Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone was inspired in part by the ways that prejudice and bigotry drive fear and violence in the real world—for example, she points to contemporary instances of police brutality against black people in America. In the fictional country of Orïsha, society is sharply stratified by a system that pits maji, who do magic, and divîners, who have the potential to do magic, against kosidán, who cannot perform magic. Because those with magical abilities are seen as dangerous, divîners are treated as inferior and even inhuman, and they are frequently exploited, abused, and denied rights. Assumptions based on this caste system cause characters to judge and mistrust one another. Prejudice is rooted in fear and creates more fear; ultimately, as long as prejudice exists, it is impossible for society to be fair and just.
One reason that prejudice is so pervasive and powerful is that it both feeds off of and generates fear. The Raid was a horrific event that shattered families; King Saran ordered for the death of all maji over the age of thirteen. Because of the Raid, citizens are now terrified of the king’s power, but the Raid was actually driven by Saran’s own fear of the maji. Thus, the raid was catalyzed by fear of divîners’ power, but now those motives have driven all divîners to be treated as second class citizens. Saran is aware that keeping divîners isolated and afraid is the best way to keep them under his control. He has created a system of institutionalized prejudice by forbidding maji and kosidán from being in relationships and by heavily taxing those who associate with divîners. The caste system is designed to cut off divîners from their traditions, which is another way of ensuring that they remain powerless and fearful of Saran. As a result of these practices, divîners live in a state of constant fear. Inan, the sheltered crown prince of Orïsha, realizes this once he begins to interact with citizens beyond the confines of the palace. For many citizens of Orïsha, there is no such thing as true safety—there are only degrees of danger. Because he fears the maji, Saran uses prejudice to keep the maji afraid of him.
Furthermore, this systematized prejudice creates major imbalances in Orïshan society, showing the ways in which prejudice, and, by extension, dehumanization, are tied to economic inequality. In an effort to keep them under control, Saran levies heavy taxes on the divîners. Taxes are one way of preventing the divîners from asserting their rightful place in society. Most divîners are trapped in poverty because the taxes against them are so high. If divîners fail to pay their taxes, they are punished severely. In addition, because they are seen as dangerous, second-class citizens, divîners are exploited for labor. In the “stocks,” divîners are treated like animals or slaves. The prejudice against them allows them to be seen as less than human, and they are exploited for economic gain.
Adeyemi demonstrates that there can be no peaceful rule when prejudice exists, because dehumanization justifies many forms of injustice. Not only are divîners feared and oppressed, but their place in society is cemented by the fact that they are routinely dehumanized by those in power. This dehumanization is embodied by the slur “maggot,” which the nobility uses to refer to divîners. Guards and nobles who throw the word around have an easier time seeing divîners as nothing more than threatening animals that must be conquered, and treat them accordingly. Because she is a divîner, Zélie, a teenager who lives in poverty in a coastal village, faces constant harassment at the hands of the guards who are ostensibly there to protect citizens. Since they view her as a second-class citizen, the guards have no problem verbally and sexually assaulting her. The divîners aren’t fully protected by the law, and in fact must fear the guards in their own kingdom. Unlike her brother, who is a kosidán, Zélie believes from first-hand experience that it is impossible to reason with the guards, because they act based on prejudice and not on justice. Zélie believes that the only way to overcome such deep-rooted oppression is not to reason with the government, who view them as maggots, but to overthrow those in power.
Throughout Children of Blood and Bone, Adeyemi demonstrates the insidious and far-reaching effects of prejudice. Prejudice is often driven by fear, but it only creates even more fear. Ultimately, because prejudice leads to dehumanization, oppression, and exploitation, it is impossible for a just society to exist as long as it operates on such a foundation.
Prejudice and Inequality ThemeTracker
Prejudice and Inequality Quotes in Children of Blood and Bone
Though the royal seal is etched into the clay wall, it waves in my mind like the velvet banners in Father’s throne room. After the Raid, he abolished the old seal, a gallant bull-horned lionare that always used to make me feel safe. Instead, he proclaimed that our power would be represented by the snow leopanaires: ryders who were ruthless. Pure.
Growing up, Father led me to believe that those who clung to the myth of the gods were weak. They relied on beings they could never see, dedicating their lives to faceless entities.
After I perform the ritual and bring magic back, after Baba is safe and sound. I’ll rally a group of Grounders to sink this monstrosity into the sand. That announcer will pay for every wasted divîner life. Every noble will answer for their crimes.
“Those are Father’s words, Inan. His decisions. Not yours. We are our own people. We make our own choices.”
“But he’s right. Inan’s voice cracks. “If we don’t stop magic, Orïsha will fall.”
Zélie’s memories don’t hold the villains Father always warned of. Only families he tore apart. Duty before self. His creed rings through my ears. My father. Her king. The harbinger of all this suffering.
This pawn was the only piece I managed to salvage. Shame ripples through me as I stare at the tarnished metal. The only gift he’s ever given me, and at its core is hate.
A pit of guilt opens in my chest, tainted with the smell of burning flesh. The fires I watched from the royal palace resurface, the innocent lives burned before my young eyes. A memory I’ve pushed down like my magic, a day I longed to forget. But staring at Zélie now brings it all back: the pain. The tears. The death.
In that instant it hits me: Zulaikha’s death. Zélie’s screams. They don’t mean a thing to him. Because they’re maji, they’re nothing. He preaches duty before self, but his Orïsha doesn’t include them. It never has.
I stare at the blade; the inscription gleams in the moonlight. Its words simplify my mission, creating space for my pain. A soldier. A great king. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to be. Duty over self. Orïsha over Zélie.
Minutes stretch into hours, an eternity that drags like death. Each second that passes is another second my mind tumbles in guilt What if they’re captured? What if they die? I can’t have more people perish for this. I can’t have more blood stain my hands.
As long as we don’t have magic, they will never treat us with respect, Baba’s spirit booms. They need to know we can hit them back. If they burn our homes—I burn theirs, too.