destruction of his own paradise. This then explains why the both of them might wave back in a kind manner to the Tsalal people regardless of the Tsalal peoples’ intentions because they have preconceived notions that taint their view of the vague denotation of the action itself.  

Similar to the obsessive nature of those convinced that the Earth’s shape is anything but spherical, the obsessions of Mat Johnson’s characters with their individual visions of paradise create lenses that impact how these people view and interpret others and their environments. These lenses, framed in personal or group conspiracies, are the root of ambiguity at the end of Pym. While Chris’s waving at the people of Tsalal can be taken at face value, we as readers are confronted by the waving’s possible connotations. Because Chris is waving back, we can infer that he understands their initial waving as a welcoming signal, but it is unclear as to whether or not it is. Both the readers and characters left at the end of the novel are left to wonder or assume all the possible states of the novel’s future. Being confronted with such an ambiguous ending, with a variety of possibilities for both the people and the world within the novel, forces readers to confront their own ‘lenses’ in which they view their worlds from. If these perspectives were to shatter, then the worlds we see them through would end as well. Chris, Garth, and the reader then must accept the world inside this apocalyptic novel does not end when Chris gets fired, or when the world at large experiences some catastrophic events, but rather the world ends at the end of novel as the false paradises of the characters within the novel are destroyed and shattered one by one. We, much like Chris and Garth at the end of Pym, are left searching for a place to go when the world we know too well comes to a jarring end. We are left to consider who will rebuild the world into something we are familiar and comfortable with, and not something we have to learn how to navigate by ourselves or from scratch. To better cope with apocalypse, one must let go of their ‘comfort conspiracies’: even if the idea of a round Earth seems terrifying.

Moving Beyond a Binary View of the Apocalypse

A month ago, if you asked me to define the word “apocalypse,” I probably would have said “the end of the world.” While this isn’t necessarily wrong, my understandings of how the world could end were certainly limited to media depictions of it. My very first thought may have been of The Walking Dead, which I was an avid viewer of for several years, and I would have mentally pictured Rick Grimes walking out of that abandoned hospital, seeing that discarded teddy bear on the ground and seeing the very first zombie, or what’s more canonically accepted as a “walker.” Now, if I hadn’t thought of The Walking Dead and the context led me more towards thinking of a destruction of the Earth, maybe I would have thought of The 100, in which nuclear bombs being set off across the planet prompt a society of people escape to and survive in space long enough for radiation levels to drop enough for the Earth to be survivable again. I followed this show for years as well and both certainly shaped my perception of an apocalypse as one of the greatest worst-case scenarios there could be. (I mean, the whole “the world is ending!!!” concept seems reasonably frightening.)

However, as we begin to familiarize ourselves with core course terminology and concepts, my understanding of the apocalypse is changing. Of course, there’s still this connection to the end of life as we know it but I’m wondering now if the connotations of the apocalypse were always as negative as I have previously perceived them to be.

There’s an important link between the apocalyptic shows I mentioned before that I think has prevented me from seeing an apocalypse as anything but “bad.” In The Walking Dead, we are introduced to numerous survivor communities, ranging in scale and power, as Rick and his crew travel across the country when disaster strikes their own community. Similarly, in The 100, the first season tells about “the 100,” a group consisting mostly of delinquents who were banished to the Earth in order to preserve oxygen on the ship and test radiation levels, and the “grounders,” who survived the initial nuclear fallout and rebuilt their lives on Earth. So, we have different communities or even societies developing in each show, which allows people to share their skills and knowledge with each other to heighten their chances of survival. However, many of these groups tend to be anti-social and isolationist, which leads to intense violence between them, entire groups being wiped out when others become paranoid or power-hungry. As Arkady Martine points out in their article What Really Happens After the Apocalypse, “Most of apocalyptic literature focuses on all the terrible ways that society goes wrong after a society-disrupting disaster” and how “while the zombies might be the initial threat, most of the horrible violence is done by surviving humans to one another.” This was one of the reasons why I stopped following The Walking Dead, as the particularly gruesome killing of a favored character by other survivors had me sick to my stomach for hours.

It was these characteristics of the apocalyptic media I have consumed that made me believe that an apocalypse was one of the worst things that could happen to society. But, as we read the Andrew Santana Kaplan essay “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” I began to consider that maybe an apocalypse could benefit society or, as Santana Kaplan seems to argue, it may even be necessary. If I am interpreting this essay—which I admit is far beyond my own scholarly abilities—as intended, the foundations of civil society are cast in error as it was built through the enslavement of millions of people of color. So, even as society has adjusted with the goal of equality and inclusion, these changes are just that: adjustments. If we were to imagine the nation as a house, we could say that the structures it was built on are extremely flawed but instead of tearing them down and beginning again, we instead continue adding additions to the house with hopes of making it better. Santana Kaplan argues that the house needs to be torn down completely through an apocalypse since “true justice demands the end of the World.” Again, this is just my interpretation of the article and I am not claiming this is exactly what Santana Kaplan is arguing in their literary work but rather that this is what I understand from it. My interpretation absolutely could be in need of re-examination and changing.

Now, considering this argument, surely an apocalypse could be a “good” thing for society. But there’s one more piece I haven’t mentioned yet that could change this perception as well. Quoting from Giorgio Agamben’s The Signature of All Things: On Method, Santana Kaplan introduces 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.’” This suggests that an apocalypse isn’t necessarily society-wide but can be personal, individual. After all, apocalypse “primarily means to un-cover” as Santana Kaplan also notes. This means that an apocalypse means a revelation of something that can happen on an individual or collective level. On a collective level, Santana Kaplan suggests that it could lead to “true justice” but on an individual level, it could mean many different things since each person would experience it differently.

To explore whether an apocalypse could be “good” or “bad” on an individual level, I will now turn to course texts since, so far, we have seen several instances of characters experiencing personal catastrophes.

In Wild Seed, numerous characters experience apocalypses, especially those who go through transitions in their adolescence, which is a span of time in which those believed to have special powers begin to truly develop them, often through seeing and feeling the lives of others. I’ll focus on the main characters, Doro and Anyanwu, though. As disclosed in Book Two, Doro went through transition at age thirteen which revealed to him “that he was both more and less than a man” and he “discovered that he could have and do absolutely anything.” As Doro can preserve his consciousness while jumping to other bodies, he has the power of immortality, allowing him to accumulate resources and power over time as he develops the goal to create others like him. While this power could be desirable by some and considered a great revelation, Octavia Butler also expresses in Book Two that Doro feels “utterly alone, forever alone, longing to die and be finished.” So, even though some part of Doro seems to be satisfied in the divine worship he receives from his followers who are mostly people with powers like him, he’s also extremely lonely since they all live mortal lives and die. 

Anyanwu is one of these followers of Doro, but not by choice. Doro first seeks her out when he senses her abilities while looking for missing members of his own family. When he does find her, Doro threatens her children and grandchildren in order to pressure her into moving to colonial America with him with the goal of creating children with powers as great as hers, perhaps even long-lived or immortal children. This is expressed in Book Three as Butler writes “He made it sound as though her choice had been free, as though he had not coerced her into choosing.” Aside from not giving her a choice, in Book Two, it is also relayed that Anyanwu “remembered her sudden panic when Doro took her from her people,” which was an apocalyptic event from her since the world, as she knew it, ended and she was forced to learn the language, values, and practices of a new one. 

In American Desert, the main character, Theodore Street, also experiences an apocalypse after his head is severed in a car accident and is stitched back on so that his body can be presented at his open-casket funeral, where he proceeds to wake up and exit his coffin. Within the readings so far, this is where we see the most influence of media depictions of apocalypses as Percival Everett writes that “Ted’s resurrection caused a stir, a terrible riot which spread from the church and into the streets, resulting later in the arrest of seven gang members who saw the shocked, enlightened mass as prime targets for robbery and their general entertainment.” Despite the reactions of the public, it is also noted in the novel that on a personal level, “Having survived death hadn’t erased his painful assessment of himself as a person” and that he even became “impressed by his capacity to feel such overwhelming and disparate things, his intense love of his family, his need for knowledge of their safety and his dread of the dangers which awaited them beyond the walls of their house.” Based on these lines, amongst others, it seems like Ted’s resurrection has brought him more knowledge, both of the disparities in society and also of the kind of man he wants to be and how he wants to treat his family. Now that I’ve explored my prior understandings of the apocalypse, Santana Kaplan’s argument, and personal apocalypses from the texts we’ve read so far, I feel more ready to make my hypothesis. An apocalypse to me, right now, doesn’t seem “good” or “bad,” one or the other, but rather a both/and. There can be good and bad. Greatly, this is possible because of the ability of an apocalypse to be personal since, at its root, it is a revelation. It doesn’t have to be on grand-scale to the entirety of society, the whole world. It can be on grand-scale for one person, the entire world as they know it. I look forward to seeing how future literary texts will interact with this hypothesis and how they may, to me, support it or prove it false.

