Year of Wonders reveals “how little we know…of the people we live amongst. ” Discuss. Year of Wonders, a novel written by Geraldine Brooks provides the reader with a true insight into the fabric of human nature and demonstrates how crisis can expose many new characteristics about the people we think we have formed close bonds with. After discovering Elinor’s past sins in the ‘Poppies of Lethe’, Anna comments on how oblivious of people’s true attributes and past experiences we can be, which reveals ‘how little we know… of the people we live amongst’.
This revelation suggests that throughout times of crisis the way people respond and react will differ between individuals and possibly reveal an incident from their past which has resulted in a person’s personality and characteristics. This is evident in the narrative as Elinor’s ‘gentlewomen’ facade is revealed to be exactly that. It is also illustrated by John Gordon who turned into a self-harming, flagellant in an attempt to cope with the catastrophic effects of the plague.
In the case of the Bont clan, their already horrid nature is amplified even more so, to an extent that it is mentally trying to deal with. Throughout the novel, Brooks’ conveys Elinor as a kind and compassionate ‘gentlewomen’ however as the narrative progresses, Elinor constantly steps out of this stereotypical role of femininity and displays how little you know about a person despite the close bond you may have with them.
Elinor is character that engages the audience because she challenges the accepted social role of females in the 17th century. In order to ensure Merry Wickford maintains ownership of her mine, Elinor accompanied by Anna must enter the mine and draw out a ‘dish of lead’. This job ‘falling outside… what is considered fit for a women’, Elinor displays a great physical and mental strength which may have remained dormant and unknown to those around her without the needs of Merry to act as a catalyst for this revelation.
Elinor’s past ‘sin’ is conceded as she wants Anna to ‘truly know’ who lays these ‘burdens upon you’, when this information is revealed Anna is shocked as she realises just how little she knows about someone she considered a close friend. The narrative reveals that sometimes people’s true self can remain dormant and until they are ready to concede who they truly are, you can never sincerely know them. Shockingly, the siege mentality brought on by the scourge see’s people seek God’s praise through flagellation and extreme deprivation.
John Gordon’s response to the plague is both unexpected and extreme, in order to ‘allay God’s wrath’ he stops eating and subjects his body to horrible punishment with ‘plaited leather and nails’. As a strict religious society, the people of Eyam assume that all members of the society will maintain their belief in religion throughout any number of troubles, however when the plague hits, John Gordon, ‘a lettered man’ resorts to ‘grievous self-punishment’ as a coping mechanism.
This response was unanticipated by even John’s wife Urith who also is ‘aggrieved’ and ‘clemmed’ in accordance with John’s new belief in flagellation. John Gordon’s response to the plague is proof of how little we truly know about those we live among. The Bont clan are known throughout the town as avarice and insensitive people, however in the time of the plague their villain-like qualities are almost too vile to contemplate as they seek to take advantage of the villager’s fear and needs.
Despite their general animosity for the rest of their townspeople prior to the plague, many expected them to be willing to help out their neighbours as demonstrated by Anna entrusting Joss Bont with the job of the ‘sexton’. However, instead of seeing devastation in people’s losses he saw opportunity and he ‘committed an act so vile’ that the population of Eyam, ‘diminished and exhausted’ were spurred in to action against him. No one in the town could comprehend just how evil the Bonts would become in this time of crisis.
The lack of knowledge we have about those we live with is also demonstrated through Aphra’s actions when she imitates Anys Gowdie and gives hope to those afflicted by the plague. She attempts to sell ‘spells’ and ‘potions’ claimed to help those who are sick and their families who have resigned themselves to a lack of hope. It is difficult to conceive how heinous people can become in times of crisis, and this promotes the notion that we know very little about the people we live with.
Anna perceives that there are a lot of things we don’t know about the ‘people we live amongst’. This notion is illustrated through the actions of Elinor which go against the grain of the stereotypical role of females of the time. Through the flagellant, John it is conveyed how differently individuals can respond to times of crisis, when their faith is tried and proves you cannot truly know someone until a catastrophe has occurred. The novel Year of Wonders exposes how people exceed the peoples negative expectations and become more terrible than previously anticipated.