The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season

by

N. K. Jemisin

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The Fifth Season: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Damaya and Schaffa first arrive at the town of Brevard. Damaya has never left her hometown of Palela before, and she is fascinated by everything she sees, even the buildings and oil lanterns of the town. They stay at an inn that night, and Damaya is awakened in the middle of the night to see Schaffa having a nightmare and thrashing around in his bed. Worried about making him angry, she quietly wakes him—but when he asks what he was doing, she just says that he was snoring. The next day, Damaya feels less awed by Brevard, realizing that it’s just like a bigger version of Palela.
Thus far, Schaffa has seemed to be always calm and in control—but his nightmares reveal secret trauma that he is suppressing or hiding. Meanwhile, Damaya continues to consider him a kind of parental figure, treating him as she would her own father and fearing to anger or disturb him.
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Schaffa and Damaya ride for many hours until they come to a place near a fault line. Suddenly Schaffa tells Damaya to stop what she’s doing—she’s been inadvertently using orogeny and “listening to the earth,” noticing how much more active it seems here than in Palela. Somehow Schaffa can tell what she was doing, and he tells her that, without training, she’ll have no control whenever she is so close to an active earthquake spot. To distract her, he offers to tell her a story about Shemshena. Damaya says that she has never heard of Shemshena, and Schaffa laments the state of education in small comms.
Here, Schaffa reveals that Guardians can sense when someone uses orogeny. He also begins to teach Damaya the worldview that she will inherit at the Fulcrum: that orogeny without training is raw and wild, and that it needs great focus and skill to control it. The “creches” of small comms can’t afford real education for children, so they are only taught stonelore and practical skills needed to fulfill their use-caste roles. But this poor education has also to an extent protected Damaya from the anti-orogene propaganda that is embedded in traditional schooling in the stillness.
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Schaffa begins his story: 1,200 years ago, before the Fulcrum was established, a powerful orogene named Misalem tried to kill the emperor. Before the Fulcrum, orogenes had no real training, but Misalem had still managed to master his orogeny to a great degree and used it to kill thousands of people. Damaya is horrified to hear this, realizing that she too is a “rogga” like Misalem. She asks why Misalem would do such things, and Schaffa says that no one knows—he might have been insane, or just evil.
This story introduces Misalem as the original bogeyman orogene, the villain that used his power to murder innocent non-orogenes. Damaya is horrified to be identified with this figure, but as orogenes, they are perceived as a single group or unit rather than as unique individuals. It will later in the novel be revealed that there is more to the story than Schaffa tells here, as this is the official Fulcrum version used to teach young orogenes to fear their own power and themselves.
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Schaffa says that Misalem came to Yumenes and demanded that the Emperor come out to meet him, or else he would destroy the entire city. The Emperor agreed and came out with his bodyguard, Shemshena. Shemshena was a skilled warrior of the Innovator use-caste who had studied orogenes and the way orogeny worked. Before Misalem arrived, she had evacuated the entire city and destroyed every living thing that she could within Yumenes’s walls. This, Schaffa explains to Damaya, is because orogeny works by drawing kinetic energy largely from other sources. This kinetic energy comes from “earth power” during an earthquake, but from living things when there is no energy coming from the earth. This is also why orogenes sometimes “ice” the things around them, sucking out their energy and killing them.
Shemshena is the hero of the story, and her heroic action involves protecting stills from an evil orogene. Schaffa uses this story to explain more to Damaya (and the reader) how orogeny works, but also to show why orogenes are treated as villains, descendants of the evil Misalem. Anti-orogene prejudice is rooted in the history of the Stillness—and, even more importantly, in the stories that the people of the Stillness tell themselves about their own history. Of course, it is also worth noting the old saying that history is a story told by the victors—so this “history” may not just be objectively true, and may have been written to serve particular ends.
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Shemshena knew at least this much about the nature of orogeny, and so she tried to clear the city of everything that Misalem could possibly draw power from. When Misalem faced the Emperor, then, he reached for the power to destroy Yumenes but realized that it wasn’t there. In an instant Shemshena struck him with a knife, distracting him, and then she killed him with her other knife. This ended Misalem’s great threat to the Sanze Empire.
Shemshena emerges victorious, and because of the way that Schaffa presents the story, readers (and Damaya) are encouraged to cheer on this victory. This is essentially propaganda, using an altered historical tale to further a specific worldview—one meant to support the current hierarchy in which Sanze are considered good and orogenes are considered evil.
