Year of Wonders Essay

Submitted By emmabenthem
Words: 966
Pages: 4

The events that conspire as a result of the ruthlessness of the plague throughout Geraldine Brooks’ historical fiction Year of Wonders results in a steady deterioration of the characters’ ability to commit to their previously conservative values, causing them to turn to alternative methods of survival. The gradual decline in loyalty to religion experienced by the characters allows for an increase in a variety of public opinion in terms of heightened levels of superstition and the realization that the plague may ‘simply be a thing of nature’. This is enhanced by the degradation of previously pivotal societal expectations instilling a sense of empowerment within the characters who were formerly suppressed by the social hierarchy. However, the vicious malignancy of the plague causes even the most powerful characters to resort to more questionable methods of comfort in an effort to alleviate their overwhelming sense of grief and despair.

One of the most contentious issues the characters experience throughout Year of Wonders is the gradual erosion of their faith in religion which in turn prompts a greater interest in nature and science in a desperate attempt for the characters to combat the effects of the plague. The village of Eyam which was ‘far from any road or vital strong point’ was completely immersed in religion due to their isolation, limiting their ability to expand their knowledge. This is evident through Mompellion’s appeal to the villages to quarantine themselves where he knowingly uses religion as an infallible way of convincing the characters to ‘stand and face the lion’ in Eyam. However, as the novel progresses the concept of religion is continually questioned as more and more characters succumb to the plague’s ill effects despite their dedication to their fath. Anys Gowdie is the first character to demonstrate a disregard of religion when she asserts that a ‘good infusion’ would have been of more aid to George Viccas wellbeing instead of the ‘empty mutterings’ that Mompellion provided. Anys’ somewhat anachronistic views of the times along with her resources and knowledge of nature and science acts as a catalyst for Anna to begin distancing herself from religion and moving further towards more ‘practical things’, emphasized through her lavish descriptions of the nature around her. Her contemplation that the ‘perhaps the plague was neither of God nor Devil’ encourages her developing skills in herb lore which she and Elinor use in order to aid the dying village, demonstrating that the less confined she is by religion the more she is able to explore the world around her and it’s advantages. In contrast to Anna’s gradual increase in knowledge which influences her increasing apostasy, Mompellion’s loss of faith is far more unanticipated. Due to the barbaric murder of his wife Elinor, Mompellion realizes that his tenacious dedication to his religion was unable to spare him from losing everything, causing him to label God as a ‘poor listener’. His hand which ‘lay on the bible but never open[ed] it’ demonstrates his increasing despondency that consumes his life replacing his previously unrelenting faith in religion.

The ‘crisis’ of the plague allows for a disband of the previously rigid structure of the social hierarchy enabling the formation of unlikely friendships and an increased level of independency from previously oppressed characters. Before the Bradford’s departure, Colonel Bradford remained at the very height of the social order and was able to intimidate and dictate the lives of the majority of individuals within the village, however their choice to flee and avoid the plague despite the ‘possible risk to strangers’ rendered them powerless upon their return, demonstrated through Anna ‘speak[ing to Elizabeth] however she choose[s]’ when she helps Mrs Bradford to deliver her baby. The patriarchal society pervasive throughout Eyam in which women were ‘shackled to their menfolk’ was eliminated due the wrath of