Fear and Hysteria Quotes in Year of Wonders Explained

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Students studying Year 12 Mainstream English in AOS1: Unit 4: Reading and Comparing Texts will look carefully at many themes in both texts The Crucible a play by Arthur Miller and Year of Wonders a novel by Geraldine Brooks.  To help students with relevant evidence in the form of quotes for writing analytical essays on Year of Wonders in relation to the theme of ‘fear’, see important quotes explained for you below along with Geraldine Brooks author’s purpose.

Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders focuses on the lives of the villagers in the plague-stricken town of Eyam in 1665.  As this close-knit community suffers the effects of isolation arising from their rector’s decision to quarantine the town, many of the villagers are overcome by fear and ignorance.  As fear spreads, conditions become worse for the villagers.  However, some villagers do find the strength to deal with their fear and ignorance and try to come to terms with their devastating ordeal.

Brooks reveals that it is the fear of God’s punishment that corrupts the townspeople – as they scapegoat and resort to barbarity to alleviate God’s anger and thus rid themselves of the Plague. Brooks argues that it is religion’s flimsy support that leaves individuals susceptible to superstition and thus causes their own demise.

Fear and Hysteria Quotes in Year of Wonders Explained

“Do not joke sir, for on the turnpike north of London, I encountered an angry mob, brandishing hoes and pitchforks, denying entry to their village inn to any who were travelling from London” (Robert young man from London dining with the Bradfords p.60-61).

The plague of the novel is based upon the Great Plague of 1665 where 20% of the population in London perished.  Eyam was not immune to the contagion carried by fleas that infected people by bites, carried also by rats and in Eyam’s case a bolt of cloth infected.  Out of a village of 350 people 260 died in Eyam by 1666.  Brooks highlights and criticises the wealthy families who were driven by self-interest during the Plague.  She explores the ramifications of ‘noblesse oblige’ that privilege should offer support and leadership to poorer people living under the elite.  In the Bradford’s case they refuse to accept they have any duty to offer support to the villagers and cast off their servants with little care for the fact they have nowhere to go and leave Eyam during the Plague quarantine.

“These times, they do make monsters of us all…” (Jon Millstone the Sexton p. 141)

Brooks depicts the community caught in extraordinary times and the Sexton Jon Millstone is weary of carting so many corpses and he laments to Anna that he is irritated to be called to the Maston house when Mr Maston isn’t dead yet.  In this context the comment suggests that in times of crisis people may act disrespectfully and immorally towards each other because of fear and hysteria.

“My cowardice shamed me” (Anna p.182).

In order to help Merry Wickford hold onto her family mine Elinor and Anna go down the mine facing the greatest fear left to Anna.  During this feat down the mine, Anna struggles with the idea of the feminine that has always restricted her talents and led her to doubt her strength.  However, typically under Elinor’s guidance she overcomes her fear and succeeds in extracting the minerals by this dangerous fire-setting method.  Brooks illustrates the pit as a metaphor for the crisis engulfing the village.  Despite the terrible fear Anna’s courage is rewarded and there is renewed hope for the future for Merry Wickford.  Brooks also provides Anna and Elinor the opportunity to step outside their circumscribed roles and act with unprecedented autonomy.

Mompellion raised his voice to a roar “Oh, yes, the Devil has been here this night!  But not in Anys Gowdie!  Fools!  Ignorant wretches!  Anys Gowdie fought you with the only weapon she had to hand – your own ugly thoughts and evil doubting of one another!” (Mompellion p.95)

Brooks highlights the increasing paranoia and fear of the villagers desperate for a scapegoat to pin the Plague on.  Mompellion lambasts the villagers for their shameful murder of the two women who are killed.  He exposes their hysterical crimes and places the blame firmly on each of the perpetrators.  He accuses them of using “their own ugly thoughts and evil doubting of one another”.  (For this same reason, Anys sarcastically confirms their accusations and admits her “guilt”, born of their own self – doubts: “Yes I have lain with the Devil and he is might and cold as ice to the touch” (p.93).  In fact Mompellion is so indignant that he also challenges them to “gird yourselves, and pray that God does not exact from you the price that this day’s deeds deserve” (p.94).

“She witched my husband into lying with her” (Urith Gordon p.92)

As marginalized females, who symbolically and literally live on the fringes of society, Mem and Anys become convenient targets of the Puritans in the attempt to expunge their fear and horror of the Plague.  The villagers accuse Anys of their sins.  Brooks suggests that Urith, deceitfully, seeks to displace the blame for her husband’s adultery through such accusations and Anna is unable to curb “the frenzy”.

“But it was John Gordon’s fear that led him upon the queerest path” (Anna p.218)

The Puritans see the plague as God’s punishment.  They whip themselves because they believe that they have sinned.  John Gordon’s response is typical of the flagellants who see the Plague as a scourge of God.  He stops eating and subjects his body to cruel punishment, whipping himself with ”plaited leather”.  Defined as a ”solitary” and ”difficult soul”, John Gordon shows the terrible consequences that can occur during such a crisis when people begin to doubt each other.  Through his self punishment, he hoped to purge himself of infection and “allay God’s wrath” (Elinor p.221).

Some other useful Quotes about fear and hysteria for evidence in analytical essays:

  1. “There had been fear here, since the very beginning, but where it had been veiled, now it had become naked. Those of us who were left feared each other and the hidden contagion we each might carry.  People scurried, as stealthy as mice, trying to go and come without meeting another soul” (Anna p.217).
  2. “We greeted our Maying with a mixture of hope and fear; the hope, I suppose, that comes naturally into the human heart and at the end of any hard winter; the fear that the gentler weather would bring with it an increase in disease” (Anna p.216).
  3. “Fear was working strange changes in all of us corroding our ability for clear thought” (Anna p. 227).
  4. “Loneliness, shunning and fear. Fear will be your only faithful companion” (Mompellion p.105)
  5. “Fear took each of us differently” (Anna p.218).
  6. “We were all like wounded animals, our hurts so raw and our fear so great that we would lash out at anyone” (Anna p.243).
  7. “Some slaked their dread in drink and their loneliness in wanton caresses” (Anna p.218).