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This story thrills Damaya, but Schaffa isn’t done. He explains that Shemshena was the first Guardian. The Fulcrum is the order of orogenes, he says, but the Guardians are those that watch over the orogenes and control their “terrible power.” Damaya now realizes the truth—as an orogene, she is not like Shemshena, the hero of the story, but like Misalem, the murderous villain.
Damaya was previously caught up in the story, but now she begins to realize what Schaffa intended by telling it—that she should know her place as a potential Misalem. Schaffa is then the Shemshena-like hero in this story, protecting people from orogenes who might turn bad or lose control.
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Schaffa describes how the Guardians train just as Shemshena did, learning to neutralize the threat of any orogene that might become like another Misalem. Now that Schaffa is Damaya’s Guardian, he says, it is his job to ensure that she remains “helpful, never harmful.” Damaya falls silent, no longer liking the story and realizing that Schaffa didn’t actually want her to like it.
The Guardians don’t really guard orogenes so much as they guard people from orogenes, using any means that they deem necessary. Damaya is chilled to realize that Schaffa intended for her to come to these conclusions after hearing the story, as she naturally doesn’t like thinking of herself as a potential genocidal monster.
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Schaffa and Damaya keep riding through empty plains, and Damaya notices ruins of old civilizations as they pass, and an obelisk floating overhead. She thinks about how, even though some comms have survived Fifth Seasons, Sanze is the only nation to survive a Season—it has survived seven—and that is “because the people of Sanze are stronger and smarter than everyone else.” They’re presumably even smarter than the people who built the obelisks.
Damaya’s internal dialogue here shows more of what children in the Stillness are taught about history—that Sanzeds are superior to everyone else, and that surviving Fifth Seasons is the highest goal a civilization can achieve. This means that even the people who built the obelisks were failures and inferior to Sanze.
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Schaffa asks Damaya if she is still thinking about the story, and he seems to know that she doesn’t like seeing herself as the villain Misalem, someone needing a Shemshena Guardian to control her. Damaya admits that this is true, and she says that she wants to be able to control her own power and to be responsible for herself. Schaffa says that this is an admirable desire, but the nature of orogenes means that she will never be able to fully control herself. Suddenly angry, tired, and frustrated, Damaya yells, “I don’t need you to control me. I can control myself!”
Every word that Schaffa speaks is carefully controlled, as he leads Damaya to her own conclusions and doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality that she is about to enter as an orogene. She will never be able to have true freedom and responsibility, he says, which she naturally lashes out at.
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Schaffa stops the horse. He asks if Damaya really can control herself, and he says that this is the most important question of all. He then asks how she was discovered to be an orogene, and Damaya admits that she reacted as she did with Zab because she was angry and afraid. Still sitting behind her atop the horse, Schaffa now places his hand over Damaya’s hand, which is resting on the saddle’s pommel, and holds it in place. He explains that the orogenic power in her reacts instinctively and doesn’t recognize matters of degree—it will neutralize an attacking bully the same as it will an erupting volcano. He says that Damaya was lucky, even, as many orogenes only discover their power when they accidentally kill a loved one.
This is Schaffa’s first real test for Damaya, as he explains that the most important skill an orogene can have is self-control. He describes orogenic power as something foreign and willful that Damaya herself must learn to focus and reign in, lest she cause great harm to other people.
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Schaffa’s grip on Damaya’s hand now steadily tightens, and she starts to whimper and struggle. Calmly, Schaffa tells her that he is about to break her hand. He does so, and the sudden pop and jolt of searing pain make Damaya scream. Through the pain, her mind immediately dives down into the earth, finding comfort in the cool stone beneath the horse’s feet. Schaffa releases her hand and Damaya keeps screaming, now partly at the sight of her own broken fingers, and the earth beneath her seems to offer comfort and relief. She almost reaches into it with her orogeny, but then she hesitates, remembering that she is supposed to be controlling herself.
The sinister mystery of Schaffa’s character deepens as he continues to speak mildly and gently even as he’s suddenly violent toward Damaya. He has given her a sense of the high stakes of her power, and now he forces her to really experience those stakes and practice the self-control that she claimed to have. Orogeny does offer her relief from pain—but she doesn’t want to disappoint Schaffa, so she doesn’t let herself surrender.
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As Damaya struggles, Schaffa whispers into her ear, saying that she could kill him right now if she wanted to, and then maybe she could even find a new comm and live a normal life for a while, though it wouldn’t last. Damaya doesn’t speak, and she continues to suffer through the searing pain. “Very good,” Schaffa finally says, and he praises her ability to control herself through great pain, something that not many untrained orogenes can do.
