“I wished to know how things stood in the world”. For Anna, the year of the plague is about a journey from ignorance to knowledge. Discuss. In the extraordinary novel, Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks exposes the difficult yet admirable life of Anna Frith, trapped in a community caught in desperate times. As the plague strikes this small village, ignorance and a fear of the unknown become dominant sensations in Eyam in 1666-1667. Anna is completely unaware of the opportunities to grow and succeed that surround her as she struggles with uneducated parents throughout her childhood.
London Tailor, George Viccars, opens Anna’s eyes to the world, inspiring her to learn more about herself and the way in which the world works after bringing the devastating illness known to Anna as, “God’s wrath made manifest” to the village. Anna works hard and dreams of finding a cure for the plague after the loss of her two sons. Anna turns to herblore and together with motherly-like figure Elinor, the pair study together after initially not being “interested” in such beliefs. Anna then goes even further, extending her knowledge in the health area after delivering a child by pure instinct.
This is the first of many as from this Anna gains in confidence. She slowly begins to improve her understanding of father Josiah and step mother Aphra and why they came to be how they are, although still despises them for their oblivious actions. However it is at the novel’s conclusion, when Anna flees Eyam due to revealing circumstances that she finally recognizes her ignorance to the world she has been living in. She is able to see most clearly her abilities and skills that have been withheld from her due to an uneducated life.
It is at this point when she realizes, “I was alive, and I was young, and I would go on until I found some reason for it”. A child’s upbringing can shape their experiences for the rest of their life; this was the case for Anna Frith. Anna never got to familiarize herself with a normal childhood, brought up by her father Josiah Bont whom she witnessed kill her biological mother at a young age. She was married off to Sam at the tender age of fifteen years old under the instruction of her father. Anna was ignorant to the world around her, as she didn’t know any better.
A “timid” girl, Anna despised her father stating “he loved a pot more than his own children”. This situation worsened when Josiah married new wife Aphra, who looked down upon Anna. Anna has the clear view that, “to my stepmother Aphra, I was always a pair of hands before I was a person, someone to toil after her babies”. She taught Anna nothing but how not to care for you own children believing it was “ill fortune to love a child until it walks and is well grown”. Anna was easily confused at this and wondered how Aphra could think so.
If it wasn’t for a natural motherly instinct in Anna, she may well have followed in Aphra’s footsteps unwittingly. Anna never knew she had the ability to stand up to her father and is very conservative about her opinions of him although she trusts her own decisions. The arrogance and plain ignorance of Josiah Bont led to Anna’s childhood being very uneducated and undesirable, resulting in Anna not being well prepared for the years of devastation to come. Anna discovers a wider world the minute deadly disease is brought into her life.
It is London tailor George Viccars, bearer of the plague, who opens Anna’s eyes to world beyond Eyam. When Viccars arrives at Anna’s croft, “he brought the wide world with him”. Anna had not had a man of any real significance in her life since the death of Sam, until the arrival of George Viccars. He showed her that there was more to life than everyday chores in a small village. Captured by his talents, Anna begins to realize the opportunities to learn that surround her. Seeing the work of Viccars and hearing the stories of his life, Anna, “wished to know how things stood in the world”.
Anna is devastated at the death of Viccars, and it is at this point in the novel where she learns of the plague as a fatal disease. Although the plague spells the end of a lifetime for many villagers in Eyam, including Anna’s two sons, it is the beginning of a new life for Anna. Her first instinct is to help in as many ways as she can, attending the dying bedside of all sufferers, caring for widowed wives and orphaned children. However she does not only wish to care for the ill, but dreams of finding a cure to stop the small pandemic. She approaches the ever intelligent Elinor, who inspires her to learn.
Anna expresses, “when she had discovered that I hungered to learn, she commenced to shovel knowledge my way”. The plague intrigues Anna, as the reader observes her transformation from being completely illiterate to becoming deeply involved and gaining a slightly better understanding of the way the human body functions. Together Anna and Elinor research further into a mysterious practice known as herblore. Anys and Mem Gowdie are seen as the “witches” of Eyam, which ultimately leads them to their death.
For Anna however, she believes the work of the Gowdie’s was innocent, and has a strong desire to keep the ractice of herblore alive. Anna openly shares that she never had a close relationship with Anys, yet before she was murdered, the pair bonded. It is when Anna learns of Anys’ relationship with George Viccars, which intrigues Anna to get to know Anys and learn of her beliefs and values. Anys teaches Anna that it is acceptable to be independent. Anys believes she was, “not made to be any man’s chattel” and following this Anna admires her for, “listening to her own heart rather than having her life ruled by others conventions”. The plague’s devastating effects require Anna to research herblore.
Together with Elinor, the duo explore and grow in this area of expertise together. Anna is able to quickly grasp many herblore concepts and invent new herbal remedies in hope that each new one may be a good treatment for the plague. Anna goes on to deliver several children in the area. At first she delivers a baby with no experience only motherly instinct. Over time, she develops the skills necessary to repeat this many times. With the help of Elinor, Anna begins to learn and see the world as a bigger place, as well as have better understanding of it through education brought about by the plague.
When it is revealed to her that Michael Mompellion had mistreated Elinor, Anna has the knowledge of the wider world to make the decision to flee Eyam. Although well educated, Michael Mompellion reveals a dark secret that tests Anna’s awareness and knowledge. When it is exposed to Anna that Michael had been denying Elinor sexual desires as punishment for her aborting a child when she was younger, Anna is shocked. She is forced to cope with the fact that the man who she had admired since being the Rector of the village, had betrayed her, “beautiful friend, full of affection, made for love”.
Although this doesn’t sit well in Anna’s mind, it uncovers much confusion for her. She comes to the realization of why she had never seen Elinor and Michael touch and concretes in her mind that Michael is a man of very strong beliefs. Anna comes to an understanding of why Michael punished Elinor in this way, as he believed it was almost too difficult to, “atone for a life”. Anna loses her faith in Michael but does not lose hope in her life to come as she flees Eyam with adopted child Aisha, biological daughter of Mrs. Bradford.
It is the beginning of the end at this stage of the novel for Anna as she leaves her hometown after dealing with the plague and much death, to create a new life full of joy and hope. It is in her new Muslamic country where she meets husband Ahmed Bey, whom she marries in order to be able to stay under his roof and learn medicine. Ahmed agrees to this as he needs female doctors to deliver children as husbands do not let him do it himself. Anna continues her studies and grows in her literacy skills. It becomes apparent that by this stage Anna has set herself up in the world with a good standard of knowledge and education.
It is clear that by the end of the novel, Anna Frith underwent a journey from ignorance to knowledge. From living in the small village of Eyam with no direction given to her by her parents, Anna overcomes the plague and its terrible effects by being eager to learn. She develops intellectually during the novel, learning how to read and write from scratch, as well as researching remedies and delievering babies. By the conclusion of the novel, Anna is a well-educated young woman, aware of the opportunities and world around her.
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