The Fear of Change and Unpredictability

A note on Preparedness

Humans, by nature, cling on to preparation and planning. We like to know what to have, what to know, and where to go in case of an extremity. Before an ashfall, humans can turn to a written out list of what items to stock prior to the fall, in order to feel the most secure when catastrophe strikes. Preparedness makes us feel safe. Unpredictability makes us feel threatened. When something is unpredictable and unable to be prepared for, that is what society despises most and will try to contain at all costs.

“The people of the stillness live in a perpetual state of disaster preparedness.” (Jemisin)

Like the people reading that list, preparing for an impending volcano, the people of the stillness favor control over their safety. They have “runny-sacks” to bring their necessities with them while they try to survive the world-wide apocalyptic events unfolding. They contain those that have the power to be unpredictable, in order to feel safe.

Why does this matter?

My goal in this post is to start a conversation of similarities and purposeful parallels between nature, the society described to us in The Fifth Season and our own society. I have narrowed down their commonalities based on the idea of fear of unpredictability and the natural act of what occurs when pressure is built up over time. I think the way Jemisin is able to personify the forces of nature in a way that feels human and relevantly describes the built up anger caused by injustice is groundbreaking (literally). The first time I read this novel, many of these connections slipped past me, but now I can’t unsee them and they can’t go unnoticed. The unpredictability of change scares people, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t occur.

In Jemisin’s, in The Fifth Season, oregenes give off the same fear and unpredictability as a season does to the people of the stills (or in real life, a natural disaster). Damaya is born to a family who does not understand or withhold the same powers that she was born with. It is not genetic and it is not sourced from any specific point of origination, making it unpredictable. We can recall the moment we found out that most oregenes exhibit their first act of oregenic power in school, when they are unable to control their emotions and end up killing one of their classmates accidentally.

“Fear of a bully, fear of a volcano; the power within you does not distinguish. It does not recognize degree.”

This is one of the first comparisons I found linking oregenes to their natural urges to behave as the natural world does- unforgivingly powerful.

“That’s why people like these fear you, because your beyond sense and preparation” (Jemisin)

“What it actually means is they couldn’t predict you. You’re proof that they’ll never understand orogeny; it’s not science, it’s something else. And they’ll never control us, not really. Not completely.” (Jemisin)

Then I traced it further to quotes like these, coming from Alabaster in explanation of Syenite’s relationship with the other members in the fulcrum. This is where is all becomes clearer to her, she is different and she is feared.

This is where the connection comes in to play, how are the geological descriptions of the seasons and the oregenes similar? They are both feared by society and unpredictable by nature. These quotes expose us to why unpredictability is so feared and that is because you can not completely control something that is uncontrollable. When control means power, this becomes a concerning dynamic.

Although plastic wrap and torches can’t prepare someone enough to endure the injustice of a society who hates you for something you were born with.

A note to built up of pressure

The way we view and analyze a volcanic eruption purposely intersects with the powers of an oregene and the need for justice in our world. One act of hatred or injustice could create friction. Another occurence of inequality could create stronger tension. When it becomes a constance in the life of the person the acts are happening to, they might just explode.

“And you… shut down. You don’t mean to. It’s just a bit much, isn’t it? Too much. You’ve been through a lot, you’re very strong, but there are limits to what even you can bear.” (Jemisin) 

Acts of injustice built up over time and the pressure that rises slowly before an eruption connected in my mind in a very cohesive and logical way. Neither people or nature are invincible, they have a breaking point when they are put through too much devastation. Through our dimensional narrator, we are exposed to both the pressure that is built up and the breakthrough that occurs. Though, the pressures don’t seem as understood until the climax, where syenite finally understands the injustices she has been through and become aware of the need for change.

“Perhaps you think it wrong that I dwell so much on the horrors, the pain, but pain is what shapes us, after all. We are creatures born of heat and pressure and grinding, ceaseless movement. To be still is to be… not alive. ” (Jemisin)

A note on Catastrophism

Nur and Burgess describe catastrophism as sudden, typically unpredictable natural disaster that leads to abrupt change in a culture or lifestyle that has been stable for a longtime and furthers this definition by including that it is usually followed specifically with great adaption in societal, political, or military order. I think that this could be a connecting point or epiphany in my logic- why does Jemisin make these evident text based parallels between the feelings and qualities of oregenes to geological events and natural forces in general? Maybe it is because these catastrophes, though destructive and uncontrollable to human life, create change and disrupt the present stability of the once prevailing societal structure. That’s what the oregenes and this society needs in order to ensure justice for those who are being autonomically controlled and manipulated- catastrophic change.

A note on Prediction

I predict that in the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, Syenite will reciprocate the pressure she has endured back on to the unjust development that is the Fulcrum. Hopefully she will be able to promise a better future for future orgenes, possibly even her impending child, where they are able to live as humans and not as possessions of mere capability. Where the Fulcrum believed it was the oregenes that were the crack in the system, it was really their treatment of them that was the true danger to society. They were focusing on the wrong issues.

“Need to step back from the old model, worrying only about the larger and obvious faults and focus on the more problematic and subtle faults.” Earthquakes May Endanger New York

Thus, I traced these connections between the fear and treatment of both oregenes and nature made by Jemisin to be extremely relevant to social issues and the terror that comes along with disorder of what was once stability for some.