Core Essay

You never know what you are going to get with a Professor Beth McCoy English class. I walked into English 111 ready to read about an author I had heard little to nothing about like many of my other English courses. Then McCoy threw us a curveball. We had to learn about seismology and geoscience, in an English course. 

Throughout the semester we would have little nudges back to seismology and  geoscience, whether that was playing with a slinky, learning about p waves and s waves and how they interact with Earth, to our first essay having the title of lithosphere. It was through these mini lessons and research that we came across this really cool fact about the Earth. Our class learned that humans have no physical data from the core, all the information we have learned about the core is from seismic waves passing through the Earth. This information gave us a basic understanding of the Earth and how Earthquakes related information to humans about the Earth’s intricate internal structures.

For the Lithosphere essay, I did not have an end goal in mind for this course as we are supposed to follow this course piece by piece and spend time slowing down thinkING and looking back on what we have learned. At the time I decided to focus on Orogeny in N.K Jemison’s Broken Earth Trilogy, and how it is used to discriminate against Orogenes as they have such tremendous power. Jemison has a glossary in the back of her books and describes that Orogeny is “The ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events.” These orogene’s have the power to control the inner machinations of the Earth’s lithosphere manipulating energy beneath the surface. This allowed us readers to recall and connect back to the previous science lessons we learned at the beginning of semester connecting real life seismology to a fictionalized depiction. Jemison did incredible amounts of research on geology and seismology just for accuracy of the real life scientific principles in the world she was creating. Dr. Scott Giorgis, Professor and Chair of Geneseo’s Department of Geology, someone who knows way more about geology than the average citizen, preached about the scientific accuracy of this novel, and he knows what he’s talking about.

 I needed to find a way to connect my lithosphere essay to my final Core essay, then I had an epiphany. I decided to look at this course as a mirror to the Earth itself. If we look at this course as a mirror of the Earth, we started at the lithosphere and we dug and dug into the Earth surface but we weren’t able to get to the core, where all the best knowledge is held. We needed to patiently wait and observe.  As we slowly thought through and waited, earthquakes caused seismic energy to pass through the core revealing important information to us because we spent so much time working and being patient.  This idea can be used as a reflection of the ending of The Broken Earth Trilogy. Hoa being the narrator, I would argue is the Core component of this story. If we knew Hoa was the narrator of this story the whole time It would not have had as much meaning. But since we saw Hoa’s journey through Essun’s perspective, we learned that he always had a soft spot for Essun because of her caring nature. In the first book of the trilogy The Fifth Season, Essun, known as Cyanite at that given moment, unintentionally had reached her Orogeny into an Obelisk, which are known to enhance Orogenic abilities, creating a seismic event that saved her life. It was in this moment, a figure known as a stone eater was trapped inside this obelisk. This stone eater turned out to be Hoa, who had been imprisoned in an obelisk for thousands of years enduring immense suffering and isolation. When Essun reached her Orogeny into the she asked this being, who she did not know was hoa at this given moment if he was okay.

This little moment of Essun’s care and empathy had a seismic-like effect on this story. This little interaction between Hoa and Essun, led to Hoa dedicating his journey to protecting Essun. Through this journey, we grew so close to these characters over the course of these books, we saw these characters develop. These little yet important layers of Hoa and Essun’s intricate identity, were very important to look back on after the finishing of this trilogy. These layers of identity and connection are like the layers of the lithosphere and reveal to us a deeper understanding of these characters and their motivations. Similar to seismic waves passing through the Earth to reveal hidden truths about the core, moments of care and empathy between Essun’s and Hoa’s can only be learned after the reader shows patience and spends time waiting and carefully observing and unlocking the mysteries that shaped these characters’ experiences and actions.

Iterations Final Reflection Essay

The idea of seed shapes has become a critical part of thinkING in my journey through Professor Beth McCoy’s English 337: African American Literature. In Ron Eglash’s 2007 TED talk, he defined a seed shape as the starting point of a fractal and to create a seed shape “you start with a shape and iteratively integrate smaller versions of the shape back into the design”. Understanding the concept of a seed shape was pivotal to our first essay which uniquely had the title of  “Seed Shape essay”. “We can look at these kinds of narratives as seed shapes on a fractal that represents Injustice against African Americans throughout history, with the theme of both oppression and resilience in each of many stories. These stories help represent the idea of a fractal, as these narratives serve as microcosms that reflect on the broader struggle of African Americans.” This thesis for my original seed shape essay carried an impact because it illuminated the interconnectedness of individual stories within the larger concept of African American history. These seed shapes helped serve to contribute to the larger fractal of the African American Experience.