The Broken Earth Trilogy as a Study of the Social Sciences

The Broken Earth trilogy tells a story rooted in the social sciences, its gripping plotlines and diverse, complex characters sowing the various branches, with observations and statements about systems of power and the imbalance of justice within these systems unfurling like leaves. 

To recap from my first reflective piece, social science is the study of human society and societal relationships and can be broken down into archaeology, anthropology, geography, history, law, politics, psychology, and sociology, to name a few. For N.K. Jemisin, who has a degree in psychology, her works commonly center around a social system in which, as Raffi Khatchadourian describes it after an interview with Jemisin, “the oppressed often possess an enormous capacity for agency—a supernatural ability, even, that their oppressors lack—but they exist in a society that has been engineered to hold them down. Eventually, the world is reordered, often with a cataclysm.

It’s not just the degree that makes this a subject of interest for Jemisin though. As a Black author, Jemisin is also conscious of the long history of the science fiction genre marginalizing minority writers, continuously failing these authors by putting white men at the forefront of who’s recognized within the genre. As one study of Jemisin’s trilogy presented through a masters thesis by Imogen Bagnall points out, “Science fiction and African-American interests were seen as mutually exclusive categories, as the most dominant representatives of the science fiction and fantasy author—and readership were white men. This assumption, however, is baseless, and is merely representative of the ethnocentrism and racial bias prevalent in almost all social and commercial spheres.

I noted in my reflection on The Fifth Season that Jemisin intentionally combats the racism within the genre by presenting a story told through “a slate of people of different colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars,” as Vann R. Newkirk II wrote for The Atlantic. Reviewing the characters of the first novel, I focused on the three main girls and women, all described by Jemisin to be “Orogenes,” a race classified by their “ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events,” and how these characters document the systematic oppressions against Orogenes because of their abilities. While the Orogenes do not have visually distinct traits and can be from any region, the main characters are all “Midlatter,” which is a multiracial group. Perhaps this should have forewarned me for what we would discover later in the trilogy, which is that these three girls and women are actually the same person, just broken across periods of her life and accordingly narrated with or through the name she identified with during those times.

Crucially, though, the discovery that these three characters are all the same person does not diminish the character diversity in the novel. In fact, the character diversity increases as more individuals are introduced and the storyline threads deeper into Orgogenic history and beyond. 

During the time of the Orogenes, it is explained through stonelore that Orogenes are “born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human” and that they are the reason why Father Earth seems to hate the human race, constantly waging war against humanity through brutal Seasons, which lorists say originates with the Orogenes separating the Moon from Father Earth, sending his child out of alignment.

By the third book though, it is divulged that before there were Orogenes, there were tuners who also had abilities and were created in the image of the Niess, a race who was tyrannized through war and defamed. Hoa, the immortal character who we discover has been narrating the sections of the novels told through third person, was once a tuner and he recounts that in the early years of his life, “It became easy for scholars to build reputations and careers around the notion that Niess sessapinae were fundamentally different, somehow—more sensitive, more active, less controlled, less civilized—and that this was the source of their magical peculiarity. This was what made them not the same kind of human as everyone else. Eventually: not as human as everyone else. Finally: not human at all.”

Reading through the abuses to both of these minority groups within the trilogy makes readers aware of the notion that “Trauma and oppression work cyclically, as each generation of oppressors infects the next with notions of prejudice and discrimination, and each generation of the oppressed are re-traumatised by the collective memory of the past,” as expressed by Bagnall. This cycle has been described before as a donut, which is depicted below. There are certain needs, built on social foundations, that all people have and, if these are not being met for all, a whirlpool of trauma is created. However, as seen with both The Broken Earth trilogy and the graphic, social institutions are not the only possible source for trauma since an abuse of the climate can also disrupt the “safe and just space for humanity,” meaning that resources have become so exploited that the Earth is endangered. With the trilogy, we see these lacking social foundations and ruptures of the ecological ceilings lead to the Seasons, a time when societies are forced to reset as the homes they built and the societies they formed are demolished by natural disaster. But each and every time, as we see by the end of the first book, society chooses to once again build the same social foundations and continue to overuse the materials the Earth provides. This is why, in the second and third books, Jemisin writes of love so powerful that it can shake the oppressive foundations society tries to rebuild during the most recent Season.

(Above is the donut graphic that Dr. Reitz introduced us to this semester.)

