Joss Milston, the Sexton Says ... “These Times They Do Make Monsters of Us All.” Is This a Fair Assessment of the Townsfolk of Eyam Under Quarantine?

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Loosely based on a true story of the village of Eyam, which was struck by the Plague in the 17th century, the historical novel Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks explores the notion of the change in nature of individuals in response to a human crisis. Joss Milston, the town sexton states that “these times they do make monsters of us all”. Despite this, it can be argued that the plague did not make monsters of the villagers; the pre-existing traits for monsters, and even heroes were lying dormant in many, the plague just amplified these and brought them forth, changing the nature of individuals completely. //

It is evident that not only the monstrous traits of Josiah Bont and the paranoia, hysteria and doubt that drove the ravenous lynch mob, but also the selflessness and courage that allowed Anna Frith and Brand to become heroes were evident before the plague, the plague was the catalyst that allowed many to act on these attributes. Avarice was discernible before the disaster, but the Plague brought out the true cut-throat nature of individuals.

Although the plague made greed clearly evident in some individuals, it did not simply create such pleonexy. Josiah Bont was a ‘sour and menacing creature’, who to Anna’s recollection ‘love the pot better than his children.’ Taking on the job on the village sexton to the desperate, Josiah found there was a ‘profit in hole-digging’; extorting the desperate to the point that in his ‘callousness’, he would knock on the doors of the ailing, and state that if the wanted a grave dug, that he would ‘dig it then and there or not at all.’ And with ‘no check on his increasing greed’, his wickedness ‘only grew.’ In an attempt to kill Christopher Unwin, who refused to pay for a grave that Josiah had dug in advance without informing him, he committed an ‘act so vile’, that even the villagers who were ‘diminished and exhausted, were spurred at last to action.’ Put on trial by the villagers, sentenced to be impaled by the hand in...
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