Year of Wonders
The Plague in the Year of Wonders
Negativity brings sorrow, grief, hostility, and fear. The outlook that is held can hinder the way that you decide to go about handling the situation. The plague, a serious illness with terrible effects on a society, causes fear, uproar, damage, pain, and grief.
Plague as a Test, and Despair
The view on the plague throughout the novel had drastically changed for a few people. “It is a trial for us, I am sure of it. Because of His great love for us, He is giving us here an opportunity that He offers to very few upon this Earth.” In the beginning, Michael Mompellion, the village pastor, believed that the plague was given to them as a test. As a result of that conclusion, he believed that the village goes under quarantine in order to take on what God has given them and not affect others. However, as the plague continued to get worse, the villagers began to believe in other things that they believed would save them rather than God, which disheartened Mompellion. “Anna, I don’t know what shocks me more in all this: that someone preys upon their desperate fellows, or that they besmirch the memory of Anys Gowdie in passing themselves off as her shade, or that people here are so desperate and credulous that they listen to these midnight whisperings and pay their last mite for these worthless amulets.”
Although there were many negative outlooks on the plague, Anna used her suffering from the plague, the loss of her husband and two sons, to help others in this time of need. To do so, she used scientific remedies that would be effective in healing others. But her faith had diminished through her losses and suffering. “Why, I wondered, did we, all of us, both the rector in his pulpit and simple Lottie in her croft, seek to put the Plague in unseen hands? Why should this thing be either a test of faith sent by God, or the evil working of the Devil in the world? One of these beliefs we embrace, the other we scorned as superstition. But perhaps each was false, equally. Perhaps the Plague was neither of God nor the Devil, but simply a thing in Nature, as the stone on which we stub a toe.” Her ‘faith’ was not the reason for helping everyone else’s suffering, but she accepted that she has lost so much and she must put that behind her to allow herself to move on and make something out of her current lifestyle. One way that she tried to help was to have everyone burn the infected cloth, but people were too selfish to do so, and the plague, that could have been stopped, continued to flourish.
Lose of Faith
More and more villagers are dying. More and more loved ones are lost. More and more faith is lost. There seems to barely be hope, if not any, in humanity to surpass this ‘test from God’. Mompellion’s wife Elinor passed away from the terrible sickness. Thus, resulting in Mompellion’s change of heart upon upholding his faith. “I thought I spoke for God. Fool. My whole life, all I have done, all I have said, all I have felt, has been based upon a lie. Untrue in everything. So now… I have learned at last to do as I please!” This change brings two things in perspective. This preacher was ‘fine’ as all the pain and suffering was happening to other people while he just spread the word and tried to spiritually encourage. But once the pain and suffering begin to happen to you and your loved one, the whole perspective changes. Now he does not even believe in God because his wife has passed away.
In conclusion, the plague brought death, grief, damage, fear, and plenty of pain. The faith in the community depleted as the plague continued to get worse. Everyone trying to survive for themselves while losing friends and family left and right. This ‘God sent’ plague caused the community to battle emotional, physical, and mental struggles. The way that people decided to deal with this was different in a plenty of ways. Surviving this type of event would leave you emotionally and mentally drained because the life has literally been sucked out of you. Through sickness and death. However, if Anne can do it, and use it as motivation to help others in need. So, can someone else.
The Effect of the Setting in Year of Wonders
“Well, my beloved, I say we shall not flee like the faithless Israelites!” (Brooks, 103) This was the key moment where Michael Mompellion decides for the village to stay in the tiny village of Eyam in the middle of an outbreak of the bubonic plague. In the book Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks describes through the point of view of Anna Frith, a teenage servant for the Mompellions, the horrors of the plague when it comes to the village and infects almost all of the inhabitants. Set in 1666, Brooks describes very intimately the small village that Anna, the Mompellions, and the rest of the inhabitants live in, and very clearly describes the hysteria and the fear that come to the village once the plague comes to Eyam. While this is a work of fiction, the effect that the time period of the novel is set in allows the reader to very clearly understand why key decisions in the plot take place, and we can make many connections to the events of that time period. Even the location of the village allows the reader to step into the shoes of the village people and more easily understand what is going on in the plot. Brooks uses the setting of a small village set in the time period of the bubonic plague to very effectively enhance and thicken the plot of the story, giving readers a clear understanding of the events that happen throughout the novel.
