Justice, Power, and Node Stations in Jemisin’s ‘The Broken Earth’ trilogy

In my thinking essay, I focused on N.K. Jemisin’s use of earthquakes or “shakes” and the node stations in The Fifth Season. Jemisin begins world-building by showing readers symptoms of the society our main characters Essun, Damaya, and Syenite exist in. This is a world of oppression, control, and racism that is constantly one disaster away from a Season. Orogenes are people that have the innate ability to control and quell earthquakes which makes them both helpful and dangerous to “stills” or people that cannot control the earth. Orogenes are helpful because of their skills in quelling the shakes of the earth, helping prevent a new “Season” of death. Seasons are times when natural disasters caused by Father Earth lead to an apocalyptic environment and abundant death for those to live in it. Jemisin begins The Fifth Season with the story of the beginning of the end of the world, continuing throughout The Obelisk Gate, and The Stone Sky

Jemisin gives the reader background information about the Stillness or continent that this series takes place on, and Yumenes a government city where the end of the world begins. Earthquakes in this world are constantly happening even if stills cannot feel most of them. “Here is the Stillness, which is not still even on a good day.” (The Fifth Season, p. 7) The end of this world is set off because a huge earthquake up North in Yumenes triggers a Season, making it an incredibly important geological event ending the world for the last time. “So he reaches deep and takes hold of the humming tapping bustling reverberating rippling vastness of the city, and the quieter bedrock beneath it, and the roiling churn of heat and pressure beneath that. Then he reaches wide, taking hold of the great sliding-puzzle piece of earthshell on which the continent sits. Lastly, he reaches up. For power. He takes all that, the strata and the magma and the people and the power, in his imaginary hands. Everything. He holds it. He is not alone. The earth is with him. Then he breaks it.” (The Fifth Season, p. 7)

Jemisin gives readers a peek into the society that our characters live in right away, using a non-linear timeline to build an unstable world of “The Stillness”, immediately throwing the reader into the tension between orogenes and stills. With this worldbuilding, we immediately and rightfully sympathize with our orogene characters; Essun, Syenite, and Damaya (later revealed to be the same person at different points in her life). Jemisin shows the horror of a world constantly afraid of its ending and another Season beginning threatening the livelihood of all the communities or comms of the stills. 

The Fulcrum is characterized as a safe place that takes orogenes away from the hatred of stills and trains them to be useful instead of dangerous. However, through the eyes of one of our characters in The Fifth Season Syenite, we are shown a much less polished version of propaganda the Fulcrum uses to control orogenes and stills alike, node stations. Syenite is under the impression that grits (students training at the Fulcrum) who will not listen are sent to node stations to quell local shakes and protect comms as a punishment. “Is Crack’s control really a problem? Or is it simply that her tormentors have done their best to make her crack?” (The Fifth Season p. 204) “It could be worse, though. No one ever sees or mentions Crack again.” (The Fifth Season p. 211) In the eighth chapter, we are shown what the node stations really are. “Even the least of us must serve the greater good,” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) “The body in the node maintainer’s chair is small, and naked. Thin, its limbs atrophied. Hairless. There are things- tubes and pipes and things, she has no words for them- going into the stick-arms, down the goggle-throat, across the narrow crotch. There’s a flexible bag on the corpse’s belly, attached to its belly somehow, and it’s full of- ugh,” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) We find out that these stations are a gruesome use of orogene children who could not be taught or refused to be controlled by the Fulcrum. These node stations are used by Jemisin to show not only how powerful orogenes are as a people because they are so capable at such a young age, but also how violently the Fulcrum oppresses them. Throughout the trilogy, Jemisin references node stations as a way to remind us of the gruesome reality that few know of. We are reminded of node stations when Corundum was killed, when the tuners’ wire chairs are described, and when Essun thinks about the Fulcrum and their treatment of orogenes as a people.

Throughout the trilogy, Jemisin uses geological events and concepts to display power. While Jemisin uses the node stations and control of orogenes by the Fulcrum to display the power that the Guardians (people who can negate orogenic power) have over orogenes, Jemisin brings this idea back with the story of Syl Anagist and the briar patch that powers the city (the predecessor to node stations). Jemisin also makes a commentary on social issues of race and racism. This hatred of orogenes by stills is reminiscent of real-life issues of racism towards minority groups, specifically Black people. In The Broken Earth trilogy, Jemisin uses stills and orogenes to comment on racism and the use of racist language. Stills in this world are taught to be afraid of and hate those with orogenic powers, going so far as to make up the slur rogga which is mirroring the real-life use of the n-word which white people and other minority groups use to disempower those of Black heritage. In real life, there is no reason to be hateful against Black people, but Jemisin gives stills an excuse of sorts by making orogenes powerful and intimidating. While this doesn’t make it okay to treat orogenes as such, this does help contextualize the world readers have been dropped into. 

