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.