The first powerful love that Jemisin explores, based on the timeline of events in the novel, has lasted centuries, even as Hoa’s memories of his siblings have ebbed and receded in the vast ocean that is time. Since his existence was also built on social inequity, Hoa and his siblings lived in ignorance of the true severity of their situation until a woman named Kelenli was introduced to them and quickly became “something to lose” to Hoa. She also became a source of knowledge, and as the siblings learned about their conditions and where their siblings who had been taken away were sent, they found a collective desire to overthrow the system. In a heart-rending moment in book three, when the tuners resist at the same time the Moon does, resulting in is misalignment with Father Earth, Hoa recalls, “We entwine our presences in a layer of cold coal, which is perhaps fitting as Remwha sends a hiss through all of us like sand grinding amid cracks. It’s an echo of the static emptiness in our network where Tetlewha—and Entiwha, and Arwha, and all the others—once existed.”

Centuries later, we meet Nassun, the daughter of Essun and a crucial character beginning in book two, and witness her grief and fervent attachments as she learns that blood-related family isn’t always the strongest source of love. After her parents have tarnished her perceptions of the loving relationships they could have had with her, Nassun depends on Schaffa, a Guardian. In order to keep this love intact, Nassun essentially destroys the last Fulcrum, a sort of school where Orogenes were kept and forcefully bent to the wills of non-Orogenic people, when she realizes it was what made her mother “something else” and “wrong” in the sense that she couldn’t love Schaffa, who was also her Guardian, like Nassun does. Although Nassun did this to prevent her love for Schaffa from souring, it also marks the end of the Fulcrum’s presence at this point in the timeline.

Now, the main character Essun experiences many different loves. She loves her children, her romantic partners, and has even come to love the people in the comm that she has been a part of throughout much of the Season. The most powerful attestation of love in her life though is actually her death, when she meets her daughter again after years of searching and, even though they have different motives and beliefs on how to end the Season, Essun tries to laugh with pride as she dies, narrated as, “So rusting amazing, your little girl. You are proud to lose to her strength.” It’s these actions that make Nassun consider that “the world took and took” from her mother as well, though “for some reason that she does not think she’ll ever understand…even as you died, you were reaching for the Moon.” No matter her understanding though, Nassun ultimately decides to use her abilities to bring the Moon back into alignment with the Earth as her mother intended, which ends the Season and will predictably alter social foundations.

You might notice, if you had read my first reflection on The Broken Earth trilogy, that I’ve hardly mentioned geology compared to how in-depth I explored it before. This is partly because I think that after Jemisin drew the attention of readers and proved her wealth of knowledge and ethos with the first book, she could play around with the science fiction elements. Of course, these elements are still rooted in real geology, like the concept of the moon being separated from the Earth and causing the Seasons coming from a question at a NASA workshop that Jemisin attended. Mostly, though, it’s because sociology becomes a driving force as the trilogy progresses, as Essun makes more relationships and experiences more love, which invigorates her desire to quake unjust social foundations and assert her power after others have wrongfully suppressed it for far too long.

The Roles of Sociology and Biology as Social Science in The Fifth Season

Social Sciences, which Jemisin explicitly advocates “is science too” because of how often it is ignored, is the scientific study of human society and social relationships. It’s composed of several branches that include archaeology, anthropology, geography, history, law, politics, psychology, and sociology, to name a few. In my experience, many of these branches don’t seem to fit into the typical categories considered when someone brings up the sciences, as the biological, logical, and physical sciences are usually thought of first.

Jemisin uses this to her advantage, creating a story that has social science at its core, allowing her to deep dive into the experiences of minorities who have been marginalized, especially in the field of fantasy writing. This theory about the intentions of the groundbreaking novel are reinforced by Newkirk, who reviews The Fifth Season’s characters as “a slate of people of different colors and motivations who don’t often appear in a field still dominated by white men and their protagonist avatars.

A rupture of the science fiction genre is in the placement of exploited minority characters at the center of the story. Within the novel, there are three main characters with interchangeable perspectives each chapter. All three characters are girls and women who are described by Jemisin, in the appendix, to be a race known as “Orogenes,” which is classified by their “ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events.” While the Orogenes do not have visually distinct traits and can be from any region of the Stillness, the continent Jemisin explores in her world, the main characters are “Midlatter,” a multiracial group. The choice to create Orogenes as a race composed of varied peoples is likely influenced by readings Jemisin has studied about “the different sets of people who have been oppressed and the different systemic oppressions that have existed throughout history,” drawing on not only her “own African American experience, but…a lot of other stuff too.” These systemic oppressions are documented through all three narrators, showing the injustices towards Orogenes in different settings and also in a seemingly nonlinear timeline.

