A Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders is a story of great courage in the face of extreme adversity discuss. ‘A Year of Wonders’, written by Geraldine Brooks is based during an era that represents a challenging time in history where original ideologies of religion is confronted by the effects of a catastrophic disease known as the black plague. Because traditional remedies through religious rituals proved ineffective, core beliefs were questioned and faith waned. How does one respond through such calamities where a cure seemingly ceased to exist?
Strength, bravery and tenacity through specific females in the novel demonstrated how individuals can respond in an exceptional manner in horrific situations. As well as highlighting the constructive effects, Geraldine Brooks also points out how a dissimilar outcome can also be created where iniquitous behaviour is resulted instead. Despite this, it is clear that although the author acknowledges the negative results, she tries to emphasise the heroic abilities instead through her narration of the novel ‘A Year of Wonders’.
The heroine of the novel, Anna Frith is a symbol of hope. She represents the underdog, a character for which has no significant importance in society, but as the story unfolds and her town becomes the breeding ground for a deathly infestation, she rises above her original character, an ordinary maid, and is transformed instead into a hero for her community. Her subservience is illustrated through her selfless act in which she helps Merry Wickford, a young orphaned girl who lost her family to the plague.

To prevent Merry from living a ‘bleak future in a poorhouse’, Anna embarks on a dangerous mission to attain the required dose of lead in the Wickford mine. Such an act held many potential dangers, although aware, Anna continued with her pursuit. Described as ‘the one good, perhaps, to come out of [that] terrible year’, Anna is a clear example of how arduous times can make ‘heroes of us’. Independent, unconventional and unique are the words that describe Anys and Mem Gowdie. Their courage is shown through their decision to not conform to their community’s ideas.
They represented a different group of women in their society, one who was not ‘a man’s chattel’ and was still able to ‘manage alone as a woman in the world’. Such behaviour was unheard of in their society, their differences were not welcomed in the town in which they resided and many despised them for behaving as they did. As tensions rose due to the death toll from the plague increasing, any ‘strange’ behaviours were questioned. Anys and Mem represented ‘strange’ but despite this, they stayed true to their character from start to finish.
Only the brave can stand against the perceived normal, against the ideas of what is ‘right’ in the eyes of the majority and Anys and Mem are two symbolic figures who were bold enough to challenge the norm. Unlike the aforementioned, Aphra is a character who responds to adversity in a manner that can only be described as destructive and damaging. In the circumstance of plague in this time frame where cures were unknown, people become desperate for any remedies that may prove effective.
Aphra takes advantage of these insecurities of fear and distress and exploits it for her own selfish gains. Posing as Anys Gowdie’s ghost, she deceives her community by selling fake charms at night which were assumed to provide cure to the disease but instead were merely a way to make profit of the situation. Another example demonstrating Aphra’s detrimental means to survive is through her most climatic experience, the death of her children.
This is final event for which her personality is transformed dramatically where her rational is lost completely as a coping mechanism for the loss of her kin. Harbouring ‘a wealth of superstitions in her simple mind’, the situation in which she is placed only further fuels these thoughts which eventually drives her into a state of insanity and hysteria. Her growing madness leads her to keep her child, Faith’s deadly corpse for torturous superstitious reasons and eventually to the most climatic event in the novel, the bloody murder of Elinor Mompellion and her own gruesome suicide.
Through the character Aphra, Geraldine Brooks is able to illustrate how adverse times can also make ‘monsters of us’. ‘A Year of Wonders’ demonstrates ‘how people are changed by catastrophe’. These changes lead to the establishment of one of two persons; a ‘hero’ or a ‘monster’. Geraldine Brooks created characters such as Anna Frith and the Gowdie’s to highlight how individuals can use tragedy as the catalyst for good change such as valor, fortitude and tenacity.
Although being largely based on celebrating such personalities, the author also takes into account of the opposing reactions. Aphra exemplifies wicked behaviour through her exploitative activities and corruptive mindset. Through this approach of contrasting two opposite reactions of the same environment, the story shows realism as it relates to how people of today’s society can respond to such conflict. By characterising these reactions, Geraldine Brooks is able to effectively mirror the responses of society in her powerfully dramatic tale.

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