 Jemisin also uses geological events and concepts to display justice. Jemisin shows us the concept of justice throughout many events including the murder of Corundum in Meov, and the journey Essun makes throughout the entirety of The Broken Earth trilogy to avenge her son Uche and save her daughter Nassun from their father Jija. “‘I have to go now.’ Because you do. You need to find Jija,” (The Fifth Season p. 24) “You should have told Jija, before you ever married him, before you slept with him…Then if the urge to kill a rogga had hit him, he would’ve inflicted it on you, not Uche.” (The Fifth Season p. 272) Syenite chooses to kill Corundum rather than have the Fulcrum claim ownership over him because she knows they will turn him into a node maintainer. “You know what they’ll do to him, Syen. A child that strong, my child, raised outside the Fulcrum. You know.” (The Fifth Season p. 433) While murder isn’t necessarily a just option, with the context of the Fulcrum using Alabaster’s son as a node maintainer back in chapter eight of The Fifth Season combined with Alabaster begging Syenite not to let that happen to another one of his sons (Corundum) we can see how it is a murder of mercy, love, and protection. Essun’s journey to find Jija and Nassun is not only for revenge because Essun wants to kill Jija as an atonement for murdering her son Uche. Uche was an orogene, but also for justice because Uche should not have died just for who he was. “You cowards. You animals, who look at a child and see prey. Jija’s the one to blame for Uche, some part of you knows that-” (The Fifth Season p. 57) “No Nassun. And now no direction, no realistic way to find her. You are suddenly bereft of even hope.” (The Fifth Season p. 406) Jemisin’s focus in my interpretation of The Broken Earth trilogy was justice and how important it is in the world-building for the Stillness. Jemisin is not only trying to show how unjust the world is now, but she is also giving us background on how the world was unjust before the Stillness in Syl Anagist.

In The Stone Sky readers are given a look into the history of Syl Anagist and the reason behind the Seasons of death. Jemisin uses this history of Syl Anagist to show readers how tuners, or people capable of working orogenic power with the power of magic in harmony, are treated like they are not people, much like orogenes are treated by stills in the Stillness. Tuners in Syl Anagist are created for a purpose of powering the Plutonic Engine so that the conductors (like Guardians for the tuners) and people of Syl Anagist can harvest lifeforce from the Earth. “Life is sacred in Syl Anagist- as it should be, for the city burns life as the fuel for its glory.” (The Stone Sky p. 334) “No one would do this for a mere lump of iron… We drilled a test bore at one of the Antarctic Nodes. Then we sent in probes that took this from the innermost core. It’s a sample of the world’s own heart.” (The Stone Sky p. 325-326) “There’s not enough magic to be had just from plants and genengineered fauna; someone must suffer, if the rest are to enjoy luxury. Better the earth, Syl Anagist reasons. Better to enslave a great inanimate object that cannot feel pain and will not object.” (The Stone Sky p. 334) Life is considered sacred in Syl Anagist, yet they are taking life from the Earth without ever thinking if it was a living being. 

My understanding of the use of geological concepts to show power and justice in The Broken Earth trilogy has not changed much throughout the series. Jemisin uses these concepts to justify the actions our characters make by showing readers the reasoning behind them. Syenite chooses to murder her child Corundum when the island of Meov is attacked by the Fulcrum and Guardians. The tuners in Syl Anagist choose to revolt and break the Plutonic Engine because they are not treated as people and will be useless after its successful launch. Essun chooses to avenge Uche’s death and save Nassun because Jija killed Uche and kidnapped Nassun out of fear and hatred of orogenes. Each different event is chosen intentionally by Jemisin to weave a thread of justice, and the choice between love and hatred throughout every integral moment in the trilogy.

