The Power

by Naomi Alderman

Start Free Trial

How does the epigraph to The Power hint at and clash with the novel's theme?

Quick answer:

The epigraph to The Power hints at one of the main themes of the novel, namely the dangers of despotic rule of whatever kind. Yet it clashes with that theme by concentrating solely on the specific dangers of a patriarchal society.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Power, a work of speculative feminist fiction by Naomi Alderman, the book's epigraph is taken from 1 Samuel 8. In this particular story from the Bible, the people of Israel ask the prophet Samuel to give them a king.

Samuel proceeds to let the people know exactly what they're in for. A king will take their sons and make them serve in the army; he will treat them however he pleases. What's more, he'll take the people's agricultural land and give them to his cronies. He'll even help himself to their servants and donkeys. Before long, the people of Israel themselves will be the king's slaves.

But on hearing this, the people are unmoved and stick to their demand to have a king. They want to be like other nations and have a king who will lead them into battle. Samuel tells God about this, who responds by telling Samuel to give them a king.

The theme illustrated by this epigraph would appear to be the dangers of despotic rule. The epigraph appears to suggest that perhaps we would all be better off in a society characterized by equality rather than the total dominance of any one group.

And yet at the same time, the epigraph concerns only the very precise dangers of living in a patriarchal society and not the matriarchal society depicted in the novel. It soon becomes apparent on reading The Power that a matriarchal society can be just as repressive as its patriarchal counterparts. Men are afraid to go out at night; women attempt to rape men; and domestic violence carried out by women against men is an all too common occurrence.

Also, there appears to be very little difference between the two kinds of society in how power is both used and abused. The eponymous power, the electrical power that has allowed women to attain dominance, can be used as a sword and as a shield. In other words, it can be used as a means of self-defense but also as a weapon to be used to attack men.

One could argue that this particular power is not all that different from that enjoyed by the king in ancient Israel. Even though the people of Israel are fully aware of the wave of repression that will be unleashed once they have a king ruling over them, they also want a warrior, an armed champion who will lead them into battle against the enemy.

To so many women in Alderman's story, this is how they conceive the extraordinary power that they wield. Yes, they may well realize how despotic such power can be, but if it makes their enemies scatter, then that's a very small price to pay.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial