1. Write a detailed synopsis of the story.
The short story, “Billenium”, written by J.G. Ballard, is set in the future, in which population has increased massively so the world is not able to inhabit more people in a decent home, so people are assigned small cubicles. The only way to have more space to live in, is marrying and having kids. This story focuses in the lives of two men, John Ward and Henry Rossiter. On day, they discover a hidden room (which symbolises freedom) that meant having more place, privacy and increasing their standard of living. However, instead of making a good use of the space, Rossiter and Ward, decide to fill up the place with Victorian furniture (showing they could not escape from the consuming necessity) and to invite their girlfriends with their family to move into the room, as they had space left. The capitalist society of which they were part did not permit them make a good use of the new space, as they could not escape from the lack of space they had.
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 one of the main themes of the text. This topic has an effect in the way of living and quality of life of the inhabitants of the story. This theme, clearly represented along the story, is completely ironic as while authority desires to reduce overpopulation they force citizens to have kids. This shows a contradiction (and irony) over this theme, as the more kids you have population increases and space is less. Inhabitants contribute to overpopulating the city although space is one of their concerns and is what decreases their standard and quality of life, as they finally get used to this and do not try to change it. People lives are not decent, they live in small cubicles with no space at all. The inhabitants do not have a kitchen of a bathroom on their own, everything is shared. Even streets and public places are overcrowded. All these is caused due to overpopulation, which conditiones people’s lives in this city.
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.
Overpopulation resulted in people in small cubicles, due to the lack of space. These cubicles were small, suffocating, and uncomfortable for a person to live. Therefore, people were desperate to get more space to live. They could do anything to achieve this, for example, they joined cubicles with friends, and had a lot of children, contributing to overpopulation. This conflict is what leads to the main character, Ward, to kick the wall and find a much bigger place. He moves to this place with his friend Rossiter, and start to invite more and more people, until he finishes up with the same space as before.
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?
John Ward and Harry Rossiter (and every citizen) disliked the way in which they were leaving because they were conditioned by overpopulation. In the story, Ballard depicts that people had to share bathrooms and kitchens due to the lack of space. Moreover, their actions were conditioned by the time people took in arriving at a place due to the traffic. Also, citizens could not even enjoy walking down the street or going out, as streets were always overcrowded. At the beginning of the text, Ward criticized the fact of being a landlord, however at the end he finally becomes one of them as he sees the desperate need of space and feels attracted by the consuming society which required money even though there was no place. People were not able to change the society, because they were trapped inside it. Ballard also criticized the Victorian society as it dealt with the authoritarian government which oppressed, restricted and limited society.
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.
Ballard achieves to explain the causes of the extreme overpopulation by analysing the social, political and economic causes. First of all, he criticizes the selfishness of society, who always put their comfort first instead of thinking in others. This means that they eagered for more space instead of fighting to reduce overpopulation which would have been more logical. Moreover as a socio-economic aspect Ballard criticises capitalism and society’s great necessity of consuming and having more and more every time. This shows one of the causes of overpopulation, which is people consumption and eager of always wanting more money and material things never being satisfied without considering the lack of space. In the story it is clearly represented this criticism as inhabitants continued buying objects and furniture to put in their cubicle although they knew they had no space, symbolizing the impossibility to escape from this way of living. Finally, he gives a political reason by involving government. He depicts the idea of overpopulation being ironic, as authorities give restrictive space and money to inhabitants and on the other hand encourages them to have children. This shows a criticism towards the government and the system too.
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?
In our opinion, if the governments don’t do anything about it, overpopulation will be a real problem. However, taking decisions against this problem may also bring economic consequences, as if the number of children a family can have is reduced, then in a near future there will be more old people and adults than children, therefore affecting the future of the country. Because of this, none of the world’s capitalist countries are doing something to stop population growth. Moreover, this is the topic the story criticizes.
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 is one of the main character of the short story. He lives with his close friend, Harry Rossiter. They both criticized the Victorian society. Ward, is more sensitive than Rossiter, because when they needed space in the room, they had to take out the wardrobe he felt disturbed because he is more attached with beauty. Besides, Ward, hated landlords at the beginning of the text, but became at the end of the story one of them. He worked as a Librarian.
