The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

by

N. K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Damaya is now living at the Fulcrum and slowly adjusting to an entirely new way of life. She is a “grit” now—the term for all the young orogenes before they get their first rings. Her daily routine is rigid and strict, as the grits must rise with the dawn and keep their possessions extremely neat and clean for daily inspections. Anyone who isn’t properly dressed and groomed, or has left their bed unmade, is punished, sometimes by being struck with a switch. The instructors make it very clear that the grits must represent all orogenes—if anyone is dirty or lazy, then all orogenes are seen as dirty and lazy.
Just as Schaffa broke Damaya’s hand to force her to exercise control over her orogeny, the Fulcrum grits’ entire lives revolve around order, obedience, and control. Since this is taught to them in every aspect of their day, it will surely exhibit itself in their orogeny as well, which is the Fulcrum’s main goal—to make orogenes safe and useful in the eyes of stills.
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The children are from all over the Stillness and very different, and it seems wrong to make them conform so harshly, but by now Damaya knows that this is the way it must be. The world hates orogenes, and “this is what is necessary to make them safe” in the eyes of others. Damaya always follows the rules.
Damaya now recognizes that this harsh way of life is a necessary adaptation to the reality of the discrimination that orogenes face. As is common in racism and other kinds of prejudice, orogenes are not seen as unique individuals but as representing their group as a whole. This means that they all must be held to the same rigid standards—an idea that echoes the quotation at the end of Chapter 4 about making oppressed groups think that they can earn their rights just by working hard enough.
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After their inspections, the grits have lessons from their various instructors, learning things like the history of the Sanze empire and mathematical equations involving orogeny. After the lectures or exams, the children have lunch in a courtyard. Damaya enjoys everything they are served, and much of the food is foreign to her. Lunch is her favorite time of the day, though she sits by herself, as many of the grits do.
Early on, many of the grits learn to be solitary and untrusting. They are treated more like soldiers or tools than schoolchildren, and so they don’t allow themselves the luxury of friendship and fun. The lessons about Sanze history are surely heavily biased, as evidenced by how much of Syenite’s Fulcrum teachings have been shown to be false.
Themes
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After lunch, they walk through the Fulcrum’s Ring Garden in neat lines, past the older, ringed orogenes. Watching them, Damaya longs to have their sense of control and mastery, and she also admires their sleek black uniforms. Damaya decides that to be like them, she is willing to endure a broken hand and years as a lonely student. In the afternoon, the grits practice actual orogeny, and Damaya throws herself into these lessons. They focus on control, never actually moving anything with their power. After these lessons, they have dinner, then a free hour, and then bed. Six months pass for Damaya in this way.
The walk through the Ring Garden is specifically designed to make the grits want to earn their rings and, by extension, the sense of freedom and power that their elders seem to wield. As the book has shown elsewhere, however, this freedom is entirely illusory, and the Fulcrum keeps its orogenes striving for more rings as a way of keeping them in line. As with their other lessons, in applied orogeny the grits focus always on control first and foremost.
Themes
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One day a tall, handsome older boy comes over to sit with Damaya at lunch. He introduces himself as Maxixe. Damaya is immediately suspicious, but she lets her guard down as he jokes with her and talks about “lorists” who don’t teach stonelore, but rather perform plays just for fun. Maxixe seems bitter about their life at the Fulcrum, and as they talk more, Damaya even starts to like him, though she still doesn’t trust him. Finally, they stop talking, and Maxixe leaves to join a group of his friends.
Maxixe’s visit seems out of the blue, but he also gives some interesting information about culture in the Stillness. As usual, most comms focus only on the practical knowledge needed to survive, and things like dramatic plays are considered luxuries that places like Palela (Damaya’s hometown) cannot afford. This leads to a lack of imagination in people, as they are taught to cling to a single way of thinking and never inspired to question it.
Themes
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The next day, the other grits start treating Damaya differently. Someone purposefully bumps into her in the shower, and when she gets out, she sees that someone has stolen her shoes—she is punished at inspection for this. At dinner that night, someone puts alcohol into her juice, and she doesn’t realize what is happening until an instructor named Galena notices that she’s drunk and pulls her aside. Orogenes aren’t allowed to drink alcohol at all, and she could be harshly punished, but Galena instead takes her to his own room to sleep it off. In the morning, he tells Damaya that she needs to figure out what’s going on and deal with it, because otherwise it’s going to get worse, and she’ll be punished severely by someone less understanding than Galena is.
Orogenes are never allowed to drink alcohol because it would lower their inhibitions and might make them lose control of their power, which could be disastrous—and even more importantly, it would make them seem wild and frightening to non-orogenes. The source of the other grits’ sudden antagonism is baffling to Damaya, but it seems connected to her encounter with Maxixe the day before.
