In our literature class, once we had finished reading and analysisn the story billenium, we did an activity in groups about it. This one consisted of answering some questions about the story. I worked with Oliverio Llobet and Bianca Ieraci. This is our work:
1- Write a detailed synopsis of the story.
The story billenium, written by J.G. Ballard, deals with a distant future and a city that is facing the problem of overpopulation. The protagonist of the story, Ward, lives in a small cubicle as there are too many people for him to live in a bigger place. In the story, there is a moment in which the protagonist starts living with a man named Henry Rossiter. They become friends, despite of their different personalities. Once, they found a victorian wardrobe where they can have much more space than they had before. In there, they enjoyed a lot of time together, as they have never had such a “huge” space before. They invited their girlfriends to live there with them, that ended up inviting their own families. With the passing of time, they started having less space for them to live. Ward, though he could get money from it and people started paying to live in the wardrobe. He became in what he hated the most, he only cared about the money and prefered that instead of spending time alone with his friend. At the end of the story, they dismantled the victorian wardrobe as it occupied a lot of space. This shows how they ended up destroying what actually made them happy only for some money.
2- Discuss the theme of over-population and the effect it has on both the way of life and quality of life of the inhabitants of the city.
Overpopulation is a very present and important theme in the story. We can see how, in a distant future, this affects daily life and, how things like money lose value due to the fact that there are no more spaces to be bought. It has a huge effect on the way and quality of life, to a certain extent that there is a phenomenon as it is the “pedestrian jam”. This is when the number of people living somewhere is so big that there is a “human jam” on the street that does not allow anyone to advance. It is so massive that the main character stays there for 48 hours.
3- The quest for living space has become an overriding obsession with the people of the city.
Discuss this theme in detail. Include in your answer some discussion of the ways in which Ballard makes the quest for space dominate the characters’ lives.
The search for living space, is something present in the people’s daily life as the overpopulation is affecting their country and limiting his living space. Finding the victorian wardrobe is a key issue in the story as it shows how not only the proganosists but also their girlfriends and family are desperate to found a bigger space to live. To have a bigger living space is the purpose of each human being. However, once Ward and Rossiter achieved this they ended up destroying it. The craving for money ended up being more important than living in better condition which lead them to dismantling the victorian furniture and destroying the only thing that could provide them a better place to live. Moreover, the threats of the government to reduce the space allowed, contributed to the constant obsession of people to quest for more space as they are afraid of having no space to live.
4- What sort of relationship does Ballard put forward between the inner world of the individual (as represented by Ward and Rossiter) and the outer world in which they live. In other words, how does Ballard conceptualise the effect of surviving daily life in a hopelessly over-crowded city on the consciousness of the individual as demonstrated by the ways in which Ward and Rossiter manage the gift of space in the secret room they discover?
Ward and Rossiter dislike and criticize the way in which the government deals with overpopulation. They, instead of giving people more space, reduce the living space to make more cubicles for people to live. This actually ends up increasing and contributing to overpopulation instead of solving the problem. Moreover, the government also persuades people to have more children by telling them they would actually have more space if they have a minimum of three children. This is ironic as the way of solving this problem, in the eyes of this government, is to increase the population. The protagonist are criticizing this as they are living in 3 ½ square meters and the government is failing to realize this.
5- In the story, Ballard does attempt some sort of explanation of the social, political and economic causes of the extreme over-population that has beset the world. Explain his views as they are presented in the story.
In the story, Ballard does attempt some sort of explanation of the social, political and economic causes of the extreme over-population that has beset the world. People are told to have 3 children, however, the space wasn’t enough. When they had numerous families, some more space was provided but it wasn’t too much so it was practically the same situation as before. The government is trying to “solve” overpopulation by telling people to have several kids which is actually ironic as it won’t lead to any solution. The author is trying to show how the persuade from the government to have various kids may have lead to overpopulation.
6- Do you agree with his argument? Do you think that current population growth projections indicate that we are likely to end up in the situation portrayed in the story?
We, think we are not going to end up as the future portrayed in the story. Nowadays people are having less children everyday and for the world to end up like that, a lot of time has to go by. For it to happen, the government has to take very bad choices and population has to grow a lot in very few time which is why we think it is not much possible for it to happen. We are not close to this happening so we may think that this will never happen. However, we are not saying that is impossible. If people start having more children and the rate of mortality goes down, with the passing of years this may be our future.
7- Describe and analyse Ward’s character in some detail. What values does he hold? Why does Ballard make use of this type of character as the main character for this story?
Ward, the protagonist of the story, shares the living space with Henry Rossiter. He is not as aggressive as his living partener and appreciates the time they spent together alone in the victorian wardrobe. He is more affected than Rossiter when they destroyed the furniture as he appreciated more. The wardrobe was very important for him and he ruined it by being convinced by his partner. He hates the greedy landlords and ends up becoming one of them.
8-What role does Rossiter play in the story?
Rossiter appears in the story as he starts living with Ward when he moves into a new cubicle. He has a very different personality than Ward as he is more aggressive than the protagonist is. persuades Ward to let their girlfriends into the spare room. This is a disastrous move as the girls bring in their families too by and by. He sacrifices the one thing that symbolizes beauty in their lives, the Victorian wardrobe, and ruin the little happiness they had achieved.
9-Describe the role of the female characters in the story.
The women present in this story had a very important role as they convinced Ward and Rossiter to let more people into the wardrobe. If they hadn’t been convinced, they would have been able to enjoy the big space themselves and probably, Ward wouldn’t have become a greedy landlord. The fact that they let a lot of people into the victorian furniture led to its dismantling at the end of the story which was very significant as it showed how they destroyed the one thing that they had left which actually made them happy and which they actually appreciate,
10- Discuss the effects that over-population and its attendant ills has had on the nature of family life in relation to Ward’s family as well as Judith and Helen’s family relationships.
In this distant future portrayed, having a family was beneficial as it provided you a bigger cubicle. However, they were still trapped in that horrible reality. Despite receiving a bigger cubicle, overpopulation was a serious problem and it wasn’t being solved. Moreover, it could happen that the huge quantity of people kept families separated as there were too much people for them to live together.
11- What does the secret room symbolise in the story?
We believe that the secret room actually symbolises freedom and a way of escaping as it provided the protagonists with the extra space they desired. When they spent time in there they actually felt free, as if there problems had been solved. The wardrobe was what made them happy for a while until they ended up destroying it themselves. This one is very important as it shows how opprosed and limited people where that they found a wardrobe as a place to escape reality and liberate.
12- Why do you think Ward and Rossiter are unable to keep the gift of space to themselves? Is Ballard making a comment on how our inner world ultimately reflects the shape of the external world in which we live?
The protagonists of the story were unable to keep the gift of space to themselves as they weren’t use to having so much freedom. They had been taught to live in small cubicles and their mind had been accustomed to it. They were trapped in their limited minds which prohibited them from keeping the wardrobe and getting used to the “huge” space. As it was something new to them, they didn’t know what to do. They were used to living and even sharing small cubicles and they had to go from that to a whole different situation in the one they found themselves having a lot of space left.
13- What sort of living arrangement do they eventually end up allowing (and accommodating to) in their secret room?
At the end of the story, they let more people into the wardrobe and by this limiting the amount of space they could have. By inviting their girlfriends and families, they ended up having less space than they had in the cubicles. Moreover, they ended up gaining profit from it as people had to pay to enjoy the huge space provided by the secret wardrobe. By doing this, Ward ended up becoming in a greedy landlord.
14- Discuss Ballard’s style and language in the story? Consider also in what ways it is appropriate to the nature of the story being told.
Ballard tries to use different vocabulary that can express how overpopulation was affecting the people and how reduced the space of the cubicle actually is. Some examples of these expression are: “tramp of feet”and “pedestrian jam”. This sentences show how horrible and significant the overpopulation was and how limited the space was for people. Their were so many people that you could even get stacked in a pedestrian jam for forty eight hours. At every time of the day you could hear the noisy people around you which created a very oppressive atmosphere.