N.K. Jemisin on Problematic Art and Percival Everett’s The Trees

The Epigraph:

Oh, no. No, no, no. There’s too much to learn from examining that tension between the power and the impact of the art and realizing where that art comes from and what the impetus behind that art is. The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing, but flag it, warn it, put it off to the side where people can engage with it at their leisure, at their choice or at a point where they’re strong enough or capable of doing so, but then engage with it. There’s a line between respecting the work and honoring the person. You can respect the craft. You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal. Artists are human beings and that means you need to examine them in all their facets. You have to recognize that these are people and that the things that make them sometimes horrible people are sometimes the things that make them good writers or good artists and that’s what you want to engage with.–N.K. Jemisin, “N.K. Jemisin on H.P. Lovecraft”

On the first day of this class, we were presented with a collection of epigraphs to give us a peek into what we would be learning and focusing on for this semester. An epigraph is a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme. This class is a study on African American Literature and our epigraphs reflect that by, for the most part, focusing on African American voices and issues. Throughout the semester we have returned to these epigraphs again and again because they are a common thread throughout all of our texts and assignments, therefore, allowing us to make deeper connections between works than just “they both have a Black author.”

How it relates to Percival Everett’s The Trees

My chosen epigraph is the quote from N.K. Jemisin on H.P. Lovecraft and engaging with problematic art. Jemisin discusses art and its impact on people interacting with it. No matter when or how art is created, it is never created in a vacuum. Art is a product of its time as well as its artist’s personal beliefs and views. Over time views on different social issues shift and change as new generations establish themselves. H.P. Lovecraft is a great example of art being a product of its creator. While Lovecraft was one of the most influential authors of his time and a talented artist, he was also “a man who, in a 1934 letter, described ‘extra-legal measures such as lynching & intimidation’ in Mississippi and Alabama as ‘ingenious.’” making him one of the most racist authors of his time. These extreme views and the horror content of the majority of Lovecraft’s stories made his work difficult to engage with at times because it left the reader disgusted and uncomfortable. 

As Jemisin says in the epigraph above, “The best way to engage with twisted or otherwise problematic art, in my opinion, is to first off acknowledge that that art has an impact, hurts people, and understand that engaging with it could perpetuate some of the harm that that art is capable of doing, but flag it, warn it, put it off to the side where people can engage with it at their leisure, at their choice or at a point where they’re strong enough or capable of doing so, but then engage with it.”  throwing oneself into art can be harmful, and it is a good idea to slow down and read or engage with it at a pace that makes it more digestible. This epigraph overall reminds me that you cannot ever fully separate the artist from the art because it is a product of who the artist is and where they came from. Jemisin said, “You can respect the craft. You don’t have to put that person on a pedestal.” reminding us as readers that we can enjoy art and still criticize the artist, or vice versa because they are still human and they will make mistakes. One of the first pieces of text we engaged with as a group that supports this epigraph is Barkley Brown’s African American Women’s Quilting. The article on the different art of quilts reminds us that art can be misrepresented and misunderstood without context. One of the first things we discussed with the difference between the two styles- European quilt styling and African American quilt styling- was the visual difference of one following an expected pattern (European) while the other seemed almost random without understanding the culture behind the different rhythms in the quilt. (African American) Slowing down to remember the context between art and the artist has been integral to studying African American literature. 

 In the context of Percival Everatt’s The Trees, this epigraph reminds us to focus on the author and the reasons why he may write the way he does. Everett includes many uses of the n-word because he is making a point to his multiple audiences. He is using this repetition of an uncomfortable slur to be accurate and as authentic as possible for his Black audience. For his white audience that is not met with constant microaggressions in their daily life, Everett uses the uncomfortable fact that people in 2022 are still that racist and that slur is used in everyday conversations without a second thought. This proves the point by making white audiences feel the discomfort that Black people have had to live with every single day. Everett employs specific character dialogue to show characters starting to say the n-word and catching themselves partway through, further pushing the idea that they know it is not right to say it yet they still do it because they don’t believe that Black people are equal to them. This also shows the complexity of the language use because the characters are completely fine using the slur without a thought when around other like-minded people, but stutter to catch themselves when faced with a human being in the minority group that they are disrespecting. Everett knows that the use of the n-word on nearly, if not, every page of the book is uncomfortable for the reader because they are presented with the constant attack of the language. While Everett is writing for multiple audiences, he is especially focusing on giving his white audience a taste of how constant microaggressions in the life of a person who belongs to a minority group can affect them.     Percival Everett shows us as readers that the purpose of art is to evoke emotions; be those good or bad. Everett displays this power through the use of the n-word. Art is often born out of pain and suffering; it is not meant to be entirely positive or beautiful. Everett knows that the purposeful consistent use of such an ugly and degrading word would weigh on the reader’s emotions. Often as a reader, I forgot that The Trees is set in the present era of 2020, and not way back in the 1920s. This was something that Everett wanted to evoke from his readers, he wants to bring attention to issues that are uncomfortable, and gruesome. In The Trees, Everett brings attention to the subject of mass lynchings across the country in the form of a murder mystery. These short chapters, usually two to six pages long give The Trees a fast and confusing pace. This is an entirely calculated choice on Everett’s part because it gives his white audience something to grasp and struggle with as they try to follow the plot and abundant character perspectives. This confusion is mirroring the feeling Black folks had when there were mass lynchings this uncertainty of never knowing who, or if you were next to be accused of a false narrative and sentenced to death. This discomfort for the multiple audiences is an integral part of Everett’s purpose in writing The Trees, he wanted to write a book everyone hated.

