Lydia nod and say some more formal greetings. She introduces us by our skills, and we learn the O-Negs’ in return. “This is Fen de la Guerre, known for her fierceness, and Uncle Romulus, known for his wise council.” In the Outer States, I hear folks be shaking hands when they meet. Not in Orleans. Somebody get a hold of you with one hand, they could have a knife in the other. So we learn about each other instead. Davis say Natasha be the clever one, but he ain’t got a fierce one on his side, like Lydia got me. Maybe Davis fierce enough on his own. (Smith 33)
Sherri Smith’s Orleans is set in the aftermath of terrible series of hurricanes that hammered the southern parts of the United States (including what is today, Louisiana) and the spreading of Delta Fever in this region. A large wall has been built along the southern portion of the united states, setting up a sort of quarantined area to contain the spreading of the fever. Fen is in Orleans, but on the opposite side of the wall lies the Outer States. This passage provides some insight on the differences that have raised between the Outer States and those contained within the wall. It is a constant fight for survival. People do not even greet each other with a handshake for fear that they could be attacked in the vulnerable state of offering a hand to another. Instead, they are introduced to each other based on their skills, which is somewhat reminiscent of the old practice of taking on one’s trade as a surname (i.e. Smith, Fisher, Porter, etc). While the distinction of being know for a personal quality or attribute may at first be seen as an expression of individuality, this may not be entirely the case. This is a society where people are categorized by blood type, and the labeling of individuals based on a certain skill set, may act as another grouping mechanism. Fen notices that Davis does not have “a fierce one on his side” but her observation suggests that there are certain roles that people expect to be filled in the different tribes.
This is also the first time that Fen’s full name is revealed to the readers and I thought that her name was both interesting and reflective of her environment and things to come. Fen is an Old English word meaning “marshy settlement” and is largely used to refer to frequently flooded low lands in England. Through the setting descriptions in the novel, it is clear that terrible storms have left Orleans in a state of marshy, swamps that are wild and dangerous. Fen’s last name, de la Guerre, is French for ‘of the war’. This name is fitting to her recognition as “the fierce one” but also implies a battle of sorts that will most likely arise as she struggles to get Lydia’s new born, Baby Girl, to the wall and to the Outer States.