Schaffa acts like a tempting demon here, offering Damaya everything that she wants while also making her realize that she will never be able to truly have it. (But notably, this hypothetical life is similar to Essun’s life as a hidden orogene in Tirimo.) Damaya passes the horrific test, and Schaffa praises her, keeping her dependent on his approval.
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Schaffa now takes Damaya’s hand again, gently this time, and tells her that it will heal if it’s set properly, but he could also crush it further and it would never heal at all. “No!” Damaya cries, and Schaffa leans close again, saying that she must never say no to him. She has no right to say no to her Guardian, he whispers, and he has the right to break every bone in her body if he deems it necessary to protect the world from her. Shivering, Damaya asks why this is. Now stroking her hand gently, Schaffa tells Damaya that he loves her. He hates that he has to hurt her, but he says that it is necessary and that he must hurt her so that she won’t hurt anyone else.
In this crucial passage, Schaffa delivers more ultimatums to Damaya that she must meet if she is to survive as an orogene. She must accept that she is totally under her Guardian’s power and that she always has the potential to be another Misalem, such that the world must be protected from her. She doesn’t even have the freedom to say “no” to Schaffa but must do whatever he says. Schaffa then shifts from these sharp words and his own cruel actions to an avowal of love and care, which Damaya cannot help believing. Schaffa is essentially grooming Damaya through propaganda, pain, and love to not only make Damaya completely dependent on him, but to make her believe that she deserves to be put in this position of complete dependence.
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Damaya’s hand continues to burn, and the earth beneath her continues to beckon to her. But now she knows that she cannot kill Schaffa, as he is “the last person in the world who loves her.” Schaffa then reveals that ever since he began to break her hand, he has been holding a long knife pressed against her heart, so that he could have killed her in an instant if she had lost control. He shows her this, he says, to prove that he will never lie to her. Then he tells her to brace herself, and he sets the broken bones of her hand, causing Damaya to scream in pain once more. When this is done, Damaya is dazed and barely conscious, and Schaffa urges the horse forward.
Damaya is totally alone, and though Schaffa has just hurt her deeply, she clings to him now with a desperate love, since he’s the only person she has left. He also reveals that she never even had the ability to kill him and free herself, as he would have killed her in an instant had she reacted with her orogeny. In all aspects, then, Schaffa seems to be chillingly in control of himself, and of her.
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When night falls Schaffa makes camp as Damaya sits nursing her hand. Finally, she says, “I want to go home.” Schaffa tells her that she no longer has a home, but that in Yumenes she will have a new one, and a whole new life. He asks if she is afraid of him now, and she admits that she is. Schaffa says that this is good, and he makes her state aloud what she has learned today: that he will hurt her whenever he thinks it is the right thing to do. Schaffa assures her that his actions are not random, and that if she never gives him a reason to doubt her control, then he will never have to hurt her again. He then makes Damaya look into his eyes and affirm that she understands this. 
Schaffa continues to deliver hard truths to Damaya that she has no choice to accept if she wants to survive. Most important is that she must always remain in control of herself and her emotions, or else Schaffa will hurt her to stop her from hurting other people. As an orogene, she doesn’t even have the luxury of avoiding these realities for a moment, as Schaffa forces her to accept what she learned this day.
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Schaffa gives Damaya some soup, and they lie down to sleep on their single bedroll. Damaya dreams of earthquakes and pain, and finally Schaffa wakes her up, saying that she was making a noise. She asks if she was snoring, and Schaffa pauses and then says that yes, she was just snoring. Damaya thinks about how her entire life has been upended, but that Schaffa is the only person she has left to love, and she relaxes beside him as they fall asleep again.
Damaya now has her own traumatic memories that wake her up at night. But Schaffa is treating her gently again, and she finds comfort in that. Her relationship to him is complex and clearly unhealthy. But at this point in her life, he is the only kind of stability and family that she has, which is of course exactle as he wants it because it gives him control.
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The chapter ends with a description of a past Fifth Season, this one called the “Boiling Season.” It was caused by an underwater eruption that sent acid rain over part of the Stillness, but because much of the continent was unaffected, some historians still dispute that it was a “true” Fifth Season.
Passages like this give more context about the history of Fifth Seasons and the reason that the societies of the Stillness maintain their current structures. Notably, a “true” Fifth Season must affect most of the continent—more localized disasters are not considered especially important.
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