“Well, my beloved, I say we shall not flee like the faithless Israelites!” (Brooks, 103) This was the key moment where Michael Mompellion decides for the village to stay in the tiny village of Eyam in the middle of an outbreak of the bubonic plague. In the book Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks describes through the point of view of Anna Frith, a teenage servant for the Mompellions, the horrors of the plague when it comes to the village and infects almost all of the inhabitants. Set in 1666, Brooks describes very intimately the small village that Anna, the Mompellions, and the rest of the inhabitants live in, and very clearly describes the hysteria and the fear that come to the village once the plague comes to Eyam. While this is a work of fiction, the effect that the time period of the novel is set in allows the reader to very clearly understand why key decisions in the plot take place, and we can make many connections to the events of that time period. Even the location of the village allows the reader to step into the shoes of the village people and more easily understand what is going on in the plot. Brooks uses the setting of a small village set in the time period of the bubonic plague to very effectively enhance and thicken the plot of the story, giving readers a clear understanding of the events that happen throughout the novel.
Spanning the years 1665 and 1666, the Great Plague was the last major epidemic of the bubonic plague in England, a plague that had already killed millions of individuals. So naturally, there would quickly be a lot of accusations of each other and a lot of hysteria being created. Brooks shows how quickly hysteria and chaos are created even if there is a single unrelated detail that might suggest evil, especially in the case of Anys Gowdie, one of the townspeople. “I can’t see my reflection in her eyes! Sign of a witch! Sign of a witch!” (Brooks, 91). Especially after considering that back in that time period witchery was a very evil crime, you could see how all of a sudden all trust in the village had gone out the window. This was definitely one of the reasons why Brooks decided on using a tiny village like Eyam to set the story in; because in a small village you have to create strong relationships with the people around you, one misstep could mean the death of you, literally. The village is so disconnected from the rest of the world, so connections within the village need to be very strong because they have no one else that they know well that is trustworthy. Another prime example is between Anna and Mrs. Mompellion. Although Anna is Mrs. Mompellion’s servant, the connection that they have is not one of servant and employer, but almost like best friends, to the point where they are willing to sacrifice their lives to help a child mine ore. The connection between the two is almost inseparable. When Mrs. Mompellion contracted a minor fever, Anna was convinced that she had contracted the plague, and was extremely disheartened. “I wept then in earnest, standing right there in the middle of the field.” (Brooks, 233). Anna was so scared of the possible passing of Mrs. Mompellion that she didn’t even consider where she was going to weep. Thanks to the setting of a very secluded village, and the point of view that was used, Brooks engages the audience very effectively and makes us have empathy for the characters in the story.
The time period that the story is set in also effectively incorporates the setting. Brooks wrote this novel based in the 15th century and in that time period, the idea of religion and God is the core in every household was very pronounced, and Brooks did not let this idea fade away. In multiple instances, Brooks seamlessly folds in the motif of religion into the plot of the entire novel. Even in the start when the townspeople are wondering about where the plague came about, Brooks carefully brings up the possibility of religious influence. “If God saw fit to send this scourge, I believe it would be His will that one faces it where one was, with courage and thus contain its evil.’ (Brooks, 62). It seemed that the first instinct Mr. Mompellion had about the Plague was one of religious influence, instantly thinking it was God who had sent the plague along. Brooks very quickly sets up how much religion is drilled into everybody’s brain and made into an important factor to consider in decisionmaking, especially seeing that Eyam was in the countryside and with a very Puritan background. As mentioned before, Mr. Mompellion quickly decided that it was an obligation to close down the village boundaries. Mr. Mompellion himself is the rector for the village, and all of the townspeople see him as the leader of the town, the one holy man with the capabilities to lead a village. Even the decision to isolate the village was one heavily influenced by religion. “Yet God in His infinite and unknowable wisdom has singled us out, alone amongst all the villages in our shire, to receive this Plague… Because of His great love for us, He is giving us here an opportunity that He offers to very few upon this Earth.” (Brooks, 100). Mr. Mompellion is so convinced that God had sent the plague to the village that he starts praising Him for bringing the plague to the village, This praise for God bringing in the plague ultimately leads to the decision of closing the village. Brooks very thoughtfully incorporated the use of religion, because it was such a big deal back in that time period. Everyone believed that the if everything in the world was going wrong, the only thing right was that God was with them. The time period that this novel was set in has very well portrayed how the setting can influence and help the reader understand the plot and the events occurring in the novel.
We can see that in many instances, Brooks has used the literary technique of setting to dramatically change the way that the novel is read by her audience. Thanks to her thoughtful use of including many references from the 17th century, Brooks allows the reader to truly step into the shoes of people living in the time of the plague and experience what living in that time period felt like, especially in the countryside where not much is heard from. The intimate relationships within the people that have to be fostered to create trust within a small village. The importance of how religion runs everything in almost all households. The type of conditions that people lived in. All of these have been woven intricately to produce a book that completely changes the way how people see the bubonic plague, and really understand why things happened. Geraldine Brooks carefully crafted her novel in the setting of a small village set in the time period of the bubonic plague to very effectively enhance and thicken the plot of the story, making this a novel for the ages.
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