In Anthony Burgess’ The Wanting Seed, the story starts off, in what is known to the main character, Tristram, as the Pelphase. Tristram is a history teacher and knows mostly all there is to know about history. According to Tristram, governments go through three phases: the Pelphase, the Interphase, and the Gusphase. Tristram believes that like almost everything else, government is cyclical. The Pelphase is a time in the government and society where the people are working to better themselves, their surroundings and their country.
The people don’t just work for themselves; they work together. Overpopulation has always been a problem in the futuristic London that Burgess portrays. God has become a myth even though some still practice their religion. God has turned into some sort of Santa Clause because everyone is working to better the problems that they and the government are having. The government suggests that homosexuality could help the population troubles, but they don’t enforce it or make it law.
People have the choice to have children or be homosexual. The government hands out rations of food every week because the crops aren’t growing and overpopulation is so prevalent. The rations are just enough to keep the people full and content. When the government realizes that nothing is working out and the crops still wont grow and overpopulation is still a giant problem, they give up the current ways and move on to new ways of governing. This brings the Interphase along. The Interphase is black and white compared to the Pelphase.
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It is a transition phase where things must be broken in order to fix them. When the government realized that giving people the choice to have children or be homosexual isn’t working in everyone’s favor and the crops are still aren’t growing, they made it mandatory to either be gay or have only one child and in addition to that the food rations have gotten smaller. Police (Greyboys) walked the beat in large groups looking for people that were breaking laws or people that weren’t. Taking them to jail for nothing was fine with the Greyboys.
Innocent people were thrown in jail and kept in jail just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. With all of the growing animosity towards the Greyboys and the government, people start to question and revolt. Nobody wants to go hungry; the straights don’t want to go gay; the families don’t want to break up. The Interphase didn’t last too long because of how badly the citizens felt about it. People were rising against the government and demanding their rights back. The government couldn’t take the pressure so they just ended up doing nothing.
They literally did nothing. They left it up the people. With that decision came the Gusphase. The Gusphase was a wild and crazy time. People were going crazy in the streets, killing and looting. The government had no control over anything anymore. Hungry groups of people started attacking and cooking up Greyboys. They were creating exclusive cannibalistic dining clubs and taking part in intense orgies. The government lost so much of the control it once had, all of the prisons were emptied and the prisoners set free.
With so much chaos going on, people were forced to fend for themselves and it became survival of the fittest. During all of the madness, priests and bishops were aloud to preach the word of their God again and that is what people held on to in this time of madness. The Gusphase, just like the Interphase, didn’t last long. The government eventually regained control of the population and things were back to the way they started, Pelphase. In the Pelphase after the horrible Gusphase, things were different than before.
People were now aloud to have children and homosexuality wasn’t pressured upon the people. On the surface, it seemed as if the government has learned from their mistakes but under the surface things have taken a very deadly turn. The army had most of the control in the government now. The army went town to town tricking people into joining the army. After the people went through long and rigorous training they were sent off to the front lines in western Ireland. They weren’t fighting the Irish however; they were fighting other British men and women.
The government set up elaborate shows to pretend that there was a war and when it came down to the actual battle the two sides of British would clash in a bloody death match. At the end of the fight, officers from the army, who were in on the whole scheme, executed the survivors so know one would find out about their evil idea of population control. Thanks to Tristram’s smarts and instincts, he was able to survive. He made his way back to the army headquarters and told them that he knew the whole plot. They didn’t pay him any mind, gave him his discharge check, and sent him on his way.
He ended up going back to where he started before all of the crazy times London experienced in the past couple of years. He landed a job as a war history teacher and bought a new flat with his discharge money. After he was settled he found Beatrice-Joanna and his twin sons. Things finally came full circle for Tristram. In may ways, Tristram’s journey was a lot like the phases that the government went through. He had endured the brunt of each phase. He experienced the worst that each phase had to offer a human being. He survived and lived happily again.
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