The injustice against the Orogenes has a long history. Jemisin describes that there’s “stonelore” that tells the non-orogenes and Guardians, those that train and control Orogenic people, that Orogenes are “born evil—some kind of agents of Father Earth, monsters that barely qualify as human.” Even though there’s no solid proof that Orgoenes truly are born evil, the non-orogenes and Guardians follow the stonelore closely, using it as justification for their severe mistreatment of Orogenes. In this society, Orogenes, as Jemisin outlines, “have no right to say no,” “have no right to get angry, to want justice, to protect what they love,” and are subject to private discipline from Guardians so that the non-orogenes do not see and generate “inappropriate sympathy” for the Orogenes. They are a race that are feared to be weapons of the Earth and are controlled to be mediators for seismic events, paired with an anguishing degree of suffering and even death, just to ease the lives of non-orogenes and Guardians.

However, focusing on just the sociology of the novel doesn’t consider the impact of social science as a whole. Geology is also a critical factor of Jemisin’s novel. Jemisin herself highlights just how important the geological aspect of science fiction is by discussing how “the boundaries of science-fiction and fantasy…are supposed to be about people…It was all supposed to be about the science” and yet “you would see dozens of people nitpicking the hell out of the physics.” In order to keep people from focusing on the physical attributes of science in the novel, Jemisin takes care to represent the science realistically, proving her research as she describes the effects of natural disasters. This tactic can turn the focus away from discussing whether or not the science is a true representation and turns it towards theorizing why these catastrophes happen and how they’re related to the social institutions in the novel. After reading the book, I think Jemisin wanted to show a world in which society exacerbates geological events, placing emphasis on just how dangerous injustice can be by giving it not only individual mental, emotional, and physical dangers, but also universal physical dangers that threaten even the privileged. 

The origin of increased seismic activity is recounted through folklore Jemisin creates, which explains that people “poisoned waters beyond even his ability to cleanse, and killed much of the other life that lived on his surface. They drilled through the crust of his skin, past the blood of his mantle, to get at the sweet marrow of his bones. And at the height of human hubris and might, it was the orogenes who did something that even Earth could not forgive: They destroyed his only child.” It is this vague action that seems to instigate the first Fifth Season, which Jemisin says, in an interview with PBS, is “similar to what we have had in our world, the year without summer, for example, where people have to learn to suddenly survive where they can’t grow food, they don’t see the sun for weeks, months on end.” 

The cause for this catastrophe in The Fifth Season consults two opposing viewpoints in Nur and Burgess’ “Introduction,” which states that “Some researchers deny that earthquakes, and, by analogy, other sudden natural events, may have played a bigger role in shaping history, simply because these sudden occurrences are not manmade” while the norm for “many modern historians, political scientists, and ecologists is to view major disasters in human history as resulting from man’s actions.” By mixing these two perspectives, Jemisin can make a point about how social injustice leads to natural disaster and then how this natural disaster leads to more social injustice, creating a cycle formed by rigid social structures that seem to worsen following catastrophes. 

After this initial cataclysm, it seems like select humans adapted to be able to practice Orogeny to protect society as a whole from the rage of Father Earth. Instead of being celebrated, they are enslaved and continuously injured and molested, seen to build tension until they erupt and bring damage to civilizations.

This concept is introduced in the very beginning of the book, when Jemisin introduces, “And then he reaches forth with all the fine control that the world has brainwashed and backstabbed and brutalized out of him, and all the sensitivity that his masters have bred into him through generations of rape and coercion and highly unnatural selection,” metaphorically holding the Earth in his hands before “he breaks it.”  It’s seen yet again when Essun tears apart the fault line and causes deadly destruction to the town, claiming that “The kind of hate that can make a man murder his own son? It came from everyone around you.” It’s seen yet again when the readers are introduced to node stations where young Orogenes who struggle to control their powers are sedated and used to negate small tremors and fulfill sexual fantasies of perveted people. They meet the dead Orogene boy who had been held captive there, abused until he killed everyone within the station and himself. Once more, it’s seen “five days after Syenite shut down a volcano that she started, which killed a whole city, and eight days after she killed two ships full of people to keep her family’s existence a secret,” which occurs later in the book.

These situations build on the sociological aspects of the novel, of the continued social injustices, and it gives them physical repercussions. By continually pushing the Orogenes beyond their breaking points, we may see the entire world Jemisin fabricates brought to its downfall, caused by the prejudices of the very people who are desperate to save it.