Billennium by J.G. Ballard
In Billennium by J. G. Ballard we have the theme of confinement, corruption, paralysis, freedom and acceptance. Narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator the reader realises after reading the story that Ballard may be exploring the theme of confinement. The world’s population has reached 20,000 million and there is very little space for people to live in. The cities are full of people who are living in confined conditions which in today’s terms would be deemed to be impractical. It is also noticeable that the streets are heavily populated by people and Ballard highlights this on several occasions notably when Ward can’t get to his cubicle for forty-eight hours. It is also interesting that the landlords tend to adhere to the required legislation that is in place even though it is also impractical. It is as though the government or those in authority are unable to get the balance right between urban and rural space. Though the world’s population is excessively high there does not seem to be any logic in the actions of those in authority who often doctor the figures to appease the people. Which may suggest that there is a level of corruption within the corridors of power and which would again highlight the lack of any real insight into urban or rural planning.
The theme of paralysis is self-evident in the story. Ward and Rossiter when they are on the street have to move slowly due to the volume of people. Similarly Ward’s movements not only in his cubicle but in the room that he and Rossiter discover are also limited. With there being little or no movement. At no stage does the reader feel as though Ward has any freedom. Either in his movements or in how he lives his life. Which may be important as Ballard may be suggesting that one of the prices to be paid for having such a large population is the loss of personal freedom. Ward rarely leaves his cubicle only doing so to go to work. The rest of his time is spent in his cubicle or room. It is also noticeable that Ward is not the only one who suffers a loss of freedom. Rossiter too along with those who move into the room with Ward also lose some element of freedom. With the only privacy being the partitions that Rossiter has built.
It is also noticeable that what should have been a happy experience of moving into a bigger room becomes something or a mini nightmare for Ward. He has less space than he ever had before and is playing with the idea of moving out. The constant moving from room or cubicle by individuals in the story could also be important as it suggests that people are in continual transition. They are never afforded the important opportunity to settle in the one place. It may also be significant that the minimum amount of children that a couple are allowed to have is three. This seems to be ridiculous considering that there is no longer much space to provide housing and shelter to people. The best they can hope for is a room of their own. If anything the situation in the story appears to be that as the population of the world grows larger. The space for each individual gets smaller. There does not seem to be any appropriate management of either the growth of the population or the space provided to them. Which suggests that those in authority may have run out of ideas. Which may be the point that Ballard is trying to make. He may be suggesting that those in authority have made no plans for the future and the results will only be chaos.
It is also interesting that each character in the story accepts their position particularly Ward. He had the ability to refuse others the benefit of living in the bigger room but he choose not to. The effect being that Ward is the one who is suffering. Though some critics might suggest that Ward is just being altruistic. He is nonetheless paying the heaviest price. He had the opportunity to live freely with Rossiter but chose a different path. A path that leaves Ward paralysed. Both he and Rossiter on discovery of the room could have said nothing to others. Giving them the chance to re-evaluate their lives rather than being stuck in a confined space with others. It is understandable as to why Ward may have acted so generously. It may be his nature not to see others he knows suffer. Though the reality is all Ward and Rossiter have done is replicated what the government would have instructed when it comes to living arrangements. At the end of the story there has been very little or no movement for any of the characters. Their address or location may have changed but their conditions are the same. Like others they live in a confined space while those in authority appear to be unable to find the right balance between accommodating people and allowing them their own space or freedom.