BILLENNIUM, BY J. G BALLARD (1961)
- Write a detailed synopsis of the story.
The story is set in the distant future as the title suggests. Twenty million people are squashed into a city putting tremendous pressure on space. The city council has restricted the space that an individual can occupy to 4.5 mere square meters. John Ward and Henry Rossiter are friends who share their tiny living space. They are both employed but find it hard to get by in the crowded city where pedestrian traffic jams can last for days with no one being able to move due to congestion. While knocking about their cubicle, Ward discovers a forgotten room adjacent to their cubicle. They are overwhelmed by this new space, thrilled, as they have never known so much. Together, they buy a Victorian wardrobe which is the only thing of beauty in their drab living area. Soon, Rossiter has the idea of inviting their girlfriends to share the extra room with them. The girls in turn ask their families to move in and take advantage of the space. Ward who had hated the greedy landlords soon becomes a landlord himself, with making money taking precedence over enjoying their new room. In order to make more space, Ward and Rossiter break up the beautiful wardrobe.
- 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.
In the society that exists sometime in the future, overpopulation has swelled to the extent that space seems to have shrunk. All available land is utilized to feed the billions and to live on is rationed to the extent that every individual was forced to live in a cubicle of 4.5 cubic meters. Even, if anyone wanted to move to a bigger place, the spare part of the room was given to another person. This, is added to the fact that the capitalist system provoked on the society the necessity to consume. By having more space they would buy more furniture which would occupy more space. This way, under these circumstances, they would live in oppression anyways.
Ward and Rossiter stumble upon an unoccupied room which is like manna from the wilderness. Instead of using it wisely, they invited their girlfriends who bring in their families too. Ward and Rossiter turn into usurious landlords who find that having extra space under their control makes them powerful. It is also a tool to make money. Soon there are so many in that room that they are worse off than when they had not discovered the extra space.
- 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.
At these imaginary future times, what transformed ordinary people into wealthy society was having land. By having more space, it can be rent and, therefore, be able to make money. However, that money would be useless because, due to the congested streets, people was unable to move to go and spend that money.
Taking this into account, when Ward and Rossiter find the abandoned room, and saw that it was having considerable success, Ward divided to become the landowner so he would gain money. Nevertheless, at some point, there are so many people in that room that they are worse off than when they had not discovered the extra space.
- 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?
Rossiter and Ward hate the way they had to live, because the world is overpopulated and they don’t have extra living space. Also the hate of Ward that he has to landlords because they are so used to the society and his ambition of power, he became a landlord, something that he didn’t want.
- 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.
The problem of overpopulation, where the people was having lots of children and also other people wanted to buy a house. An example of this is the law of the government which established that the families with more than 3 children would be given a bigger cubicle to living, this affected the population and then overpopulation affected the place to live.
- 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?
I don’t agree with this, maybe it could happen the opposite, people could stop having children because they can’t maintain them or because they don’t want. If this happens it would be a problem to a point where humanity is going to exting.
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?
John Ward has a very “old fashioned” mind. He still hasn’t gotten used to the overpopulation so he thinks like us. He hates the society that he lives in and he hates landlords because he thinks they take advantage of people. But Ballard proves to us that we really can’t change the way things are, so Ward ends up becoming a landlord. That’s why Ballard chooses him as a main character, to prove that we will accommodate to survive .
- What role does Rossiter play in the story?
The role of Rossiter in this story is
Rossiter is very different from Ward though they are close friends. He is more aggressive in his approach and persuades Ward to let their girlfriends live into the spare room. This is a disastrous move as the girls decide to bring their families into the secret room. Rossiter is not sensitive to beauty and sacrifices the one thing that symbolizes beauty in their lives, the Victorian wardrobe.
- Describe the role of the female characters in the story.
After Rossiter convinced Ward to let their girlfriends live with them, the girls took advantage of that situation and brought members of their families into the room. They ended up being six people, “Now they are six beds now in line along the wall”.
- Discuss the effects that overpopulation 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 that time and in those circumstances, overpopulation was common in that society. People were trapped in that horrible and hard reality and it was difficult to have that problem solve. “Over a hundred people lived in the top three floors of the old rooming house”, this quote means that there were millions of people and that they lived as they could and where they cold as they didn’t have space. So having a family was just helpful to have more space.
- What does the secret room symbolise in the story?
in our opinion, we think that the secret room symbolizes hope as well as freedom and illusion as they are always looking for more and more space, but instead of having the secret room for them, they fulfill the bedroom with victorian furniture and with a lot of people inside of it. The fact that they found the “secret room” which finally was not secret anymore gives an illusion to them that sometime they would break up with that reality but it was not like that.
- 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?
We believe that they couldn’t keep the gift of space for themselves because they were used to the reality of over population, the reality of not having space for themselves, of being uncomfortable and of not having any kind of privacy and letting go the things you have.
- What sort of living arrangement do they eventually end up allowing (and accommodating to) in their secret room?
Rossiter urged ward to let their girlfriends move in, who then, they brought members of their family into the room. They let too much people live with them in the room with the furniture so they ended up without space.
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.
The author uses third person narrative all throughout the story. Words are chosen to highlight the crammed cubicles in which people live out their lives. There is no privacy or comfort. Describing Ward’s cubicle, the narrator says “partition pressed against his knees and he could hardly move”.