The Chile Earthquake of 1960

According to Britannica, the timeline of the Chile earthquake of 1960 is as follows; On May 21st, 1960 A series of foreshocks, including one of an 8.1 magnitude, warned of the coming disaster and caused major destruction in Concepción. The fault-displacement source of the earthquake extended over an estimated 560–620 mile (900–1,000 km) stretch of the Nazca Plate, which subducted under the South American Plate. The next day, May 22nd, 1960 at 3:11PM an earthquake with a magnitude of between 9.4-9.6 hit approximately 100 miles off the coast of Chile, parallel to the city of Valdivia. National Geographic says the entirety of Chile shook violently for more than 10 minutes. About 15 minutes later at 3:26PM an 80 foot tsunami rose high on the expanse of Chilean coastline that paralleled the subducting plate. The combined effects of the earthquake and tsunami left two million people homeless. Though the death toll was never fully resolved, early estimates ranging into the thousands were scaled back to 1,655. About 3,000 people were injured. Two days after the foreshocks warning of the coming disaster, on May 23rd, 1960 at 6:00AM waves that arrived nearly 15 hours after the earthquake in the Hawaiian Islands—6,200 miles (10,000 km) away—still crested at nearly 35 feet (11 metres) at landfall in some places. The waves caused millions of dollars of damage at Hilo Bay on the main island of Hawaii, where they also killed 61 people. Seven hours later at approximately 1:00PM waves reach the main Japanese island of Honshu. The waves had subsided to about 18 feet (5.5 metres) and laid waste to over 1,600 homes and killed 138 people. In the Philippines, tsunami waves left 32 dead or missing. Though the oblique angle by which the waves approached the Pacific coast of the United States mitigated their force, Crescent City, California, saw waves of up to 5.6 feet (1.7 metres), and boats and docks in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Long Beach were damaged. Three days after the earthquake that caused two million people to lose their homes, on May 25th, 1960 the Cordón Caulle volcano in Chile’s Lake District erupted after nearly 40 years of inactivity. While this isn’t fully supported as directly related to the earthquakes aftereffects, some seismologists think it is to be linked to the quake.

This earthquake affected many different places in the hours and days following the subduction of the plates that the earthquake originated from. These places include all of Chile (There was especially bad effects in Valdivia, Lebu, and Puerto Aisen), Japan (Honshu), The United States, (several cities in California including Crescent City, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Long Beach as well as several islands in Hawaii including Hilo Bay) and the Philippines. This disaster caused roughly 3,000 injuries and around 1,655 deaths. Two million people across the world also lost their homes. Many Chilean cities sustained significant damage, including Puerto Montt, where noticeable subsidence occurred, and Valdivia, where nearly half of the buildings were rendered uninhabitable. Most casualties resulted from the descent 15 minutes later of a tsunami that rose up to 80 feet (25 metres) high on the expanse of Chilean coastline—bounded by the cities of Lebu and Puerto Aisen—that paralleled the subducting plate.

