The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

by

N. K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Essun and Lerna make their way down to Castrima’s infirmary, but at the door, Essun silently warns Lerna to stay back, and she enters alone. First, she sees the stone eater Antimony, who looks exactly the same as she did when Essun saw her 12 years before. Antimony says to come no closer, but Essun then realizes that she is talking to Hoa, who has followed her. The two stone eaters glare at each other and then declare themselves only interested in their respective humans: Antimony with Alabaster, and Hoa with Essun. Essun shakes her head and keeps walking. Atop a pile of cushions and blankets, she sees Alabaster.
The internal quarrels among the stone eaters remain mysterious even as the novel closes, but they will be further explored later in the Broken Earth trilogy. Jemisin purposefully places this moment of Essun and Alabaster’s reunion immediately after the traumatic scene of their separation on Meov, even though years have passed in the meantime. All that the two characters have experienced now divides them, but the fact remains that the last time they saw each other was during the Guardian attack, facing the dilemma of how to best protect their child.
Themes
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
Alabaster greets her as Syenite, and she replies that her name is Essun now. Alabaster says that he always knew she had survived, but he had his own problems and his own work to do before he could find her. He lifts his arm, and Essun sees that much of his body is now gone—it’s turned to stone, and that stone has been broken off, seemingly gnawed by teeth. Essun thinks of what she saw when Hoa and the stone eater bared their diamond teeth at each other, and she looks over at Antimony, realizing now what kind of stone the “stone eaters” like to eat.
Essun still clings to her current identity—as stated before, it is the only identity that is also Nassun’s mother—and doesn’t let Alabaster call her “Syenite” for this reason. For his part, however, Alabaster has drastically changed in the physical sense. The gnawed-away stone of his body makes the stone eaters suddenly seem much more sinister than they were previously.
Themes
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
Alabaster asks about Essun’s life, and she says that after Meov she needed to become a different person. Alabaster asks if she stayed free, and Essun says that she did, though she knows that she had to hide her true self to do it. Briefly she tries to explain Jija, Uche, and Nassun, but her words trail off. Finally, Alabaster tells her that he can understand why she killed Corundum, but he can’t forgive her for doing it.
The nature of freedom for orogenes in this society is still blurry and complex. In her identity as Essun, the protagonist stayed free of the Fulcrum and even lived a relatively normal life with a normal family, but she was also forced to hide her true identity and to make her children hide their own. There is no redemption or peace in Corundum’s death, and Alabaster acknowledges that—he understands and even may intellectually with the choices that led to Corundum’s death, but he cannot forgive either Essun or himself for the actual fact of the death of their child. Most of all, he rages at the world that forced such a choice to be made in the first place.
Themes
Hierarchy, Oppression, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Essun tells Alabaster that he can kill her, but he has to wait until she kills her husband first. Alabaster says he doesn’t want to kill her, and he couldn’t even if he wanted to. Then he asks her if she can use the obelisks now; he knows she did it at Allia and Meov, but he wonders if she can do it at will by now. Essun doesn’t understand, and then she sees something next to Alabaster’s bed: it looks like an enormous knife made of crystal, and as Essun stares at it, she feels herself start to be drawn into a world of light, just as she was with the obelisks. Alabaster smiles and says that this one, the “spinel,” is his now. He asks if Essun has made any of the obelisks her own.
Spinel is a kind of crystal, implying that Alabaster has somehow made an obelisk shrink down and answer to his own personal command. Essun hasn’t been interested in controlling the obelisks ever since Meov, but clearly Alabaster—like Tonkee—considers her connection to them of the utmost importance. Alabaster has sacrificed his orogeny and even his personal bitterness for the sake of something larger, which he now tries to explain to Essun.
Themes
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Power and Control Theme Icon
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Essun now realizes that Alabaster is the one who tore the continent in half and started the Fifth Season. Alabaster admits that he did, using the obelisks and also all the node maintainers across the Stillness, who are now at peace. He says that he needs Essun’s help next, though, and she asks if she is supposed to help him fix the damage. Calling her Damaya, Syenite, and Essun, Alabaster tells her no—what he wants is for her to make things worse. He leans forward and asks Essun if she has ever heard of something called the moon.
Alabaster is finally revealed to be the unnamed man from the novel’s beginning, who broke the continent in two and began the new Fifth Season. In that scene when he reached upward, “for power,” he was drawing strength from the obelisks. While initially his destruction of the continent might have seemed monstrous, everything that he and Essun—who is now named fully, with all her identities combined into one complex person—have seen and experienced better justifies (or at least explains) his action. As he has stated before, in a truly corrupt world, sometimes the only reasonable agent of change is to entirely destroy it and start over from scratch. The novel doesn’t wholly support or condemn this idea yet, however. Alabaster ends the book on the cliffhanger here, implying that there is more to his plan than just destruction. His reference to the “moon” suggests a geologic body more massive than any on earth, and therefore a tool or weapon that an immensely powerful oregene might be able to use. The fact that characters in the stillness haven’t heard of the moon even further makes clear the wrongness of the current situation in the Stillness—the moon is not only missing but forgotten!—which in turn harkens back to the story of Father Earth and what he lost.
Themes
Hierarchy, Oppression, and Prejudice Theme Icon
Disaster, Violence, and Survival Theme Icon
History, Storytelling, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Identity and Naming Theme Icon