Spanning the years 1665 and 1666, the Great Plague was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague in England, a plague that had already killed millions of individuals. So naturally, there would quickly be a lot of accusations of each other and a lot of hysteria being created. Brooks shows how quickly hysteria and chaos are created even if there is a single unrelated detail that might suggest evil, especially in the case of Anys Gowdie, one of the townspeople. “I can’t see my reflection in her eyes! Sign of a witch! Sign of a witch!” (Brooks, 91). Especially after considering that back in that time period witchery was a very evil crime, you could see how all of a sudden all trust in the village had gone out the window. This was definitely one of the reasons why Brooks decided on using a tiny village like Eyam to set the story in; because in a small village you have to create strong relationships with the people around you, one misstep could mean the death of you, literally. The village is so disconnected from the rest of the world, so connections within the village need to be very strong because they have no one else that they know well that is trustworthy. Another prime example is between Anna and Mrs. Mompellion. Although Anna is Mrs. Mompellion’s servant, the connection that they have is not one of servant and employer, but almost like best friends, to the point where they are willing to sacrifice their lives to help a child mine ore. The connection between the two is almost inseparable. When Mrs. Mompellion contracted a minor fever, Anna was convinced that she had contracted the plague, and was extremely disheartened. “I wept then in earnest, standing right there in the middle of the field.” (Brooks, 233). Anna was so scared of the possible passing of Mrs. Mompellion that she didn’t even consider where she was going to weep. Thanks to the setting of a very secluded village, and the point of view that was used, Brooks engages the audience very effectively and makes us have empathy for the characters in the story.
The Religious Century
The time period that the story is set in also effectively incorporates the setting. Brooks wrote this novel based in the 15th century and in that time period, the idea of religion and God is the core in every household was very pronounced, and Brooks did not let this idea fade away. In multiple instances, Brooks seamlessly folds in the motif of religion into the plot of the entire novel. Even in the start when the townspeople are wondering about where the plague came about, Brooks carefully brings up the possibility of religious influence. “If God saw fit to send this scourge, I believe it would be His will that one faces it where one was, with courage and thus contain its evil.’ (Brooks, 62). It seemed that the first instinct Mr. Mompellion had about the Plague was one of religious influence, instantly thinking it was God who had sent the plague along. Brooks very quickly sets up how much religion is drilled into everybody’s brain and made into an important factor to consider in decisionmaking, especially seeing that Eyam was in the countryside and with a very Puritan background. As mentioned before, Mr. Mompellion quickly decided that it was an obligation to close down the village boundaries. Mr. Mompellion himself is the rector for the village, and all of the townspeople see him as the leader of the town, the one holy man with the capabilities to lead a village. Even the decision to isolate the village was one heavily influenced by religion. “Yet God in His infinite and unknowable wisdom has singled us out, alone amongst all the villages in our shire, to receive this Plague… Because of His great love for us, He is giving us here an opportunity that He offers to very few upon this Earth.” (Brooks, 100). Mr. Mompellion is so convinced that God had sent the plague to the village that he starts praising Him for bringing the plague to the village, This praise for God bringing in the plague ultimately leads to the decision of closing the village. Brooks very thoughtfully incorporated the use of religion, because it was such a big deal back in that time period. Everyone believed that the if everything in the world was going wrong, the only thing right was that God was with them. The time period that this novel was set in has very well portrayed how the setting can influence and help the reader understand the plot and the events occurring in the novel.
We can see that in many instances, Brooks has used the literary technique of setting to dramatically change the way that the novel is read by her audience. Thanks to her thoughtful use of including many references from the 17th century, Brooks allows the reader to truly step into the shoes of people living in the time of the plague and experience what living in that time period felt like, especially in the countryside where not much is heard from. The intimate relationships within the people that have to be fostered to create trust within a small village. The importance of how religion runs everything in almost all households. The type of conditions that people lived in. All of these have been woven intricately to produce a book that completely changes the way how people see the bubonic plague, and really understand why things happened. Geraldine Brooks carefully crafted her novel in the setting of a small village set in the time period of the bubonic plague to very effectively enhance and thicken the plot of the story, making this a novel for the ages.