Percival Everett is an author that has followed me through multiple of Professor McCoy courses. In this specific course we had the opportunity to read his novel, The Water Cure. Before reading this novel our class was introduced to one of Thomas Jefferson’s written work’s,  Notes on the State of Virginia: Query 14. This work of Thomas Jefferson could be viewed as a seed shape that prompted Percivial Everett to build upon this fractal.The famous quote in question was, “But never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration”. According to the Cambridge Dictionary,  narration is “the act of telling a story”, plain is “not decorated in any way; with nothing added”. So in essence plain narration is simply the restatement of fact. Percival Everett must have taken this statement to heart when writing his novel as there is only one account of plain narration in this story. The creation of The Water Cure is the combination of many different seed shapes coming together and building on each other to create a fractal. There is always some sort of real life reflection almost like a mirror that allows you to peer into another world. This allows the reader to see and connect why these ideas are in the novel. 

Our main character of The Water Cure Ishmael Kidder, is an author who writes under the pseudonym Estelle Gilliam. Everett writes that “Since the time of my child’s death I had been unable to make any mark on any surface that might be my own, but somehow Estelle Gilliam found a voice and life, such as it was”. Kidder was unable to write under his own name as there was such a deep void inside of him due to the death of his daughter. The exploration of identity and authorship reflected me back to Harriet Jacob’s novel Incidents In the Life of a Slave Girl,  where similarly Jacob’s writes under the pseudonym Linda Brent. as she grapples with the constraints of her identity. Jacob’s was unable to write under her real name as she faced real danger and societal retaliation for attempting to expose the brutal realities of slavery. The use of pseudonyms by both Ishmael Kidder and Harriet Jacobs serves a reflection of the essential sacrifices individuals must make to reclaim their voices. Everett’s use of a pseudonym for his character serves as a mirror that reflects on the seed shapes used to build upon the larger fractal of the African American Experience.

Ishmael Kidder writes directly to his readers in what can be described as anything but plain narration. In a previous exercise given to our class, we discussed the idea of Ishmael’s Art being restrained. This question has so many layers to it because readers can say that the art that Kidder is allowing for us to read is not restrained. Kidder does not follow any formal writing convention, as on multiple occasions he would not use proper grammar, left out punctuation and would sometimes leave scrambled letters that would need to be unscrambled to find out the true meaning. The other answer to this question is yes, Ishmael’s Art is being restrained. Ishmael did not trust the police to find his daughter’s killer and took into his own hand. Kidder may or may not have kidnapped a man who he believed may or may not have raped and killed his daughter. Kidder kidnapped this man and referred to him only as Art. Art is physically restrained in Kidder’s basement, where he psychologically torments him. The very idea that we can discuss both Ishmael’s art, and Art in Ishmael’s basement, brings me back to the idea of Thomas Jefferson stating, “ never yet could I find that a black had uttered a thought above the level of plain narration”. Jefferson’s racism allows readers to reflect on The Water Cure as a powerful rebuttal to such a narrow-mindset. It is through this lens we see the complexities of Kidder’s narrative, allowing for Everett to challenge this idea of  “plain narration” and is able to reflect on this ever growing fractal of the African American Experience.

