Tag: The Year of the Flood

The Year of the Flood- Joining Cults Is Fun Except for the Brainwashing


Is it possible to be a benevolent and powerful leader? Does acting against something evil automatically make the actions themselves good? When we rebuild from rubble to sky while we use the same designs. These are my mild Atwood induced philosophical questions. The Year of the Flood, from its title to one of its most memorable characters, floats in allegory. /

The question that keeps gnawing at my brain is how much freedom is there in religion and how much freedom can we give it? If the routine and life of a garden and a charismatic leader allow you to fend off the pain of everything else and provide you with both security and perceived safety do the sources’  intention matter? And most importantly, does a man’s allegiance fall to his kin or to his god. It’s the idea of separation and individualism that strikes me about both religion and by extension Atwood’s The Year of the Flood.


It is my belief that the Atwood doesn’t think that the God’s Gardeners are to be ridiculed. They are people facing an unbelievable challenge by trying to structure their world in some way. Adam One is a man who believes that he is providing this structure by means of divinity. However, there is no question of who is in charge and whose views are to be agreed with, so the structured area becomes more sanitarium than sanctuary. The religious answers become doctrine, and sentiments of caring become lessons and warnings.

Now the themes of religion, influence, and maturing may seem better suited to a low-budget indie film, but they are the backbone of the climate debate. More accurately they are the reason that we are having a debate about a fact as if will power can change physics. The immediate des ri

Adam One is obviously a descendant of the incredibly conservative Kebler Elves
Adam One is obviously a descendant of the incredibly conservative Kebler Elves

community, and acceptance creates a vacuum of doubt and defensiveness. In a way our cult is one of denial, many of us worry about our immediate goals and them. We build our arks to transport only our ideals. However, we build arks with mud because we despise the effort of fashioning wood and why we can’t argue our boats afloat.

Post-Apocalyptic Feminist Vegetarian Heroines

I must start by saying that I have a lot of issues with Margaret Atwood’s world. I find her constant barrage of satirical portmanteau names for consumer products and bio-engineered animals quickly tiring. I likewise find Atwood’s emphasis on her novel as a work of “speculative fiction,” (as distinct from sci-fi), to be problematic, because while the technologies and much of the society present in The Year of the Flood are plausible enough, her actual narrative struggles to maintain her apparent commitment to realism. Why, for example, do all of these characters, who happen to know each other, also happen to survive the same devastating global pandemic that wipes out approximately 99.9% of everyone else? How does Bee-stings Blanco keep surviving Painball, when we see him disposed of by less rugged competition multiple times? Even if these events technically could happen, the insistence on “speculative fiction” seems dubious given how many coincidences are necessary to support Atwood’s plot.

But all of these issues aside, Atwood’s primary protagonists, Ren and Toby, are not only believable, they are also sympathetic and thoroughly admirable. After reading through the frustrating perspective of Jimmy in YotF’s predecessor, Oryx and Crake, it is refreshing to see the other side of the story. Likewise, Ren and Toby’s vegetarian moralism, while perhaps absurd to average (American) omnivore, is truly fascinating to think about for a real world vegetarian, (i.e. myself). It is tempting to imagine that in any post-apocalyptic world, all of its survivors will adhere to a strict pragmatism, (John Hay has some great thoughts about this in his essay, Shakespeare off the Grid,) but it is not unreasonable to think that people’s spiritual and moral beliefs will instantly dissipate as soon as their first pangs of hunger strike. (Toby and Ren may not take long to resort to carnivorism, but they certainly never feel good about it.) The Year of the Flood is at its best when it makes us consider the necessary compromises of its heroines and the determination of their convictions in the face of such a brutally indifferent and inhospitable world.

The Waterless Flood & More Interplay of Science, Religion, and Economy

In The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, the world has gone bad: the rich live as in castle towns while the poor eke out their livings in more-or-less lawless ghettos called “pleeblands,” which are run by street gangs, “pleebmobs,” controlled by the CorpSeCorp corporation which also owns the police. The corruption in government seems inextricable, and the violations of ethics are wholesale gruesome. For example, HelthWyzer purposely infects the poor with genetically designed illnesses, then profits from selling them the cures. In a world without accountability for big-enough businesses even for crimes as egregious as this, who cares about environmentalist concerns?

I am struck by the implicit relationship between Atwood’s fictional, oligarchic, feudal society and our real, modern trend toward less regulated, more out-of-control, more oppressively big business and wider gaps between rich and poor. It’s as if she is challenging our perspective, prompting us to take a wider, longer view—to consider how our day-to-day lives, our values and priorities, and our most fundamental beliefs might be affected by the onset of such a dreadful dystopia.

Atwood supposes that people who live deliberate, conservationist lifestyles will likely be seen as outsiders. In The Year of the Flood, they’ve assemble into persecuted cults, e.g. the militant Wolf Isaiahist or the pacifist God’s Gardeners. The book follows the God’s Gardeners, who are a bunch of hippies on Jesus, basically, who count prominent scientists among the saints for their secular contributions to humanity.  Their point of view is relayed through three narrators.

The youngest (and most fun, in my opinion) is Ren, who tells her story of move-around adolescent rebellion in the first person voice.

Toby is callused, stern, and unapproachable, an unwilling matriarch; true to character, her story of willful resistance is told in the third person.

The third and least frequent narrator is the spiritual leader of the Gardeners, Adam One. Through his sermonizing, Atwood manages to conflate Christianity, science, and socio-economic commentary into a worldview that is surprisingly cohesive—surprisingly especially because it is incomplete, as revealed by the unresolved debates over matters of doctrine and faith at the councils of Adams and Eves.  It makes me wonder, are our own worldviews any more cohesive?  What am I forgetting when I inform and adjust my own outlook upon the world?  What don’t I know?  What do I take for granted?  And also, why does it always sound silly, eccentric, or insane to attempt a new, holistic worldview?  Did we evolve as spiritual animals, like Adam One says, or as materialistic brutes who are naturally inclined to bully and discredit the peaceful, spiritual thinkers amongst us, like Zeb seems to believe?  “Wherever there’s nature, there’s assholes,” he says (186).  Either way, or both, we can be sure that we are struggling.  This existential struggle is what, I believe, Atwood is trying to evoke.  She gets it.

The book is chopped up into sections, oddly—by theme, by time? (Years pass)—and each section is introduced by a sermon from Adam One paired with a weird hymn.  It does cohere, but not right away. The structure makes the book off-putting early on, but ultimately works to convey a wider perspective, a range of viewpoints, all rich with Atwood’s unique insights into people, society, and religion.

So playfully presented, the plot is almost undetectable until well into the story, but the characters are so sympathetic, the book is gripping nonetheless. I would recommend The Year of the Flood to all readers over age 15, just for the experience of such a wild book, though it’s too full of peroration (blunt, however artful) to ever be a favorite of mine, personally. It is a vast, ludicrous, character-driven, good novel, which raises questions worth asking.