Humanity’s Capacity for Change as shown in Year of Wonders
Humankind has the potential to undergo significant change, and instances of crisis often act as catalysts for such transformations. The once meek and complacent Anna Frith becomes a women of exceptional bravery and compassion in Geraldine Brooks’ historical novel Year of Wonders, as in the course of her journey she changes many of her own views and challenges others’ perceptions of her. She overhauls many of the key pillars of her existence, meaning the changes she experienced were all-encompassing, demonstrating to readers the extraordinary malleability of human nature. The first important alteration Anna endeavoured to make was in regards to her relationship with men and her class status as a lowly maid, both features of her life that fed into her lack of independence and power. This transition is marked by the change in how she refers to Elinor, from “Mrs. Mompellion” at first to “my friend” later, and using her first name. This change in address indicates that she becomes comfortable with her equality to Elinor and that she deserves such a position. It was Elinor, in fact, who was the main influence on Anna’s defying of class boundaries, as Elinor’s own past mistakes led to her acting as a surrogate mother to Anna and helping her to see her value and potential. By treating Anna as an equal and educating her, articulated by Anna when she says “for as I loved to learn, she loved to teach”, Anna is exposed to a world previously closed off to her by her lack of means and she is consequently able to interact with all classes of people and get a job that is not menial. Much of Anna’s transition from lower class to classless also stemmed from her perception of herself, a perception Elinor is key in shaping, as she began to view herself as just as worthy as the wealthy consequently forcing those around her to challenge their views, seen when Elizabeth Bradford visited Michael in the novel’s first chapter. While Elizabeth “pushed past” Anna twice throughout their interaction, a gesture that indicates her sheer dismissal of Anna and lack of respect for her, Anna rebutted her rudeness by using the same doorway as Elizabeth. This was a discrepancy Elizabeth was clearly uncomfortable with, but one that illustrated Anna’s steely self-confidence at the plague year’s end and her new perspective on the redundancy of social class. Unfortunately, members of society such as Elizabeth will always view Anna as lesser than themselves, but Anna’s successful career and solo journey at the novels end prove that her resolute nature far outweighed a few doubters. If it were not for the rapid crumbling of her religious faith, Anna’s intelligent, open mind would have never been able to challenge her puritan upbringing and eventually turn to science as the more logical alternative. She begins to question her faith early on as she realises Anys’ “fornication and blasphemy branded her a sinner” despite her altruistic work in helping the villagers with their ailments and wellbeing. If it were not for her admiration of and respect for Anys her initial doubts about religion would perhaps never have arose, rendering Anys essential in her painstaking journey from puritan to atheist. The “dark and light” in which she “had been taught to view the world” began looking distinctively grey although she continues to go to church and see the plague as the doing of God until very late on in the novel when her mind is freed by the realisation the plague may be “a thing in Nature merely”. Anna’s unquenchable thirst for knowledge and self-reliance filled the void opened up by the disintegrating of her faith, as she left the certainty and comfort it offered to pursue her desire to become wordly and educated – a plight impossible without the ever patient teachings of Elinor. It is almost impossible for Anna to release herself from a lifetime of teachings, however, partially because of her admiration for Mr. Mompellion and the sermons he continues to preach until the novels final pages. Even then, when her faith has turned into hope, she still refers to the “Plague” with a capital “P”, suggesting that there is still a trace of her subconscious that sees the disease as a hopeless force similar to that of how she now views God. As she breaks the binds her strict upbringing placed upon her, however, she proves that it is possible to change in a way that opens one up to a myriad of exciting opportunities. Furthermore, there are many small instances of change Anna experiences throughout Year of Wonders, all which relate back to her fear of certain activities that stem from traumatising life experiences. Firstly, she confronted the idea of dabbling in herbal remedies, scared of becoming a “widow…turned witch” but eventually overcoming her self-consciousness in order to ease the pain of those in great suffering, displaying exceptional compassion and benevolence. Elinor’s powerful role modelling assists her decision greatly as she encourages Anna to help her in discovering remedies and applying them to the wrath of the plague. Anna was then gently pushed, once again by Elinor, whose kind, calm tone as she says “we will do the best we can by Mary Daniel” coaxes Anna into acting as a midwife to the first time mother. She is desperately afraid because of her own mothers death in childbirth but the experience sparks her passion to move “…away from death…from birth to birth” in the novels epilogue – a passion she would have never discovered if it was not for the mentoring of Elinor. She overcame past traumas once again when she went down into the mine to assist an orphaned child in surviving, battling with her fear of darkness and death and emerging injured but triumphant. On these three occasions, Anna’s selfless desire to assist those more in need than herself overcame her crippling fears, proving an enduring valiance far greater than what most can claim and most certainly proving mankind’s capacity to change.Ultimately, Geraldine Brooks illustrates humankind’s exceptional capacity to be moulded and shaped through the character of Anna. This is demonstrated through Anna’s psychological and social transformations as she emerges from the plague year having opened up doors she never knew existed and having been “tempered and made strong.”
