Professor Kurt Bullock
31 October 2018
The Power, A New Kind of Feminist Dystopian Novel
In June 2017, The Power by Naomi Alderman won the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and even appeared on former President Barack Obama’s 2017 reading list. The modern-day story is told by four diverse protagonists to fully examine the international shift in power from men to women. The international shift is caused by the awaking of the “skein,” a cluster of muscles across all girls’ collarbones that houses and produces large amounts of electricity. Teenage girls begin to be able to create sparks and soon shoot electric bolts from their fingers, bolts that can barely sting or powerful enough to kill. Alderman explains this “new” organ by interlacing chapters with pictures of artifacts, suggesting women once had this power but it had been lost/forgotten. It isn’t scientifically known why the skein has awoken now but it’s awake now and not going away. Young girls whose skeins awoke on their own can awaken it in others, including older women and younger women. It is established that every future female child will be born with this power and that now- women are indisputably the most powerful gender.
The effects of this shift ripple out slowly as the book progresses but by the conclusion it has raged out of control. The reader watches this happen through four very different pairs of eyes: Allie, Roxy, Margot and Tunde. While all the characters are interlinked and affect one another, not all of them meet each other. Allie and Roxy have the strongest bond in the novel and their storyline is arguably the most central, but Tunde and Margot provide crucial insight to shape the story from other perspectives. From a generalized point of view, they each represent a specific archetype, but Alderman writes them in such a way that they don’t feel like stereotypes. The reader watches them develop into these utterly different humans step-by-step, event-by-event and it is easy to imagine one would make similar decisions in light of their position in this dystopian world.
Allie is the religious archetype as we watch her ascent into becoming Mother Eve from an American orphanage, a pope-like figure for women worldwide to look to for guidance and to help explain their newfound power. Roxy represents brute strength or crime, she is a force and the strongest known girl. She greatly aides Mother Eve until their ideologies start to conflict and Roxy leaves to return to her family that is basically London’s mob organization. Margot is a Midwestern politician that represents the political, she is climbing the ladder and deals with the legal repercussions of having half the population being able to kill with just their fingertips. She proposes camps where girls can learn to harness their power and use them safely which ends up creating a powerful and well-trained electric army. Tunde is the only male protagonist, a self-made journalist who has taken it upon himself to record women striking back in areas of extreme unrest. Where once women had been historically given no rights, Tunde records them as they pillage their way through cities and men who have abused them. And anyone else who gets in their way.
This event, this power awakening in women, has irrevocably shot women up to the top of the food chain. The effects of this vary greatly in the novel. There are the small aspects, boys beginning to travel together in groups, old serious male newscasters are exchanged for attractive male airheads, boys dressing like girls to appear tough, but there are also serious changes to a fictional world that is identical to our own. In the Middle East especially, Tunde works around the clock to report on women marching through the streets and toppling their governments. In America this is subtler, during this shift Margot is campaigning against a male politician for governor but once she gets that office, her sights are set on a much higher office. Margot had a fair chance of winning governor on her own but with the added shift of power towards women, she was the unavoidable choice. America exalts powerful politicians. The more money, the more influence, the more vitality, the better! In this world, men are now lesser and the ramifications of that is that women are looked to as leaders because they are crackling with power. The world is being re-written by female leaders in the book and it will continue to change if the series is granted a sequel. Or simply just in the reader’s imagination.
This re-writing of the world order will constitute a change in the collective unconscious for all humans born after the event. New children will not experience a time when men were the leaders of the family, boys will grow up to be wary of girls instead of the opposite and laws will be made in favor of women power because they are being written by women. The new collective unconscious will include the power of electricity, the natural order being woman-centered and a world where your gender means so much more. This novel is particularly interesting when applied to Junn’s collective unconscious because the reader gets to watch it happen in real time. The collective unconscious is mostly untouchable; don’t run into large formations like icebergs, be afraid of the dark, there are reoccurring archetypes in all areas of the world and so forth. Now, it will include: women dominate. This will be a known unavoidable fact for every human. The personal unconscious will of course differ, from male to female, aka powerless vs. powerful.
This dystopian novel is similar to All Rights Reserved, Divergent, and Children of Eden but is in a league all of its own when it comes to love and overall complexity. There is no guiding romance sub-plot in this story, which is typical of a YA novel and often blundered because the fluffy teen romance tends to add nothing of value to the story, aka Children of Eden. While All Rights Reserved does not have a love interest for Speth, that lasts past the first few chapters, she does take advantage of Henry’s affection for her to further her goals so that romantic sub-plot was for a reason. Divergent frames Tris’ romance in a more natural way than Children of Eden and the reader is inclined to support their relationship because they complement each other as a team. The complexity of The Power, outshines all the others because the book isn’t just a what if women gained this new electrical power tomorrow, the whole book is framed as a book proposal. It begins with a letter correspondence between a female publisher and a male author, proposing that the book, all the content in between, to be published. We understand from their conversation that this is a society where women are naturally in charge, without any electrical power however. The book ends with them corresponding again after the publisher has read it. She suggests sexist ideas such as a sexy male army fighting, how preposterous that men would be the fighters, and that she’ll have her male assistant contact him so they can discuss the further edits in person. While this aspect adds another layer to the complexity of the novel, the real value lies in how Alderman manages to create a world that could happen tomorrow and how she portrays this event affecting every aspect of human life.
The Power is ultimately a very realistic literary exploration of what would happen if tomorrow women everywhere had an undeniable physical advantage over men. The book is undeniably feminist, showing a world that wouldn’t be any better if women had the power to hurt instead of men. Alderman’s exploration of this concept gently reminds the world that power corrupts. Women unleashed their power on men as soon as they got it, whether it was deserving or not. It was given the Baileys Women’s Prize because of its superb and honest telling of the consequences of shift in power. It is a very thought-out novel and the method to use four main characters instead of one to get a holistic view of the world during this crisis, the fact that the whole book is a manuscript, how it is set in modern day to add to the gritty realness of the story and the dispense of unnecessary plot devices made this an amazing read. I would recommend this dystopian to anyone looking to explore the consequences of power.
Alderman, Naomi. The Power. BACK BAY BOOKS LITTLE BRN, 2018.
Graceffa, Joey. Children of Eden. Keywords Press, 2018.
Katsoulis, Gregory Scott. All Rights Reserved. HQ Young Adult, 2018.
Roth, Veronica. Divergent. HarperCollins, 2014.