Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
Another formative assessment for Science Fiction! Like the previous one, I had to choose an article that I found interesting and that could be useful for my project and then summarise it. We are also supposed to compare it to some of the texts done on the module so far but I haven’t done that yet 😛 I guess you could easily compare it to The Food of the Gods like I did in my previous piece.
“The Blind Logic of Plants: Enlightenment and Evolution in John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids” (Adam Stock)
The article deals with John Wyndham’s critically acclaimed and commercial successful novel The Day of the Triffids. It is divided into four main parts. The first one discusses the influence of H.G. Wells’s work on Wyndham and the way in which he uses of adapts many of his themes and ideas. The second part demonstrates the influence of different evolutionary theories and the fear of genetic modification – in the post-war atomic context – on the novel. Adam stock then discusses the message conveyed by the novel in terms of “catastrophe” and “apocalypse” and argues that categorisation might change the way in which we read the novel and especially its ending. The finally part shows the readers the influence for the political context and of Wyndham’s liberalism.
Stock’s article begins with an explanation of how thematically and narratively influenced by Wells Wyndham was, especially in his post-war career. He intended to write a novel that would become cultural mainstream and therefore used several common SF tropes such as that of the overnight transformation of the world. Despite the adoption of a new Wellsian persona, the author was also strongly influenced by his historical context: the novel thus uses blindness and the world’s invasion by carnivorous plants to represent the downfall of civilization. Through a typical narrative of apocalypse and invasion the protagonist, Masen, uses his privileged position to “record” his life and memories for the future generations. We might therefore say that the novel is a socio-political critique of the post-war era. The literal invasion of the world by poisonous plants symbolises the cultural anxieties of the atomic bomb and the threat of communist infiltration at the time. Indeed, seed can both symbolise rebirth and threat.
In the second part, Stock retraces the history of the novel and its different versions. Not only do these versions represent Wyndham’s intention to appeal to different audiences (in the US and UK) but also the desire to reflect the conflict between different evolutionary theories. While the version in which plants originate from Venus and suggest a Darwinist process of natural selection, the USSR-origin version is closer to Huxley’s idea of possible evolutionary leaps through experimentation. Stock also brings up Mendel’s theory – which, although often opposed to Darwin’s, can work in conjunction to it – of latent and dominant characteristics influencing evolution. As opposed to these genetic models of evolution, Lamarck suggests that social conditions and acquired characteristics can be passed onto the next generations. Of these different versions of the story and conflicting evolution theories arise two main issues for readers: firstly, what do these changes add? And secondly, how are we to understand Wyndham’s geopolitical message?
The third part discusses the differences between “catastrophe” and “apocalypse” and which model is best suited to represent the novel. While catastrophe implies death and end, apocalypse focuses on moments of vision and enlightenment. Stock suggests that the novels follows the pattern of apocalyptic (and Biblical) narratives in which there is space for redemption and renewal (of society). The novel can therefore be read as a metaphor for class conflict between those who are literally and figuratively enlightened or blind. This physical and moral dichotomy plays a role in the characters’ survival. Moreover, those who can survive are those who have the capacity to re-build the world through a new kind of thinking and through the abandonment of traditional values. In this world like in Darwin’s theory, the fittest individuals are those capable to adapt.
The final part of the novel thus argues that Wyndham implies the superiority of liberalism in survival but also deals with the ideas spread by the Labour party at the time. Wyndham therefore uses his novel to explore different types of social organisation and suggests that the elite is fitter for survival but even, as Stock suggests, worthier of being saved. However, he underlines the limits of the success of this new-found society, which still relies in part on the old social order and values. While Masen appears as individualistic, he in fact reproduces a family structure in this community. Social codes are inescapable: when given the opportunity to build from scratch, humanity is unable to overcome hierarchies.