The Effect of Disintegrating Faith in Year of Wonders
When faith is diminished in a community where it was once crucial, it is logical for the citizens’ reactions to be varied and occasionally destructive. In Geraldine Brooks’ historical novel “Year of Wonders,” villagers display myriad responses as they question the very foundations on which their lives were built. While some, including the exceptionally brave Anna Frith, flourish as a result, others become crippled by the devastation of losing their primary source of comfort and certainty. When Anna’s faith disintegrates her mind is opened up to a range of concepts long suppressed by her religion, resulting in her blossoming into a well-rounded individual full of compassion, hope and a burning desire to help others. It is a long and fruitful journey that leads to Anna seeing the plague as a “thing in nature merely”, as she turns to science to assist her in clearing the confusion and pain that at times cloud her vision. From this moment on Anna buries herself in books and strains her mind to think of potential remedies, urged on by Elinor who, when they are together in Anys’ home, predicts that “the key to defeating this Plague…must lie here, in the virtue of these plants”. As a consequence the two women bring relief to many of the dying including the young boy covered in thorns by his superstitious parents when she covers him with a soothing salve from the herbal remedies discovered in the Gowdie home. Her scientific revelations continue as she discovers that she is meant to go “from birth to birth”, overcoming her fear of childbirth and her religions condemnation of science when birthing Mary Daniel’s child and consequently discovering the joy that accompanies bringing new life into the world. Overall, science plays a large role in assisting Anna in filling the void left by her diminished religious beliefs.While science is the most monumental outlet for Anna’s shattered religious faith, her mind follows several other pathways and while one is riddled with darkness, she also gains belief in both herself and those around her. Anna’s faith in humanity is incredible considering the many despicable acts she witnessed throughout the plague year, illustrated when she raises her hand to Michael at the novels end, the small gesture implying Anna’s admirable capacity for forgiveness and her persistent belief in the fundamental decency of human kind. Anna also learns that the only person that she can rely on without doubt is herself, the transformative experience of the plague year allowing her to become “tempered and made strong”. It is ultimately Anna’s steely self confidence that drives her to remove herself entirely from her past and create a vibrant, independent future for herself and her child. Anna’s realisations, however, did not come without her first having to overcome the extraordinary grief that penetrated her soul. After the death of her two young boys, she turned to poppy in an attempt to salve her sorrows, desperate for “sweet dreams” and clinging to the fragile remains of her sanity. This weak moment makes her ultimately courageous, selfless decision to save the Bradford’s new born and travel to an unknown land all the more commendable, as the flaws in her personality are far outweighed by her unyielding compassion and bravery. So ultimately it was essential that Anna lost faith as it allowed her to discover inner strength and independence in the novel.Logic was not at the forefront of Aphra Bont’s mind as the horrors of the plague descended upon her home, and her “deeply superstitious” personality led to her being crippled by madness as the year progressed. When her last daughter died she “had Faith’s body strung up like a puppet” as she cast an array of spells upon her. She also overcharged villagers in exchange for useless spells, the allure of criminal activity all too enticing after it became apparent to her God was not there to punish her. Josiah Bont had a similar response when he took valuable items from villager’s homes in exchange for digging their loved ones graves. Such an activity appeared entirely reasonable to him, as he remained convinced that the villagers and any potential higher powers were out to get him. Jane Martin was a third villager whose descent into faithlessness affected in a detrimental way, as Anna saw her go from being an innocent Puritan girl to one reduced to alcohol abuse and sleeping around in a vain attempt to numb her pain. Such pain, however, is difficult to numb, and a number of villagers turned to mob violence as a mechanism of shifting the blame for the devastating events onto someone other than God. Mary Hadfield along with a number of others believed the Gowdies apparent “malice has brought plague” to their loved ones, consequently taking two lives as their grief manifested itself as anger unfortunately misdirected upon innocent bystanders. The minor characters of the novel showed a myriad of destructive reactions as their faith dissolved, their strength and resolve diminished as they lost their primary source of certainty.Ultimately, the characters in Year of Wonders resort to a range of different means in an attempt to fill the void the faith that had once been a quintessential part of their existence left. Many characters lose faith completely and opt to follow a range of pathways differing in their morality. Whatever their survival mechanisms, they are all driven by a singular force as they struggle to find fulfilment in a suddenly terrifying world.
Anna Frith’s Reliability as a Narrator in “Year of Wonders”
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.