Core Essay- Stella Boothby

At the start of this course, we crafted our first writing piece called the Lithosphere Essay. To prepare for this essay, we focused on learning and recognizing good and bad faith practices both in everyday life as well as connecting it to N.K. Jemisin’s Trilogy. More specifically, we honed in on the manipulation of bad-faith in terms of myth and science and how it creates systems of inequality and racism within the trilogy, as I wrote in my previous essay. As a framework for our writing, we continuously return and reflect our work to our course epigraph which highlights what race means to the core. Geraldine Heng portrays racialization  as “… a repeating tendency, of the gravist import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental, in order to distribute positions and powers differentially to human groups”. 

First, I will provide some hindsight and perspective into how I first interpreted this epigraph in terms of the first book “The Fifth Season”. The novel takes place on a supercontinent referred to as the Stillness, in a society that uses a use-caste system where most individuals are oppressed, targeted, and dehumanized. When I was reading the first novel, I explored the ideas about how our identities and lives are shaped by who and what we are surrounded by as well as the attributes and traits that we possess. In The Broken Earth Trilogy, there are two races: Orogenes and Stills who are treated drastically differently due to the qualities that one race has over the other. As for the Orogenes, they were born with special powers that give them the force to manipulate the Earth and seismic activity. Unlike Orogenes, the Stills do not have powers and therefore, are perceived as “normal” beings. These two races live completely different lives and Orogenes are highly exploited and systematically harmed. This sparked my thinking of the world we live in today where certain groups of people still receive and experience poorer treatment than others. Whether that be in regards to their race, class, education, there are several systems of structure that deliberately separates humans and society. As you move through Jemisin’s Trilogy, you see several parallels and themes between her books as the story expands deeper into the lives of these Orogenes. 

At this point in the semester we have reached the core of our reading and thinking. When I think of the word core, I like to think of it as all the puzzle pieces coming together and meeting in the middle. Throughout this class, we are asked to think about the meaning behind our words or thoughts; to look at the bigger picture for our thinking. I think this question plays a significant role in wrapping up this final piece of work by using it as a tool to build our way up to where we are in the present. N.K. Jemisin’s series portrays themes of oppression, power, survival, and the effects of environmental degradation. It is a very compelling and eye opening read that she narrates through a science fiction lens, but holds many truths to reality as well. 

My viewpoints of the trilogy stayed relevantly consistent throughout reading, but certain characteristics of characters altered my thinking about the meaning behind the novels. For example, the series tells the story through the lives of three main characters: Essun, Syenite, and Damaya who are revealed to be the same person; all at different stages of their lives. However, most of the book surrounds Essun who undergoes tragic changes throughout the trilogy as she deals with personal trauma, societal oppression, and accepting her true identity. As the story unfolds, it is apparent that Essun experiences significant character development as she conquers these obstacles. At the beginning of the first novel, she feels ashamed of her Orogeny, concealing her identity from the world to avoid fear and punishment. However, as the trilogy progresses, we start to notice a shift of her attitude and acceptance towards herself and her powers. Instead of thinking she can only do harm to the world, she learns more about the nature of her powers in the Stillness and realizes she can also harness them for great change. The Fifth Season describes “It’s a gift if it makes us better. It’s a curse if we let it destroy us”. (Jemisin, 311 PDF). This pertains to the reality of any special trait that an individual possesses. It can be viewed through two different lenses as the Orogenes learn, one with a positive outcome and the other with a negative. Essun uses her powers for survival, to protect her loved ones, to manipulate her environment, and also to seek revenge from all that she lost. 

Though we see great deals of character development throughout the trilogy, the overarching theme and issues stay persistent. The racialization within their society never gets resolved and Orogenes are still fighting for justice and to recover from all the destruction that has been made. As I state in my Lithosphere essay, “They are Orogenes, the Misalems of the world, born cursed and terrible” (Jemisin, 145 PDF). This quote examines how severely misunderstood and exploited they are from the powerful sources in their society. The Fulcrum, which is an institution that trains Orogenes to constrain them from their powers is an example of this from the Trilogy. It is evident that those who hold the most power, are oftentimes the ones who exploit the vulnerable. This is referenced in The Stone Sky “… someone must suffer , if the rest are to enjoy luxury” (Jemisin, 1784 PDF). This portrays how in order for certain individuals to succeed or be satisfied, others are being hurt in the process. It encapsulates the harsh realities of structural societies and unjust power dynamics, while highlighting the inequality that exists within many systems of society. Sadly, someone is always getting the “bad end of the stick” when living in an unfair world. As for the trilogy, the Orogenes have to abide by the rules and system of their guardians who run the Fulcrum. The guardians feed into the suffering of the Orogenes due to their strong belief that the way they treat them is right and protects everyone around them. Though some guardians may feel empathy and remorse towards the Orogenes, their genuine concern for them is overshadowed by the systematic oppression that is ingrained into their society. Overall, this prohibits the guardians from showing these feelings or taking any action towards helping the Orogenes.

Lastly, Jemisin’s trilogy explores the ways in which conflict and power struggles impact communities and groups of individuals. But amongst all the chaos and suffering, there were still moments of hope for the future and a desire to make a change. For example, the novel notes “…what is important is that you know it was not all terrible. There was peace in long stretches, between each crisis. A chance to cool and solidify before the grind resumes.” (Jemisin, 263 PDF). Jemisin emphasizes the rift that occurs between two forces battling in a society. However, we learn that sometimes it allows the opportunity for individuals to unite and rebuild what has been destroyed; shedding light on the possibilities of what could be on the other side.