 Everett challenges the reader’s morals by attempting to justify this torture of Art. We are never certain if Art committed this crime of raping and killing Ishmael’s daughter. The uncertainty surrounding Art leads readers to question whether such extreme measures are ever justified.  Everett mentions George W. Bush multiple through this text and when I began to think and make connections, it reminded me of Guantanamo Bay. This is a place where people suspected of committing terrorism, were detained without trial and subjected to interrogation. The idea that people justify the mistreatment of others on the basis that it is for the safety of the majority follows the same flawed logic that Ishmael uses to justify the possible kidnapping of this man. This idea connects me back to Thomas Jefferson’s plain narration quote, the idea that African Americans were incapable of complex thought and expression. If someone is able to put a label on an entire race of people, then one might also be able to justify the torture of a man who might have committed a crime.  Jefferson’s quote represents a historical seed shape of a racist ideology that dismisses the intellectual and moral capacities of African Americans. The Water Cure builds upon the concept of seed shapes building onto the ever-growing fractal of the African American Experience. The combination of many different seed shapes coming together. Serves as a real-life reflection that allows readers to peer into this world created by Everett allowing readers to connect and understand why these ideas are in the novel.

Lithosphere Essay

In Geraldine Heng’s The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages, she states, ‘race’ is one of the primary names we have—a name we retain for the strategic, epistemological, and political commitments it recognizes—attached to a repeating tendency, of the gravest import, to demarcate human beings through differences among humans that are selectively essentialized as absolute and fundamental. This description can help give readers a perspective on how race has nothing to do with real or internal things. It’s the idea that privileges can be given to some and taken away from others based on bias. Throughout the first book, The Fifth Season in N.K. Jeminson’s Broken Earth Trilogy, this idea of race, myth, and science is used to divide the people who live amongst the Stillness. In LitCharts theme analysis of the Hierarchy, Oppression, and Prejudice in the Fifth season, the Stillness is described as “a single massive continent… which is ruled by the remnants of the Sanzed Empire and is rigidly divided into various “use-castes” and other systems of ranking. Among these divisions are the people called orogenes, who have the power to affect seismic activity by manipulating energy, yet are also officially considered non-human and harshly discriminated against.” Among the many people in these castes are Orogenes, who are born with the ability to affect and control the seismic activity that occurs below the surface and possibly even above the surface. And those are those who are part of the use-castes, which can range from breeders to strongbacks.  Because these Orogenes have such tremendous power, it is important to know that this power is incredibly difficult to control. This idea of having to control this power makes all other castes fear it and usually ends in the death of the young Orogene child. 

In this first stage of her life, we are introduced to our main character with the birth name Dama Strongback, who goes by three different names throughout the story: Damaya, Syenite, and Essun. Throughout her story, we can see many different perspectives on how race is used to discriminate against those who are under the power of Orogenes. 

When Damaya’s parents learned that she had this power, they locked her in a barn so they could hide her from the world. It wasn’t until a Guardian showed up that Damaya would be free from her parents’ fear and oppression. Before The Guardian, Schaffa, took Damaya under his wing, we heard some of the stereotypes around Orogenes directly from Damaya’s mother. “‘If you could assemble a package for her—a coat—we’ll be on our way.” Mother draws up in surprise. ‘We gave away her coat.’… In winter?’… “She’s got a cousin who needed it… ‘And you’ve heard that orogenes don’t feel cold the way others do,’ That’s a myth’… The mother looks flustered. “Yes. But I thought… ”That Damaya might have been faking it… Damaya had hidden it from them, Mother said. She had hidden everything and pretended to be a child when she was really a monster. Damaya, she’d always been such a little liar.’ “ (Jemison, 29). Through the lens of Damaya, we see the fear and discrimination people have about orogenes. This idea of race This ostracization of Damaya starts to show readers a pattern of how marginalization and oppression are faced by those deemed different. Because they are deemed different and hard to control, they must be dealt with effectively. 

When Schaffa arrives, Damaya is angry with her parents because they have opted to just give their daughter away like some sort of commodity. Schaffa follows these disgruntled words of sadness with a statement of  ‘You’re alive and well’, and that is no small thing’… They chose to keep something rather than lose everything. But the greatest danger lies in who you are, Dama…’Every time the earth moves, you will hear its call. When a threat is imminent, of course you’ll do what you must to protect yourself (Jemison, 30-31). This view Schaffa gives allows readers to see a new perspective from the eyes of Damaya’s parents. One can argue that the way her parents dealt with Damaya was simply a way to protect themselves, but the way I see it, they tried to find a way to protect their daughter, and by hiding Damaya, they risked losing everything. Based on this notion, it becomes evident that the societal structures within the Stillness are deeply rooted in a system of hierarchy, oppression, and prejudice. Orogenes, like Damaya, are only feared and marginalized due to their inherent abilities. The fear surrounding orogenes stems from a lack of understanding and control over their powers, leading to their dehumanization. 