The life effects of surviving a severe earthquake such as the Chile earthquake of 1960 reminds me of Jemisin’s description of the Seasons. While the timeline for this earthquake followed by tsunami (and then possibly causing a volcanic eruption) brings the thought of Jemisin’s choices in the timeline of the end of the world within The Broken Earth trilogy. This real life disaster was preceded by foreshocks the day before the major earthquake hit. Much like how Essun’s connection to the obelisks in times of need before disaster could be seen as a warning of her strength in wielding the Obelisk Gate within Jemisin’s work. The reader experiences the beginning of this new Season along with Essun; starting with the rifting causing majorly destructive shakes across the Stillness, followed by volcanic eruptions, animals behavior changing to become survival of the fittest, and the development of the environmental changes. These environmental changes include ash clouds, acid rain in the desert, and boilbugs; one major issue for survival followed by another and another and another. The rifting combined with the murder of her son Uche cause Essun to be forced from her comm, becoming homeless; much like the disastrous earthquake in Chile caused 2 million people to lose their homes.

Those lucky enough to survive the Chilean earthquake in 1960 and only be left with injuries and disfigurements remind me of several characters in Jemisin’s work. Alabaster succumbs to the magic eating away at him and loses his life after both causing the Rifting and saving the people of Castrima-under from Essun’s power. Essun toward the end of the trilogy ends up losing an arm (and ultimately her life to the power of the Obelisk Gate). She finds herself at first struggling with how to function as an individual with these new limitations including the loss of her orogeny without cost to her body. In the Stone Sky we also re-meet one of the other grits from Syentite’s time at the Fulcrum in The Fifth Season, named Maxixe who during the Season has also been through many adversities and lost both of his legs. While there was not much art created because of the disaster in 1960, there are photographs of the carnage left afterward. I think that it is important to focus on what was left behind after the disaster rather than focusing on what or who is missing because it is only as a group or community that people survive not only the physical effects of natural disasters but also the mental toll. As someone who has never lived through a natural disaster, I feel incredibly lucky to have lived in such a safe area for my entire life thus far. This essay helped focus on the after effects of a real life disaster in order to amplify for us as readers the cost paid for ending the Season in N. K. Jemisin’s The Broken Earth trilogy.

When The Biggest Earthquake Ever Recorded Hit Chile, It Rocked The World :  NPR

The Fifth Season- Earthquakes and Node Stations

In N.K Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, there are frequent mentions of shakes or earthquakes, and the orogenes being able to quell “shakes” instinctually even from birth. The novel’s main government city Yumenes houses the Fulcrum which is a government-run facility (much like boot camps in the military) that trains orogenes to use and control their powers in a useful way for the Fulcrum to exploit. We as readers follow Damaya through rigorous training to move up the metaphorical ladder and gain status through “rings”. We are immediately shown the hatred of orogenes or “roggas” by the non-orogenes or “stills”. The stills are taught to fear and hate the orogenes because they are powerful and without control, unpredictable. 

Earthquakes in this world are constantly happening even if the stills cannot feel all of them. “Here us the Stillness, which is not still even on a good day.” (The Fifth Season, p. 7) The end of this world is also set off because a huge earthquake in the North triggers a Season, making it an incredibly important geological event, considering the entire story is about the end of the world for the last time. “So he reaches deep and takes hold of the humming tapping bustling reverberating rippling vastness of the city, and the quieter bedrock beneath it, and the roiling churn of heat and pressure beneath that. Then he reaches wide, taking hold of the great sliding-puzzle piece of earthshell on which the continent sits. Lastly, he reaches up. For power. He takes all that, the strata and the magma and the people and the power, in his imaginary hands. Everything. He holds it. He is not alone. The earth is with him. Then he breaks it.” (The Fifth Season, p. 7) It is incredibly interesting the way that Jemisin uses this non-linear timeline to build an unstable world of “The Stillness”, immediately throwing the reader into the tension between the orogenes and stills. We as readers immediately sympathize with our orogene characters; Essun, Syenite, and Damaya. Jemisin shows the horror of a world constantly afraid of the world ending and another Season beginning. In this world, “The Stillness” which is sarcastically named as such, is constantly moving. The plates are moving and causing shakes that threaten the livelihood of all the communities or comms of the stills or “normal” people during the Season.

