Anna Frith’s Reliability as a Narrator in “Year of Wonders”

February 11, 2019 by Essay Writer

Geraldine’s Brooks’ exploration of the multi-faceted nature of humanity in her historical novel, ‘Year of Wonders,’ opens a myriad of concerns regarding transformation strife through the first-hand account of Anna Frith. Brooks extensively employs archaic language conducive to the time and vivid descriptions of the natural world alongside the horrors of the plague, which in addition to her presence at pivotal junctures offers integrity and authenticity to her account. Although her limited perspective may suggest a feminist sensibility throughout, Anna’s voice is core, as she becomes the embodiment of the novel’s central conflict posing religion against reason. Bearing witness to her moments of both triumph and weakness, the audience is able to identify and sympathize with Anna’s quandary, which mirrors that of the world at the time. The linguistic features of Anna’s narration are notably suitable to the bygone age Brooks wishes to portray. Great attention to syntax, absence of contractions and prevalence of words and jargon that do not appear in the modern lexicon, such as “sennight”, offer unheralded integrity to Anna’s 17th century account. Dialogue appropriately shifts between characters based on their level of intellect and background, most evident in the boorish remarks of Josiah Bont juxtaposed against Anna’s, whose dialect obscures her contemporary views, which may be deemed somewhat anachronistic. Furthermore, Anna forms the epicenter of the novel; the relationships she bears vital to the direction of the plot. Access to gentry allows her to recount the Bradfords’ preference to “run from danger” and later is the only character to witness to Michael Mompellion’s fall from grace. Despite her limited perspective providing no clear evocation of the tension or turmoil that exists in the hearts and minds of others, it is the “so little [Anna] knows” which concurrently adds layers to the readers understanding of what drove the rector to entreat “voluntary besiegement” and atonement upon the villagers and his wife, respectively. Anna emphasizes her affinity with nature and its irrevocable nexus with the contagion through superlative use of imagery. Her frank admissions of nature’s brute force serve as a stark reminder of the brevity of human life and its apparent insignificance in the face of the wider natural world. In order to create a vivid picture of the horrors of the plague, Brooks’ narrator does not shirk from the grim realities the novel presents; the candid comparison of the buboes of George Viccars to those of a “new born piglet” diverges with the bountiful descriptions of Elinor’s “little Eden”. Moreover, bucolic bliss connoted with the color green evident in her descriptions of the foliage, paints Anna as a fertile ‘healer’. The “abundance of grey” in the flint and sky holds connexion to Puritanism contrasted to the “surfeit of sunlight” in Oran, symbolic of the diminishment of these social mores. Anna reminisces on the “fleeting memories” of happiness being “swept away”, exemplary of the inevitable change adversity entails. Moreover the trope and fiery red attests to the trials Anna faces as empathy is deliberately cultivated for the vulnerable protagonist who assumes the mantle for the well-being of the village, a shepherd in both literal and figurative terms, correlating he herd to the mob hat strayed and need to be led back to safety. Finally, the admission of how “sickly sweet” smell of apples of which she “used to love” suggests how tainted her association with the natural world has become. The destructiveness and healing capacities in its flows and seasons, reflected in the novel’s format, form the paradox that lies at the center of the novel. Finally, Anna’s narration cultivates pathos through personal experience, dramatic action and slow unfolding of events with calm detachment; interior monologue garners sympathy for her harrow circumstance whilst providing insight into her transformation. In explaining the “confined” world to her late husband, Anna immediately sets contrast between her vibrant mind to that of the narrow views embedded within the patriarchal society. In addition, Anna’s descriptions of her sons serves to heighten the depression and misery she experiences in their passing, and presence in moments of “poppy induced serenity” and inner eruption of jealousy emphasises the vulnerability of Anna, which in turn strengthens the intrepidly progressive transformation she undergoes. Anna’s voice, despite subjective emotional levels, allows readers to identify richly with her sense of isolation, need for love, and changes she undergoes to evolve from timidly submissive maid to one willing to confront those in the upper echelons of power. Moreover, commentary of her existential questioning occurs sporadically and adds to one of the novels primary concerns regarding the role of nature and its fluctuating course. However, Anna speaks of the “debt” Josiah owes her, casting him all the more unsavoury in the readers’ eyes. Similarly, the harsh characterisation of the rector following his slump into self-reproach, unearthing his apparent selfishness, consequently promotes veneration towards Elinor Mompellion in not only loving and nurturing qualities but also her stoicism and resilience, accentuating the feminist sensibility which, despite its partiality, is pivotal to the direction and context of the novel. Anna’s retrospective recreation is both tangible and visually enlightening, the interior monologue baring her level of naivety in the absence of mediations or implied values of a third-person omniscient narrator. Whilst her documentation of the events of 1665 can be perceived as somewhat unreliable and anachronistic in its subjectivity, it is the emphasised feminist perspective which is paramount within the context of such a time, ultimately presenting Eyam as a microcosm in the great social change occurring in the fluidity of the 17th century.

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