Year of Wonders
“I wonder if you know how much you have changed “. In what way does Anna change in the ‘Year of Wonders’? It is evident throughout the novel ‘Year of Wonders’ that Geraldine Brooks makes the point that some characters have difficulties with societal pressures. Through the use of her protagonist Anna Frith, Brooks was able to show us that it was possible to break through societal pressures when the individual was ready and eager to change. Difficulties including hierarchal status, religious morals and one of Brooks on going themes- women’s roles within society.
We see Anna able to change because she no longer “dwells any more on things in the past”. Anna is able to break through society’s structures and become more powerful and self-confident than before. Change is difficult for everyone, people fear change. They genuinely believe that when you’ve been doing something a particular way for a long time, it must be a good way to do things. In the ‘Year of Wonders’ there is a strong belief in the role of religion. After believing and following the rules of the church, Anna and village were accustomed to the way things were until the plague.
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The plague forced them to question why these things were happening; Anna begins to see that religion may not be the cause of the plague she can see that “Perhaps the Plague was neither of God nor the Devil, but simply a thing in Nature”. Throughout the novel we see Anna change and why she was able to become more powerful and self-confident than before, Anna was able to view the world without the influence of religion on her day to day deeds, allowing her to become a whole new person. In the village of Eyam the Bradford family are at the top of the social hierarchy within the town.
Villagers “doffed their caps and women curtsied” as they walked past, they were held in the highest regard for no particular reason. The family had lived in the Hall for generations and they were lucky enough to have held the respect of the village. After returning from fleeing the village because of the plague, Elizabeth Bradford and her mother Mrs Bradford were in great need of help. Mrs Bradford was with child and bleeding to death. Anna was there last hope although Elizabeth knowing this she was still arrogant enough to “recall who Anna was, and who she was and her face set again into its prideful sneer”.
The Bradford’s still believed they held the same status as they did before they left. Anna had proven to be more than a house maid and would not return to how she was when they were first in the village. Brooks showing us that Anna had grown to the point of being able to equal the Bradford’s when “Miss Bradford dismounted (her horse) and handed me the reins…Without a word, I handed them back to her”, Anna was no longer under the pressures of the societal hierarchy. Brooks is careful to show the reader what few rights women have and what powers men have over them.
We see that widows are the only women who could possibly be independent. When young Merry Wickford was left orphaned and required a dish of lead from her father’s mine in order to survive, Anna and Elinor stepped when others would not, and risked their own lives to save the life of this little girl. Traditionally venturing into a mine was only possible for men, they saw it as something “so far outside what is considered fit for a woman, much less a gentlewoman”. Anna and Elinor had broken what was seen as the normality of women’s roles in society, they had proved that they were not as weak as they were once thought of.
What Anna and Elinor had done was something unheard of they had proven that women were to be looked upon as equals as men. This may not have change anything immediately in the village but it was the beginning of change for women. After retrieving the ore for Merry Wickford, the men did not belittle their efforts instead they gave “A cheer for the new miners! ”. Brooks showing us that by having their efforts recognized and applauded it was a beginning of change not for just Anna and Elinor but all women everywhere.
Throughout the novel we see Anna change, from a house maid that followed the rules of religion and “had been taught to view the world” as “Dark and light”. To a strong independent woman that could now see herself to “go on; away from death and towards life, from birth to birth, from seed to blossom”. Anna had proven to herself that she could take control of her own life and take it in the direction she wanted it to go, she was no longer bound to Eyam by hierarchal status, religious morals, and the so called women’s role within society in the 17th century.