To control this constant movement in “The Stillness” the Fulcrum trains these orogenes. However, chapter eight shows the reader a less polished version of the Fulcrum. In this chapter Syenite and Alabaster are traveling to Allia on a mission and Alabaster senses an issue with a nearby node station. The pair detour to the node station to check it out and Syenite, who has never seen a node station before, is faced with the horror of such a system implemented by the Fulcrum to exploit those orogenes that are unable to learn control. This revelation is not only the first example of the Fulcrum’s violence towards orogenes for Syenite but also for us as readers. “The chamber beyond is high and vaulted and dim, but empty-except at the room’s center, where there’s a big… thing. She would call it a chair, if it was made of anything but wires and straps. Not very comfortable- looking, except in that it seems to hold its occupant at an easy recline. The node maintainer is seated in it, anyway, so it must be-” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) This draws the reader in, wondering what a node maintainer looks like. Unluckily for both us as readers and Syenite, the grotesque imagery highlights the violence from the Fulcrum in this little body. Even Alabaster mentions to Syenite, “Even the least of us must serve the greater good,” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) “The body in the node maintainer’s chair is small, and naked. Thin, its limbs atrophied. Hairless. There are things- tubes and pipes and things, she has no words for them- going into the stick-arms, down the goggle-throat, across the narrow crotch. There’s a flexible bag on the corpse’s belly, attached to its belly somehow, and it’s full of- ugh,” (The Fifth Season, p. 139) This reveals to the reader the true horror that the Fulcrum is doing to these children. Stripping them of not only their choice and self-control but also not even giving them privacy with dressing them in clothing. 

These children are used and abused by the Fulcrum because they questioned the Fulcrum and were unable to achieve those set standards. Syenite analyzes the contraption at the node station to try and understand the reason that the Fulcrum would do something so wretched despite being shown only positive propaganda all her life. “THe wire framework is a particular bit of genius; there’s a crank and a handle nearby, so the whole apparatus can be flipped over to facilitate cleaning. The wire minimizes bedsores, maybe. There’s a stench of sickness in the air, but nearby is a whole shelf of bottled tinctures and pills; understandable, since it would take more than ordinary comm-made penicillin to do something like this. Perhaps one of the tube things is for putting that medicine into the node maintainer. And this one is for pushing in food, and that one is for taking away urine, or, and that cloth wrapping is for sopping up drool.” (The Fifth Season, p. 140) This produces an incredibly vivid picture of what the Fulcrum has done to this child, what we learn of later, is one of Alabaster’s children to make them “useful” rather than a waste of orogeny. 

Alabaster, who knew about node stations before this chapter, wraps up the situation of the node child quite succinctly with several lines of dialogue between pages 141 and 143. “ ‘It’s a simple matter to apply a lesion here and there that severs a rogga’s self-control completely, while still allowing its instinctive use. Assuming the rogga survives the operation.’ ” (The Fifth Season, p. 141) “ ‘ Drug away the infections and so forth, keep him alive enough to function, and you’ve got the one thing even the Fulcrum can’t provide: a reliable, harmless, completely beneficial source of orogeny.” (The Fifth Season, p. 142) “ ‘Problem is, the node maintainers feel terrible pain whenever they use orogeny. The lesion, see. Since they can’t stop themselves from reacting to every shake in the vicinity, even the microshakes, it’s considered humane to keep them completely sedated.’ ” (The Fifth Season, p. 142) “The ultimate proof of the world’s hatred dead and cold and stinking between them, she can’t even flinch this time. Because. If the Fulcrum can do this, or the Guardians or the Yumenescence Leadership or the geomests or whoever came up with this nightmare, then there’s no point in dressing up what people like Syenite and Alabaster really are.” (The Fifth Season, p. 143) The reality of this world is constantly moving, which means that the Fulcrum is creating these stations where children… children are constantly in pain controlling not only the larger shakes but also the microshakes and that there is nothing that they can do to make it stop. No wonder Alabaster has been quelling the shakes constantly throughout their journey to Allia.

As a reader, this revelation of the node maintainers and what the Fulcrum does to these innocent children hit me really hard. I had to set the book aside and have a good cry at the horror of this fictional reality. It was a necessary thing to add to show the reader the reasoning behind Syenite’s betrayal of the Fulcrum later on. But it was incredibly disheartening to have to believe that someone could do such a horrible thing to an innocent child.

Call and Response: The Inclusion of Art in Text

  While reading through the textbook Call and Response The Riverside Anthology of the African American Literary Tradition, I noticed the ample collection of different forms of art. At first I thought it was just there for fun, but then after the class discussing W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk I went back to my notes and started digging more. The editors chose to emphasize the different sections and topics within the anthology by both juxtaposing the array of media used, while also tying them together with their importance to the culture itself. Therefore, it is imperative for the reader to take in not only the text itself, but also the images, musical lines, poetry, etc. that the editors chose to add in throughout the anthology in order to best understand the culture from an outsider’s point of view.

