Year of Wonders Study Notes

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Themes

The Role of women in 17th Century England
Women at this period of time had almost no rights whatsoever. Their guardian, whether it be there father or their husband ruled everything in their life, and often women had no choice but to comply. Anna marries Sam, in order to avoid staying with her abusive father, who often physically beat Anna, as was his legal right to. Anna’s father, Josiah Bont, regularly beat his wife and children, and muzzled Anna’s mother. Anna’s narration of the story itself suggests that Brooks believes in the strength of women. Anna’s freedom later, as one of many wives later also suggests that this whist ironic, is a form of emancipation from patriarchal society. • He “led her around, taunting her, yanking hard on the chain so that the iron sliced her tongue.” (pg. 133) Such behaviour was accepted within society at this time. • The Hancock women “wearily followed behind their husbands…shackled to their menfolk as surely as the plough-horse to the shares.” • Michael insists on Elinor’s involuntary abstinence as “I, the husband, am the image of God in the kingdom of the home.” • Value of women: “ Your wife will be like a fruitful vine Within your house; Your children will be like olive shoots Around your table.” • Anna at being widowed and helpless, “When you’re a widow at eighteen, you grow used to those looks and hard towards the men who give them.” • Anna’s lack of intital desire for knowledge: “But of her herb knowledge I wanted none; it is one thing for a pastor’s wife to have such learning and another thing for a widow woman of my sort. I knew how easy it is for widow to be turned witch in the common mind, and the first cause generally is that she meddles somehow in medicinals.” • “I have something very few women can claim: my freedom.” • “All he grasped was that a connection with her enhanced his own standing, and to him that was all that mattered.”

Nature/ Science
The novel advocates its humanistic ideals through Anna’s belief in humanity’s link with the natural world and her recognition of people’s ability to shape their own destiny. For Anna, the answers to combating the plague lie in the observation of nature and applications of solutions arrived at through processes very similar to scientific methods. It is through this, and the experiences of the narrator Anna Frith, that Year of Wonders appears to affirm humanity’s capacity for self-determination through the natural sciences, rather than suggest that humanity is at the mercy of an omnipotent god that shapes people’s destiny. • “For hundreds of years, the people of this village pushed Nature back from its precincts.” • “Had Anys not just bought us a salve for the sticky-eye that would soothe the children’s pains far quicker than Aphra or I had means to do it? Aphra simply made a face.” • “Burn it all! Burn it all! For the love of God, burn it!” • “A good infusion would have served George better than the empty mutterings of a priest.” • “The key to defeating this Plague, I am convinced, must lie here, in the virtue of such plants” • “I have made a list of all those who have succumbed so far to the Plague and have laid it down upon a map of the dwellings in this place. From this I believe we can grasp how this pestilence spreads, and to whom.” • “Why should this thing be either a test of faith sent by God, of the evil working of the Devil in the world?” • “For if we could be allowed to see the Plague as a thing in Nature merely, we did not have to trouble about some grand celestial design that had to be completed before the disease would abate. We could simply work upon it as a farmer might toil his unwanted tare, knowing that when we would free ourselves, no matter if we were a village full of sinners or a host of saints.” • “For though they may be Plague seeds within them, yet also maybe a knowledge to rid us of the Plague…” • “Perhaps the plague was...
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