'Year of Wonders suggests that adversity brings out the best and the worst in people.' Do you agree?
In Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks recounts the tale of a small 17th century English village afflicted by the plague, through the honest and reliable narration of Anna Frith. The novel's title alludes to the idea that though the plague is devastating, it gives rise to "wonders". Brooks presents to readers an insightful exploration of the diverse reactions that people can have to adverse circumstances, from Anna Frith's exceptional growth to Aphra's descent into madness. She also acknowledges the complexity of human behaviour: adversity is not always polarising, and people's responses lie on a spectrum, where the distinctions between right and wrong are sometimes blurred.
As the plague wreaks havoc on the villagers, it drives many to commit horrible atrocities. In contemporary England, witchcraft was a common accusation in times of adversity, and Mem and Anys Gowdie are particularly vulnerable to become scapegoats, being independent women with knowledge of herblore and midwifery. Brooks shows her readers how difficult circumstances can lead seemingly rational, kind people to turn against those who had never wronged them. Fuelled by hysteria, a panicked mob murders the Gowdies, who were prime targets as "Aphra's superstitious mutterings found many willing ears amongst the villagers". We also see how adversity brings out the worst in people such as Josiah Bont, who takes on the role of sexton. Josiah, who "loved a pot better than he loved his children", was a product of an abused childhood at sea. As a result, he was an exceptionally cruel man, violently assaulting Anna when she was a child and subjecting her mother to the branks, though such punishment was not uncommon in the mid-seventeenth century. Nevertheless, he truly is at his worst when he attempts to bury a man alive and steal all of his possessions, and the community is rightfully outraged. Josiah's...
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