The Year of the Flood Analysis
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood is a Science Fiction novel that was written in 2010. The novel’s complexity and futuristic happenings make the read exceptional even at the surface level. With further analysis, this novel is extremely notable tieing together themes that are of the utmost relevance today. The themes observed throughout the novel are developed as the story furthers itself, watching the progression of these themes go from basic to profound makes for an intriguing read. Throughout the reading, two main themes drove the novel and worked together, strengthening each other to make for a complex but seemingly puzzle piece perfect match. Atwood begins the novel by introducing the theme of human impact on the environment and its association with climate change, soon after introducing the theme of sexual objectification of women as a product of social inequality, intertwining the two themes then tieing them together through symbols and motifs throughout.
The theme of human impact on the environment and its association with climate change is explained to the reader from the very beginning of the story. We learn that the earth as we (the reader) know it is gone and there is nobody to blame for that except humans themselves. The anthropocentric setting explains this idea through descriptions that explain how humanity being at the center of our societies and the driving force for everything we do has become such an extensive problem, the world has become almost unrecognizable. Atwood appeals to emotion by using pathos to describe the ‘new’ world the characters live in through past experience, “As the first heat hits, mist rises from among the swathe of trees between her and the derelict city. The air smells faintly of burning, a smell of caramel and tar and rancid barbecues, and the ashy but greasy smell of a garbage-dump fire after it’s been raining. The abandoned towers in the distance are like the coral of an ancient reef-bleached and colorless, devoid of life” (Atwood 1). Both the placement and content of this quote are important as it is the first detail given by Atwood and this will become the basis for the entirety of the novel.
The theme of sexual objectification of women as a product of social inequality is subsequently discussed after the introduction of climate change but is nevertheless just as important. It becomes known quickly that the main means of income for many women in this society is to sell their bodies, it is described in the story as a last resort but also the most effective way of survival. In this society the options are clear cut without any in-between options: sell your body as a means to stay alive or die. In short, this is an eat or be eaten society. Not only is this a means of survival but it is also in a sense a silent symbol of strength and will. If the women in this society do not deliberately choose to make a living off of their bodies they will be subject to sexual assault and rape by men attempting to show their power and purpose. The society as described by Atwell is a patriarchy government, it such case men are the primary power-holders and therefore what they say seems to go. One of the tendencies of these men is to want to manifest their power through sexual acts, making women’s bodies a commodity that can be used ‘on-demand’. This is explained by a statement Atwell writes, “You trade what you have. You don’t always have choices” (Atwell 234). The character Amanda is the best example of this happening in action. Amanda being in a position of power over her body did have the ability to chose if she wanted to engage in these activities or not because she had the means to fight back. When Amanda is abducted, however, this authority shifts and she is no longer in power. She is raped repeatedly taking away any bit of power she ever held. The theme of sexual objectification of women quickly becomes the foreground of the novel.
Societal changes based on human action and sexual objectification of women may not seem to have any connection or relation to each other, however, Atwell claims otherwise in her novel. Atwell creates a society in which women are the most susceptible targets to life itself and especially to men. Although some of the happenings in the novel may appear to be far-fetched Atwell attempts to counter that, saying what she writes is not far-fetched at all but rather closer than we know. The argument is that in a world that is focused solely on the well-being of humans and lacking any touch with outside forces such as the natural environment, human nature will prevail and we will see huge exploitation of individual groups. Atwell chose to write her novel specifically isolating the exploitation of women in terms of their sexuality, but there are arguably many different examples of similar happenings today. Atwell successfully tied sexual objectification to societal changes based on humans’ actions by telling her story through two female protagonists, explaining their past lives before the world started to deteriorate and then the changes that occurred in their lives after. The contrast Atwell described was vast, the women talked about their pasts explaining their free-will to live the way they wanted without fear of anything, much less death. Atwell was successful in explaining this connection especially because she went back and forth between past and present so the connection really jumped out at the reader. Atwell also makes subtle hints to the reader that although the point is if humans continue to only care about themselves and nothing else, this is the world we will live in, she also argues that some of the damage is already done. She explained this through one of her characters, Lucerne, the mother of Ren. We learn that Lucerne left her abusive husband for a man that she fell in love with early in the novel but as the novel progressed and times got tough Lucerne didn’t know what to do and resorts back to her abusive ex-husband. Through and through there are examples of how social changes based on human activities have an effect on the sexual objectification of women.