At the beginning of each section there is a small paragraph describing the period of time as well as the topic that will be covered. Around that text however, is the presence of the art. For example, in the first section of the text titled ‘Go Down, Moses, Way Down in Egypt’s Land’ the editors include both a portrait by Aaron Douglass from James Weldon Johnson’s ‘God’s Trombones’, as well as a line of musical notes titled Listen Lord, My Prayer. (pp. 1) I believe that the editors included this art as a way to emphasize the importance of oral and visual artistic traditions in African American culture. African American culture values these traditions because of the oppression of education during slavery and the lack of black folks being given the knowledge to be able to write or read. This oral tradition allows them to pass on the lessons and knowledge they have gained from their ancestors as well as give hidden advice on how to escape slavery. As Angela Khristin Brown says, “African-American oral culture is rich in poetry, including spirituals, gospel music, blues, and rap. This oral poetry also appears in the African-American tradition of Christian sermons, which make use of deliberate repetition, cadence, and alliteration. African-American literature—especially written poetry, but also prose—has a strong tradition of incorporating all of these forms of oral poetry.” (pp. 2, Brown)

Throughout this first section of Call and Response (which is set from 1619-1808 and discusses the conditions of slavery and oppression) the editors sprinkle in lines of music from this time period about these conditions. Examples of this include ‘What Ship is This That’s Landed on the Shore?’ (pp.4), ‘Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?’ (pp. 10), and ‘Oh! de Song of Salvation Is a Mighty Sweet Song’ (pp.19). I believe the editors chose these specific songs due to their lyricism in relation to the topic. In ‘What Ship is This That’s Landed on the Shore?’ The black gospel song is about the transplantation of the African peoples “Although the overwhelming majority of colonial Africans were reduced to this state of perpetual slavery, Africans in the North American British colonies made up only a portion of a larger black population that has been transported as slaves on the Middle Passage to destinations throughout the New World.” (pp.4-5) This song is a testament to the African peoples resilience in such a difficult time in history where they were separated across the globe, but were still brought together in their culture through music. 

The song ‘Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel?’ shows the importance of ancestors and black history as a part of African American culture. In order to move on and continue through life in a meaningful way, you must always look back at your ancestors, their lives, and the struggles they went through to have you be where you are. This is complimented very well with the recursive nature of the songs themselves, as well as the editors choice to consistently go back to the music and art of the time throughout the anthology. “As Olaudah Equiano explains in The Interesting Narrative in Africa the spoken word, music, and dance were at the center of a communal and profoundly religious way of life. Most Africans believed that spirits lived in all things- in plants, in trees, in animals, and even in stones, as well as in people. All things on earth were connected by a life force that tied people to people and people to things. Most Africans also practiced ancestral worship. They believed that a person’s soul survived after death and that they could reach the souls of their long-dead ancestors.” (pp. 10) In accordance with this way of ancestral worship, you would look back on and ask for guidance from your ancestors and their lives that led to your birth. The repetition of the music itself, as well as the music appearances throughout the anthology really pushes the importance of this belief.

Lastly, the song ‘Oh! de Song of Salvation Is a Mighty Sweet Song’ is a celebratory song speaking of both the song itself being powerful to black folks, as well as the meaning behind the song. Singing of freedom and salvation from slavery. The inclusion of this music reminds me of both the video we watched with Bernice Johnson Reagon, as well as W.E.B. DuBois’ The Souls of Black Folk. The inclusion of this music was intentional and impacts the way a reader interprets the text around it. With the intentional placement of the music, I am reminded of the impact Beth mentioned at the one version of The Souls of Black Folk being published without the musical lines, thus accidentally changing the meaning of the text’s interpretations.As with the video we watched in class, Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke of music being just a way to get to singing, and that singing was the way to bring people together in a meaningful way. “I learned that if you bring black people together, you bring them together with a song.” Music has a way of both staying the same and changing with the times. The notes and music itself stays exactly the same but the meaning behind it shifts with the culture itself. Much like Bernice Johnson Reagon spoke of devotional songs such as “This Little Light Of Mine” shifting and being used as “Freedom Songs” during the Civil Rights Movement. With each piece of knowledge gained from both the images and musical lines, the reader is better equipped to interpret the text itself in a deeper way. Art is not made in a vacuum, it is impacted by the history and culture around it.