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Damaya takes Galena’s words to heart and decides that she needs an ally. There is one girl who is even more of a loner than most, and whose orogeny seems especially harsh and dangerous. Her name is Selu, but the other grits have started calling her “Crack.” Damaya decides to make Crack her ally and approaches her at breakfast the next day. Crack immediately understands why, and Damaya realizes that she has been bullied too and is angry about it. Damaya outlines a plan to deal with their problem, and Crack agrees to help.
Crack’s orogeny might have already been uncontrolled, but being constantly bullied certainly hasn’t helped her get any better. The Fulcrum’s idea of control is a rigid one, and anyone that cannot comply with it is treated mercilessly.
Themes
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Assuming that Maxixe must be somehow involved, they decide to target him first. One morning while he’s in the shower, Damaya claims that someone has stolen her shoes again. She confronts a boy named Jasper, who says she must be lying. They start to argue until a senior instructor named Carnelian intervenes. Damaya repeats her claim that someone stole her shoes again, and she says that she knows it must have been a boy because it happened during the girls’ shower. Some of the other grits make fun of her, but Damaya insists that they search the boys’ chests.
Damaya plans to make the other grits reveal the original culprit who stole her shoes the first time—but to do so, she must plant a trap. She is taking a risk here considering the harsh nature of punishments at the Fulcrum, but she believes that it is necessary to survive and return to her previous level of independence in the Fulcrum.
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Carnelian agrees to do this, though he says that Damaya will be punished if she’s wrong. The boys open their chests, and Damaya’s shoes are inside of Maxixe’s. He’s clearly confused, and Damaya follows his eyes as he immediately looks at Jasper—in this way, she deduces that it must have been Jasper who stole her shoes the first time. Carnelian seems to have realized this too. He confronts Maxixe, who immediately says that Jasper was the one who stole the shoes.
Damaya’s plan works, and the instructor figures it out as well. The grits live in a harsh and competitive world that discourages close relationships, and so they turn on one another quickly.
Themes
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Jasper denies it and then starts panicking, and when Carnelian turns to him, he suddenly points at Crack. He says that she sold Damaya’s shoes in exchange for liquor. Damaya is shocked. Crack erupts at Jasper, cursing at him and claiming that he let one of the cleaning workers “feel him up” in exchange for getting the liquor and a letter from his mother. She insults and mocks him, and Jasper starts to cry. Everyone in the room is horrified, and they start whispering to one another as Jasper continues to weep.
What seemed like a relatively straightforward case of bullying takes a very dark turn here, as Crack reveals herself to be the original culprit and Jasper as a victim of sexual assault. Left unspoken here is the fact that grits aren’t allowed to contact their families at all, and Jasper endured assault so that he might receive a forbidden letter from his mother. The Fulcrum seeks to totally sever orogenes’ connections to the outside world, and tragedy results.
Themes
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Finally, Carnelian intervenes again and instructs Maxixe, Jasper, and Crack to come with him immediately. As Crack is leaving, she looks at Damaya and says, “better you than me.” Crack knew that she herself was constantly in danger of punishment, but Damaya was the perfect student that the instructors all adored. So, Crack believed that if Damaya got in trouble, nothing really bad would happen, and it would take some of the scrutiny off of Crack. Having explained her plan, Crack finally leaves with Carnelian. Two other instructors come in and search through Crack’s belongings, finding a bottle of liquor under her mattress.
Damaya hadn’t thought of herself as being an antagonistic force to the other grits because of her talent, but clearly it has made her a target to those like Crack. Crack didn’t particularly dislike Damaya, but she tried to do the most rational thing to save herself, even if that meant sacrificing someone else in the process—a common mindset in the unstable world of the Stillness. Crack also seems to be addicted to alcohol, which would help explain the dangerous and uncontrolled quality of her orogeny.
Themes
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When the instructors leave, the tension in the room dissipates, and one of the girls apologizes to Damaya for pushing her in the shower. After this, the other grits don’t bully Damaya anymore. Jasper is sent to a satellite Fulcrum in the Arctic, and no one sees Crack again. The chapter ends with a description of a Fifth Season called the Fungus Season, when volcanic eruptions darkened the skies and caused a fungal bloom that wiped out a staple crop and caused mass starvation. Because the comms of the Sanze Empire fared so much better than others, when the Season ended, many comms voluntarily joined the Empire and began its “Golden Age.”
Crack’s sudden disappearance is sinister considering the high stakes of life at the Fulcrum, and especially what Damaya has learned from Schaffa about Guardians. It seems likely that Crack was deemed too much of a threat and killed by her Guardian. The quotation at the chapter’s end shows how Sanze used the disaster situations of Fifth Seasons to consolidate their power. People exhausted by the struggle to survive chose stability over freedom, willingly submitting to Sanze.
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