Atwell chooses to use a symbol to describe what happened to this particular society, what it could have been and why it is in this current condition. This is a deliberate attempt to expand on the theme of human expediated climate change. The symbol of the waterless flood, which symbolizes a sort of punishment aimed solely at humans is a consequence of their ongoing behavior that caused detriments primarily to nature. The waterless flood is an opposing take on the widely known biblical flood but the obvious difference is that nature is preserved in this flood and rather humans are now the target. The goal of this ‘flood’ was to wipe out humanity, which was justified to happen so “the world could repair itself” (Atwell 399). The name “waterless flood” is a particularly strong take on words as we see the reference to the biblical flood but then realize that this has been contrasted to fit this new world that came out of the flood. This contradiction is an oxymoron that is especially effective because there are relatable reference points.
Survival instincts are a motif that Atwell makes paramount to the novel and drives the characters throughout. There are varying needs to exert survival instincts from character to character as many factors have an influence on the need for it. With that being said, every character in this novel needs survival instincts of some sort or they will not survive. The circumstances in this society make it so the people within are faced with extreme conditions on a daily basis making survival difficult. When faced with these circumstances which are extreme, people lose pieces of themselves. As time goes on these individuals eventually begin losing parts of their humanity. In this case, those said people become willing to do things they would not have had they not been put under these conditions, practically doing anything to save themselves from death. Survival instincts make for a motif in the novel because in the short-run the need for these instincts alters individuals’ ethical norms and in the long-run, this makes for the reconstruction of the entire society.
Similar to the way Atwell connected major themes throughout the novel, she made connections through themes and motifs. The connection between the waterless flood and survival instincts was shown throughout the novel. The most profound example of this idea in action was through the words Adam One spoke. Adam One is the leader of God’s Gardeners a group that is actively trying to fight back against the corporations that caused the detriments to the world in the first place. The people of the Gods Gardeners are in full belief that they will be unaffected by the flood because of their preparation and connection to the natural environment. After Ren survives the flood, she explains, “ When Waterless Waters arise, Adam One used to say, the people will try to save themselves from drowning. They will clutch at any straw. Be sure you are not the straw, my Friends, for if you are even touched, you too will drown” (Atwell 26). This is the perfect example of how the Atwell explains the connection between the waterless flood and survival instincts. Adam One’s words are basically saying that if you prepare yourself for what is going to happen and brace yourself when it happens then you will be okay but do not let those who did not think first bring you down. I think that these words are also implying that had we been prepared earlier than we most likely would have never been in this position, to begin with. The connection between the symbols and motifs is present throughout the writing, strengthening the underlying messages within.
The Year of the Flood is a 2010 novel written by Margaret Atwood. The novel is an exceptional science fiction novel packed with stories that compel the reader to continuously want to keep reading. Within the story, there are many messages that can be picked up upon, as Atwell attempts to educate the reader on issues that are important to her. The main themes that are presented in the novel include the idea of human impact on the environment and its association with climate change, as well as, sexual objectification of women as a product of social inequality. Throughout the novel, these themes are explored and expanded on strengthening the depth and relevance of the novel to the reader. Adding to this, there are multiple themes and motifs that work to support claims made by Atwell. The theme and motif I found most crucial to the foundation of the novel were the waterless flood and self-defense. Atwood begins the novel by introducing the theme of human impact on the environment and its association with climate change, soon after introducing the theme of sexual objectification of women as a product of social inequality, intertwining the two themes then tieing them together through symbols and motifs throughout.
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