We learn through Damaya’s story that she adopts the name Syenite, and on her journey, we learn about the possible outcomes for Orogene children. It is in Chapter 8 that we are introduced to the characters known as node maintainers. LitCharts defines node maintainers as “node maintainers who have been essentially lobotomized, sedated, and strapped into a wire chair so that they constantly use their incredibly powerful orogeny to quiet earthquakes while having no free will or control of their own. Essentially, node maintainers are used by the government for their power orogeny to control earthquakes. The node maintainer conditions are described by Syenite and her companion, Alabaster. “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. 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, oh, and that cloth wrapping is for sopping up drool. A newborn orogene can stop an earthshake. It’s an inborn thing, more certain even than a child’s ability to suckle—and it’s this ability that gets more orogene children killed than anything else. The best of their kind reveal themselves long before they’re old enough to understand the danger. 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” (Jemison  106–108). Since node maintainers are so powerful, the government tries to control them by stripping them of their humanity and turning them into mere tools for controlling seismic activity. This treatment highlights the oppression faced by Orogenes in this society. To make matters worse, these children are still not safe from being physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. Syenites Companion Alabaster describes “a still-livid bruise on the boy’s upper thigh. It’s in the shape of a hand; finger marks are clearly visible even against the dark skin. “I’m told there are many who enjoy this sort of thing. A helplessness fetish, basically. They like it more if the victim is aware of what they’re doing. The node maintainers feel terrible pain whenever they use orogeny. The lesions, 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 constantly sedated. And all orogenes react instinctively to any perceived threat… ‘Every (Orogene) should see a node, at least once.’… He jerks his head toward the body of the abused, murdered child. You think he mattered after what they did to him? The only reason they don’t do this to all of us is because we’re more versatile and useful if we control ourselves (Jemison 108–109). The government’s exploitation of the Orogenes abilities is justified, as they need to be controlled because they can’t control themselves. Furthermore, these children are sedated, so there is this notion that they can’t feel pain, but that is far from the truth. The doctors who care for these node maintainers take advantage of their helpless state, and when these children awaken, it results in the deaths of themselves and their abusers. This idea of race and hierarchy is used to overshadow the mistreatment and exploitation of these children under the disguise of societal necessity and control. It is fair to assume that those who live in stillness know that this cruelty is occurring right under their noses, and they benefit from it. It makes me wonder: if those who live in the stillness knew what really happened to children who are born with orogeny, would they change their preconceived notions or would they remain the same? This really makes me think about the idea of the complicity and silence of those within the Stillness society regarding the exploitation of marginalized groups. Despite the knowledge of these atrocities, many may turn a blind eye or rationalize the mistreatment as a necessity for the greater good, thereby perpetuating the oppressive structures that benefit them.

Seed Shape Essay

In Ron Eglash’s 2007 TED talk, he defined a seed shape as the starting point of a fractal, and to create a seed shape, “you start with a shape and iteratively integrate smaller versions of the shape back into the design.” A seed shape is a starting point that continually builds upon itself, making itself into a fractal. This simple design can branch into intricate and infinitely detailed patterns. This concept transfers over to our class reading of The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, written by himself. We can look at these kinds of narratives as seed shapes on a fractal that represents injustice against African Americans throughout history, with the theme of both oppression and resilience in each of the many stories. These stories help represent the idea of a fractal, as these narratives serve as microcosms that reflect on the broader struggle of African Americans. Through his individual story, Douglas tells a tale of enslavement, adding to the complex web of oppression and resiliency that runs through African American history. 

This story falls into the genre of fugitive slave narrative. In one of our classes with Professor McCoy, we discussed how these stories often start with a sense of order and peace, then things progressively get worse and worse for our characters until they reach a point that we defined as rock bottom. Only once these characters have reached the bottom can they climb out of the hole they are in. This is the part of the story where Professor McCoy describes a shift in the narrative towards order being restored. The order is restored when freedom is reached, aka reaching the North. Both of these narratives build upon this theme of both oppression and resilience by adding seed shapes to this infinitely growing fractal that represents African American struggle.

