Structure

Report
STRUCTURE
Geraldine Brooks’
The Year of Wonders
Non-Linear
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Year of Wonders is NON-LINEAR
This means that the events in the novel are not
presented in a chronological order (in the order in
which they occurred on a timeline)
Brooks uses this structure to create MEANING
Is it because Brooks is CHALLENGING the reader?
Challenging the reader
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It challenges what we thought we knew about the
extent of the development of Anna’s character;
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meet her at what we think is the end of the novel
and assume this is Anna’s endpoint and she will not
develop any more.
 It challenges our expectations about how the novel will
end.
Challenging what we know
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We suddenly understand the novel will progress
beyong Leaf-Fall in 1666 when we get to page
270.
This is arguably an unexpected development,
especially as it occurs very close to the end of the
novel.
Why? Because the novel opened at this point in
time, with Anna as the participant narrator
recounting what had happened to her and the
village since spring in 1665.
What do we expect?
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The reader has every reason to expect the narrative would
return to where it started by the end of the novel. (That’s
called a circular narrative.
Indeed the narrative does cycle back to this point by pg
270, but we are then surprised to find that Anna is about to
reveal what happened after that point in time.
Suddenly she tells us that “I can tell you further” (270). We
are now radically less certain about the point in time Anna is
recounting this new narrative from. We do not know at this
point how much further in time this narrative will extend to.
We do know, however, that we can no longer assume that
we have enough information to form a complete picture of
how Anna is thinking now.
The Epilogue
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It is only during the Epilogue that we discover that Anna
is recounting this part of the narrative in Oran in 1669
“three years” (330) after the point of time where she
left us at the end of the second Apple-picking Time
Chapter on page 294.
She has just ‘raised [her] hand’ to Michael Mompellion
to bid him farewell.
At the apparent ‘end’, it appeared that she was
inevitably heading to Elinor’s father’s place just as
Michael had arranged.
Yet Brooks seems to make a point of not fulfilling the
reader’s expectations...
Why... For Anna?
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One way of reading Brooks’ purpose is to see it as
a challenge to the way we as readers tend to
pigeon–hole a character and assume we know all
there is to know about how much they can
develop and grow.
After reading the Epilogue we are compelled to at
least re-evaluate the Anna we thought we knew at
the start of the novel and even by the end of page
294.
How does Anna develop?
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She develops even beyond that frame of reference and
at the very least we must add to our picture of Anna.
It is not as if those further changes in her perspective
and life are discontinuous with how she had changed
previously, but the degree and rapidity of the changes
she reveals to us in the Epilogue are significant.
Perhaps this suggests Brooks’ implied authorial view
about how much characters can develop and the
time-frame in which that development can
reasonably take place.
We have to consider it...
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Certainly it prompts the reader to think more
consciously about these questions.
The narrative structure itself also puts a certain
responsibility on us to be active readers because
we need to do the work of piecing this non-linear
structure together in a way that makes sense to us.
We must do this if we are going to make
judgements about who we think Anna is and make
our own interpretations about how and why she
changed.
Withheld information
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We realise that Anna has withheld crucial
information about her life journey and even insights
into her life choices.
This has implications for the way we will judge her
as character and relate to her as the narrator.
At the very least we might find ourselves asking
why Anna (and by implication Brooks) decided it
was best to at first withhold and then reveal all.
Does this have an impact on how we judge
Anna?
Does this help our understanding?
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Would we have been able to understand (and give
proper regard to) what prompted the changes in
her from 1665 to 1666 if we already knew how
dramatically she had changed and how she is
thinking in 1669?
By presenting the story in a way that essentially
gives us two separate recounts, Brooks can do
justice to Anna’s overall development.
The critics
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We must note that:
quite a few critics and reviewers of the novel questioned
whether Brooks had gone too far in the Epilogue
 In what way? In terms of the extent of Anna’s further
changes and how quickly she changed.
 Brooks argues that she has met women who had lived very
‘restricted lives’ who had suddenly found themselves able ‘to
step out of their old roles ‘and ‘travel enormous personal
distances’(317).
 In her view then, “If those women could change and grow so
remarkably ...Anna could too” (318).
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What was my point?
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To summarise what we may argue (or consider) to be the purpose
underpinning Brooks’ use of this kind of narrative structure.
It compels the reader to re-evaluate and augment their view of
Anna.
It challenges us to think more consciously about how we tend to
pigeon –hole characters.
It may have been the only way that Brooks could do justice to the
extent of change that Anna undergoes. Revealing too much too
early may have made it harder for readers to process her
development. The second recount could have shaded and deflected
the reader’s attention away from the important changes Anna
undergoes between 1665 and 1666
It implies an authorial view about how rapidly a character can
develop and change.
Other factors: Anna as narrator
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While Anna reveals a lot to us as readers she does not try to
dominate us and determine how we should interpret her story.
The reasonably open-ended narrative invites the reader to
interpret the story for themselves; Anna certainly doesn’t
prescribe how we should read her story.
Anna Frith admits to not knowing, even in hindsight, why she made
the key decision to ‘sever every tie that bound [her] to [her] old
life.’(298)
We are given the freedom by Brooks to decide that for ourselves.
We are invited to accept that some of the key decisions people
make about their lives remain a mystery-even to themselves.
Open-ended questions
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Important questions are left open-ended enough to invite
various readings (alternative interpretations) of the novel.
Especially in the Epilogue:
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Why was Anna’s life able to pan out the way it did?
Was it just an extraordinary sequence of good luck, after a year
of such horrible ill-fortune?
