English ‘Year of wonders’ Practice essay #1
“More than anything else, it is Anna’s courage and determination that results in her eventual emancipation’. Do you agree?”
The circular structure Novel “ Year of wonders” by Geraldine Brooks, details the events taking place at a small village called ‘Eyam’, through the eyes of the protagonist Anna Frith. Set in the 1600s, the town of Eyam (along with the rest of Europe) finds them self’s at the mercy of the devastating disease know as the bubonic plague. This relentless and unforgiving infection kills within days and spreads rapidly, making it near impossible to combat. In response, Eyam’s unofficial ‘leader‘ and rector, Mr. Mompellion, imposes a ‘voluntary’ quarantine on the village, which isolates them from the rest of the outside world, leaving themselves to deal with the fear and challenges brought by the plague. Throughout the testing times brought by the plague, the bravery and willpower of the main character Anna Frith is constantly evident and is the main reason why she is able to survive the plague and eventually free her self from the past, with her new life in Oran. This is shown in the novel through Anna’s fortitude to over come her great challenges and fears and her constant endeavor to help others. However her loss in faith throughout the novel also plays a role in the development of her new life.
Through one of the most testing times of human history, a young and timid girl in Anna Frith responds by stepping up and growing strong. She had to face tasks, no ordinary women would be capable of, such as; laying her husbands body out for burial and dealing with the mangled remains of her father. And not to mention the countless amount of ‘death beads’ she attended. Further more we learn early learn of Anna’s fear of delivering babies and midwifing due to her mother due to a four-day labor. During this labor, a barber surgeon was called in and used a thatcher’s hook to pull the remains from Anna’s mother. With Anna’s father, Josiah, too intoxicated to realise Anna was in the room, she was exposed to seeing “the tiny town off arm of [her] stillborn sister” and “the pale, folded flesh, the tiny, perfect fingers open like a little flower”.
This fear is over come by determination when Elinor Mompellion requests Anna’s help to deliver Mary daniel’s baby. Anna was “not calm, nor certain and had no skill” but was a great help in the successful delivery of the baby and “in a season of death, we celebrated life”. Anna then realised that due to the dwindling numbers of the village, it was essential that Anna rise’s to the occasion and start burdening some of the load off Elinor’s shoulders. Anna performs very well in the delivery foreshadows that amount of deliveries she partakes in, and the eventual career path she takes with ahmed bey in oran. Further more, when a young orphaned girl is in desperate need of assistance to save her family mine, Anna jumps at the opportunity. She undertakes the dangerous task even though she dreads that it will leave her “dead in the dark like Sam”. Even In the presence of these fears she puts the needs of other before her own reservations. It is Anna’s Determination to over come her fear and apprehensions for the greater good of someone else that makes her “tempered and strong” and allows her release the shackles of her past at the end of the novel and start a new life in Oran.
At a time when you were considered lucky to not be ravaged by disease, many would avoid contact with those affected, unlike Anna who was at the forefront helping. With the ever-smaller population of Eyam becoming smaller by the day, Anna realised that it was her duty to assist Elinor in give strength to the healthy, and to also bring solace and peace to those afflicted with the plague. She started becoming an established and capable caregiver even though her official role is as a servant. Through out the novel, Anna continued to help others in the town such as Mr. Mompellion in his duties as rector, Merry wick ford with the collection of led from her mine thus saving Merry’s claim, and also the with the adoption of the young Bradford baby, aisha. By adopting the her she becomes more independent and does not endorse the trends of other women during that time period and does not succumb to the prejudices of society. For Anna, surviving the plague was not enough, she states “I was alive, and I was young, and I would go on until I found some reason for it”. With Anna’s willingness to help people during severely hard circumstances aided her in fulfilling her ambition to complete a “worthy life’s work” as a midwife on Oran.
Although Anna’s persistence largely leads to her emancipation, her loss in faith is also attributed to her new life in Oran. Religion during the 1600s played a very significant role in how people thought, behaved and eventually how they tried to explain the cause of the plague. For many, including Anna, the plague was believed to be a punishment from god, sent to rid the earth of sin. When questioned, the town rector Mr. Mompellion could not explain why God had caused such devastation. Anna is seen to start to question her religious beliefs early in the novel when she says, “Why I wonder was god so much more prodigal with his creation” and “why should this good women (Maggie Cantwell) lie here, in such extremity, when a man like my father lived to waste his reason in drunkenness”. When Mr. Mompellion can’t explain the plague from a religious stance, many of the villagers look for other scape goats and turn to superstitions such as witch craft, and hence the killing of Anys and near death of Mem. Anna does not succumb to the superstition and turns to a thought out explanation that “perhaps the plague was neither god nor the devil, but simply a thing of nature, as the stone on which we stub our toe”. This loss in faith of religious explanation allows her to find a reason to live purposely and let go of all her ties and memories with the rector.
For the duration of “year of wonders”, Anna Frith demonstrates several strong and purpose driven characteristics that allowed for her to survive severely tough times and escape to her new life in oran. Anna was able to over come her fears, put peoples needs before her own and was able to let go of her religious beliefs which allowed her to move on with life and forget all elements of her past.