We can say Douglas’s story helps build on this fractal of African American struggle through the mistreatment he experienced during his enslavement. In his story, he describes how one of his mistresses had been teaching him how to read and write. This mistress would soon be reprimanded by her husband, Master Hugh, stating that ‘it was unlawful, as well as unsafe, to teach a slave to read… ‘If you give a (slave) an inch, he wil l take an ell. A (slave) should know nothing but to obey his master—to do as he is told to do. Learning would spoil the best (slave) in the world. Now,” said he, ‘if you teach that (slave) how to read, there would be no keeping him. It would forever unfit him to be a slave. He would at once become unmanageable, and of no value to his master. As to himself, it could do him no good, but a great deal of harm. It would make him discontented and unhappy.”  Douglas’s account of being forbidden to learn to read and write by his master serves as an example of the systematic suppression of education among enslaved African Americans, as this denial underscored the fear among slaveholders that knowledge would empower slaves to challenge their bondage. This seed of oppression continues to build upon itself as, after some years, Douglas would be sent to live on Mr. Covey’s farm. Douglas would describe that during his one year with Mr. Covey, “the first six months of that year, scarce a week passed without his whipping me. I was seldom free from a sore back….This woman was named Caroline. Mr. Covey bought her… He hired a married man, Mr. Samuel Harrison, to keep up with her every night! At the end of the year, the miserable woman gave birth to twins. The children were regarded as quite an addition to his wealth. We worked in all weathers. It was never too hot or too cold; it could never rain, blow, hail, or snow. It was too hard for us to work in the field. Mr. Covey succeeded in breaking me. I was broken in body, soul, and spirit. My natural elasticity was crushed, my intellect languished, the disposition to read departed, the cheerful spark that lingered about my eye died; the dark night of slavery closed in upon me; and behold, a man transformed into a brute!” This idea of “breaking a slave” was something Mr. Covey was known for, and Covey had succeeded in breaking the body and spirits of Douglas. From being worked to the absolute limit no matter the weather, being brutally whipped, and seeing women be raped on the daily just so Covey could make a profit, Douglas was, as he stated, “broken in body, soul, and spirit.” The atrocities inflicted upon African Americans under the oppressive system of slavery illuminate the connection between these various forms of oppression, whether it be physical brutality or sexual exploitation, this dehumanization is inherently rooted in the institution of slavery, which adds another layer to the fractal of struggle and resistance that defines the African American historical struggle.

Through all this pain and struggle, there was still a drive in Douglass to reclaim his humanity and defy the oppressive forces that sought to degrade and dehumanize him. Douglas’ would go on to describe how these next experiences would turn him from a slave into an. “All went well till Monday morning… I was called to go and rub, curry, and feed the horses. I obeyed and was glad to obey. Mr. Covey entered the stable with a long rope, and just as I was half out of the loft, he caught hold of my legs and was about to tie me. Mr. Covey seemed now to think he had me and could do what he pleased, but at this moment—from whence came the spirit I don’t know—I resolved to fight, and, suiting my action to the resolution, I seized Covey hard by the throat, and as I did so, I rose. I watched my chance and gave him a heavy kick close under the ribs. This battle with Mr. Covey was the turning point in my career as a slave. It rekindled the few expiring embers of freedom and revived within me a sense of my own manhood.” Through all this pain and struggle, there was still a drive in Douglass to reclaim his humanity and defy the oppressive forces that sought to dehumanize him. This drive for freedom made sure Covey never messed with him again and eventually gave him the confidence to assert his autonomy. This pivotal moment not only deterred Covey from further mistreatment but also empowered Douglass with confidence. This would eventually pave the way for his eventual escape from slavery in the pursuit of a life of freedom.

Through this journey of Frederick Douglass going from a dehumanized slave to a resilient man reclaiming his humanity, we witness the resilience and determination in the African American struggle. Ron Eglash’s concept of the fractal provides a lens through which we can understand the connection between the various forms of oppression faced by African Americans throughout history. Douglass’s narrative serves as a seed shape within this fractal, representing these themes of oppression and resilience that define this struggle.