Year of Wonder explores the complexity of human nature and the consequences of human actions “He brought the wide world with him” Anna Frith admires George Viccars for being well-travelled but does not realise that he has brought not only his knowledge of the world but also the perils of disease with him. Silhouetted against the sepulchral backdrop of the blighted Eyam, Geraldine Brooks depicts a community caught in extraordinary times in her historical novel “Year of Wonder”.
The novel conveys the complications and ramifications of human nature and human actions, interwoven with the cultural value of religion and beliefs in addition to the social value of trust. Brooks illustrates that the nature suspect and distrust has stemmed from the Plague, as well as the fact that to a degree, all humans have similar nature. Whilst some responded positively to these catastrophic turn of events, others suffered server negative impact to this result of human action. The similarities in nature between characters are evident in the novel.
Through the first person narrative of Anna Frith, readers are invited to see the whole story from her perspective and insights on her own life and personality. As the intricacies of the plot unfolds, we began to see that, indeed, Anna was lost in an abyss of pain and suffering, yet in response to it, she has grown strong, no longer a child “to quail at terrors”. Since our first glimpse at her, Anna has proven herself to be a capable care-taker. Although her role is Michael Mompellion’s servant is quite circumscribed, she always goes beyond the restrict scopes of her duties in attempting to coax him out of his melancholia.
She often takes on a mothering role towards Michael, as she says “treating him as if he was my child”. In result of her actions towards Mompellion, she saw the need to nurture others, even motherless child or plagued victims. As those around her starts to shrug off their responsibilities, Anna begin to shoulder more burdens then running a household and bringing solace to the afflicted. Just like Anna, Elinor Mompellion possesses a “sinewy mind” with a “driving energy”.
She is a well-educated woman, whom, when first mentioned in the novel, is educating Anna on how to read. Elinor does not respect the division between “weak and strong, between men and woman, laborer and lord”, as Anna recalls “she never reminded me of my place (as a servant)”. Hence, the author’s ability to depict the complexity of human nature is evident in the novel as the personalities of characters are, to an extent, similar from each other. One of the fatal effects of the plague is that it breeds the human nature of mutual suspicion and distrust.
It is possible that the plague is merely exacerbating tensions already present with in the village but it does so to an unprecedented degree. Thus, certain individuals of a somewhat antisocial and self-serving bent find their actions and inclinations magnified by the advent of the Plague. Josiah Bont, who is Anna’s abusive father, becomes a gravedigger, willing to pursue homicide as a stimulus to his profits; his wife, Aphra, shamelessly exploits the anxieties of her fellow villagers for monetary gain by pretending to be the ghost of the deceased Anys Gowdie.
In what is, perhaps, a less culpable fashion, David Burton seizes the opportunity to advance his own interest at the expense of Merry Wickord, whose family mine has been left open to claim by the death of her parents. Instances such as these suggest that Michael Mompellion’s assertion that “the Plague will make heroes of us all”, however optimistic, is not well founded. Even more strikingly, the readiness of the villagers to turn against Mem and Anys Gowdie, whose service as healers have been much in demand, indicates that the plague deepens the rifts already exists in the community.
As Jon Millstone comments, there is a grave danger that the time “will make monsters of us all”. Therefore it is the villagers own nature which acts as the catalyst for further tragic events. The onslaught of the plague has scarred numerous villagers in Eyam. As the plague creeps further into the village, people who begin to face corruption as they undergo catastrophic changes are omnipresent throughout the novel. Ever since the plague arrived, the villagers did not see it as an act of nature, but rather as a curse, as they are blinded by their own beliefs, relaying on superstition and living in the false reality of religion.
In result, they saw the tailor, George Vicars, as the Devil and the architect of the plague. There for, they believed that Anys, who slept with George, as a witch and killed her. This was the first response to the crisis, a response of fear and panicking, as the villagers looking for a scapegoat for the cause of this problem. As Anna suffers the loss of both of her sons, she begins to seek comfort in the graveyard. She also begins to question “how can the just and merciful God take the life of innocents”.
Soon after she became addicted to opiates and going as far as to stealing them, thus giving us insights on Anna’s weakness and the first crack in her religion. Others who are desperate in seeking sanctuary in such times also turned their backs on religion as they trust in the ‘ghost of Anys Gowdie’, who offers them demonic rituals, charms and spells in return for money. It is evident that in this novel, the certain characters walked the wrong path from desperation and resulted in unpredicted results.
It is apparent however, that although the plague decayed the mind of almost the entire village, there are still those who fought for what they believed in and survived the corruption. After the arrival of the plague, it was always Mompellion who stands in front of the villagers and convincing in an optimistic tone that “trust in God to perform his wonders”. Such speech is the signpost the beginning to his leadership, which has also planted the seeds of discord between superstition and faith.
His usage of God and trust are an obvious plot to influence the townspeople to trust and believe him. Through all the disorder, unexpected alliances are made. Mompelion confers with Puritan Thomas Stanley, a Purtian who quitted the parish three years ago. Thus showing that in times of crisis, religious differences can be overcome to unify for greater cause of human survival. Anna has encountered countless barrages alone the path, however because of her work and friend ship with Elinor, she was also able to rise from the adversity.
After she discovers the truth about him and Elinor, she stands up to Mompellion as well as the Bradfords, thus breaking the social structure. Because of the plague, Anna metaphorically transformed from a simple, uneducated girl to a powerful, formidable woman. She escaped from her past and is able to create a promising future for herself and her children. Therefore, it can be said that a beacon of juxtaposition shines between those who survive and those who don’t, allowing the readers to see the different outcomes.
In essences, the plague itself does not produce heroes or monsters, unity or division. It only amplifies the human natures which individuals already possess, in addition to the similarities and differences in nature between characters. Hence, there are those who like Anna, can emerge from the experience of the plague and responded with positive actions, and those that reached a breaking point in such times and suffered consequences as a result. The plague symbolises a test, just like in a furnace in which all must be melted to find the pure metal.