8. What role does Rossiter play in the story?
Rossiter is Ward’s friend and is the one who persuades him to invite people to live with them in the cubicle. He is grateful to live with his friends in the cubicle over money’s desire, which is why he hated landlords.
9. Describe the role of the female characters in the story.
The females in the story are Helen and Judith, who were Ward’s work mates. However, females as a whole were seeked by men, to start up families, have kids and expand their cubicle surface. In the specific case of Helen and Judith, they brought trouble to Ward, as they moved to his large cubicle, and invited all of their relatives, filling all the space they had.
10. 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.
The effect of overpopulation has had on the nature of family life relationships is that the overcrowded population was caused by families wanting to have some more space, which was achieved by having kids. By wanting more space, they decide to have kids which contribute with this, but, by having more kids, they finally end having the same or even less space than they had.
11. What does the secret room symbolise in the story?
The secret room symbolizes freedom in this story. This place next to Rossiter and Ward’s cubicle represents a place that let the protagonists escape from living in a restricted and oppressing place. It made them liberate from the confimment of the standard of living they had in their cubicle.
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?
Ward and Rossiter weren’t able to keep their huge space for themselves, as they got used to live in small spaces. It is part of the culture, and living in big places was something unusual, unreal for them. This is why they let guests to invade the room. In addition, this element is what makes of this story a circular story, as when there is a change, there is always something that happens, which brings it all to the same situation they were at first. Moreover, Ward’s decision is what shows that our inner world ultimately reflects the shape of the external world in which we live.
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, there was too many people living in the secret room, so, they divided the hidden room into different rooms so that everyone can have their part. But, finally, they all finished living in a smaller place than the cubicle was.
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.
In the story, Ballard is using a third person, narrative narrator, and the language he uses is descriptive and critical to the cubicles people lived in. He wanted to express how nasty and suffocating these were, to express his message of what could happen if we do not solve our population growth problems. For example, “he could hardly move”, or “there is no privacy or comfort”.
In history, we started to see the Cold War, and one of the events which lead to the start of it: the Berlin Blockade. After reading the book and watching some videos, we had to do a chart and answer some questions about the topic.
- What was life like in Berlin in the post-war era?
In the Yalta Conference, it was agreed that Berlin would be divided into four zones: a Soviet, an American, a French and a British. The city was devastated after the war, so both sides were in a state of poverty. However, while the Western side was seeking recovery, the Eastern side leader was seeking keep the zone crippled.
- How did Soviet policy towards Berlin differ from that of the West?
On the one hand, the West side policy was one of recovery, as well as being capitalist. On the other hand, the East side policy had as an objective to keep the zone crippled, and was Communist.
- Why was reform of the German currency a key issue for both sides?
Germany having a self currency meant economic independance and freedom. It was an important step for recovery. Moreover, it was a way to represent the new Germany, different from the one from the past. The West encouraged Germany to have a currency of its own, while the East didn’t.
- Why was the airlift such a major feat?
The airlift was a way of showing the world that the West wouldn’t fall under Soviet tirany, and was a real conflict, which contributed to the atmosphere of tension, and to the start of the Cold War.
- In what respect can the USSR and US be responsible for further increasing tensions during the airlift?
On the one hand, the USSR was responsible, as she was the one who started the conflict by closing all the roads, and tried to persuade Western people to go to the East. On the other hand, the USA was responsible too, as she sent a lot of air supplies, increasing tension and showing a will to resist.
- Why did Stalin eventually agree to talks over the airlift?
Stalin agreed to talks over the airlift, as he could clearly see that the Blockade wouldn’t stop the West from opposing to Communist expansion, and keeping their side of Berlin. He could see the Americsn will to resist, and realisrd the Blockade wasn’t helping at all.
Extension question: On the one hand, the USSR was to blame, as she interrupted peace with the blockade. On the other hand, the USA was to blame as well, as she was willing to resist any Soviet attempt to expand.