Is Brooks implying that life and the circumstances we face are
essentially random;
or is Brooks suggesting some influence of “a destiny” which
shapes our lives.
Is the novel suggesting that these coincidences are simply a
fortunate turn of events that Anna was able to exploit
or are we to see them as in some way ‘meant’ to be.(287)
What does Anna think?
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Anna herself appears to veer ambiguously between presenting
these events and decisions (which made it possible for her to be
living as she does by the end of the novel) as sometimes good luck
and sometimes meaningful serendipity.
Anna admits her limitations about ever knowing why she
made some crucial choices ‘I do not rightly know, even
now...’(298)
Sometimes she points to events which shaped her destiny as
quirkily ironic “fittingly enough’(299) or hints that they might
be a meaningful synchronicity.
At other times she emphasizes that she didn’t so much make
choices herself as have some of those choices ‘made for
[her]’ (299) and imposed on her by the decisions of others.
The effect of others? Anna’s purpose.
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Other choices are presented as the result of her deepest
intuitions which made it ‘suddenly seem to [her]’ as if [she]
‘had been bought to...’ this place to fulfil her ‘vocation’
(300).
In this mood we are presented with an Anna who is ‘fixed in
[her] purpose’ (300) and knows ‘very clearly’ (298) what
she must do.
She knows who she is not and who she is -‘Anna’ (299).
We are also presented with Ahmed Bey’s view (and Anna
herself, despite her apparent agnosticism, calls him ‘the
wisest...man’ she has ‘ever known’ (301) that she had been
sent to him by ‘Allah’ after he had prayed for
‘assistance’(301)
What was my point about openendedness?
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Anna (as the narrator) does not dominate her readers or impose
a privileged interpretation on us.
There is enough ambiguity in the Epilogue especially in the way
Anna’s life pans out to invite different interpretations about
what caused the circumstances which shape Anna’s choices.
Was she shaped by: God/ Fate/ serendipity & synchronicity /
her own skilful exploitation of chance circumstances/making her
own luck/ luck and totally random if fortunate coincidences or is
it essentially an unsolvable mystery?
Readers can interpret what unfolds for her from one or even a
combination of these perspectives. They can see it as strongly
suggestive of fate or luck or an ambiguous combination
paradoxically suggestive of both.
Another question...?
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Another question we are invited to consider is why Anna
chooses to accept the form of marriage and the
constraints on the life she has in Oran.
Anna does suggest much about why she accepts these
constraints and is clearly happy as the novel ends.
However, not everything is made explicit and much is
implied.
What is also implied is what Brooks’ message is to her
largely western non-Muslim 21st Century readers about
Anna’s choices and her preference for 17th Century Oran
over 17th century England/Europe/ Western civilisation.
This Epilogue clearly challenges Western stereotypes about
Muslim/Islamic culture.
What else does Brooks suggest?
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Brooks seems to undermine neat judgements we may have about
which value system and society was (and perhaps is) better for
women.
Anna chooses to accept constraints on her, but with this choice comes
a certain amount of autonomy not available to her in the West at
that time.
What are we to make of the way Anna presents the polygamous
marriage of convenience she has accepted?
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Isn’t it presented in a way that goes beyond a pragmatic acceptance of
it as the best of available options?
Isn’t there more than a hint of it being presented as a legitimate form of
relationship for the other woman involved in Ahmed Bey’s “harem”?
Isn’t there the sense that Anna values the relationships she is able to have
with the other woman in that harem and the extended family it provides
for her and her children?
What does Anna value in marriage?
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Despite her references to the way other women can suffer in that culture if
they are in more restrictive traditional marriages, the culture and that key
aspect of it is presented in a way that seems normal?
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What would a feminist reading make of that part of the narrative?
Anna also makes it clear that she is not Bey’s wife in ‘flesh’ (301);
 she has clearly decided that her ‘vocation’ and the opportunity to learn
more is more important to her than an intimate relationship.
 by marrying Bey, she has virtually ensured that she will never know that
kind of intimacy again unless she develops that kind of relationship with
Bey.
 Given what readers know of about her sexual desires from her short
relationship with Michael this cannot have been an easy decision for her.
She has clearly had to make some very big decisions about what she
values most.
So what?
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Brooks is not offering us a conventional narrative with
closure.
It leaves us with as many questions as it answers.
Brooks does not offer us easy or conventional judgements
or answers in response to the questions she is exploring.
Brooks explores conflicts within characters, between
characters, between characters and their society.
Brooks presents us with a complex series of causes of the
changes which Anna undergoes.
She does arguably present Anna as a more laudable
person than most characters, but she does not present us
with an Anna who has all the answers.
Other ways that Brooks constructs
meaning in this text....
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Readers should note the way Brooks deploys symbolism
to plot ,register and explore how Anna develops as a
character.
Some symbols to explore are:
 Anteros ( Michael Mompellion’s horse).
 How does the horse’s name relate to the Brooks’ use of that
name in the novel. How does this relates to Michael/ Anna
/Elinor/Theme of unrequited love/love returned/other
associations Brooks develops and generates-liberation self –
love. (See pages 5, 6, 271/272/273!/274/275!/276,
293!/294)
 Light 45/ 235!/245
 Fire
47240/241/242/249
SO......
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Try to incorporate Brooks’ message into your
responses.
You can facilitate this by using the author’s name in
your paragraphs. This will force you to think about
what she is trying to say.
Try to think about structural features as contributing
to Brooks’ message. How did she use structure to
convey meaning?

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