Billenium by J.G Ballard.

  1. Write a detailed synopsis of the story.

The story is set in the distant future as the name Billenium suggests. Nearly twenty million people are squashed into a city putting tremendous pressure on space. The city council has restricted the space that a person can occupy to mere 38 square feet. John Ward and Henry Rossiter are friends who share living space. They are both employed but find it hard to get by in the crowded city where traffic can last for days with no one being able to move due to congestion. While knocking about their cubicle, Ward discovers a forgotten room close to their cubicle. They are euphoric in this new space, thrilled due to the extense space. They buy a Victorian wardrobe which is the only valuable piece of furniture in the place. Soon, Rossiter has the idea of inviting his girlfriends to share the extra room with them. The girls in turn ask their families to move in and take advantage of the space. Ward who had hated the greedy landlords soon becomes a landlord himself, with making money becoming more significant than enjoying their new room. In order to make more space, Ward and Rossiter break up the beautiful wardrobe, and the increased amount of people living in the space makes it become smaller and smaller, their living space returning to be as small as it was at the beginning.

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 changes the way people live. Life is awful and the quality of life is incredibly low. There’s so much oppression people can’t even walk on the sidewalk without getting bruises. Pedestrian jams can last for days without cars moving due to congestion. Even in their houses or cubicles people cannot be freed from this oppression, as the space they have is incredibly reduced(this was a consequence to overpopulation). The quest for living space becomes an ambition and obsession lot the citizens. People lack privacy and even have to share bathrooms and kitchens. Hygiene and privacy were completely lost, which drove people crazy in the search for them.

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.

The quest for living space is absurd and almost impossible to achieve as to have some extra space you need have to a family and at least three kids, which is crazy. By doing this, the people living in this society are contributing to overpopulation instead of finding a way to reduce it. When the character’s find a bigger space, they have the need to occupy that empty space with big furnitures or having more people live with them. When the characters do this, it shows how they aren’t able to have an empty space because their minds are framed in living in a small and cramped space. Becoming used to the idea of oppression, once people are a little bit more free, that aren’t able to take advantage of it and end up wasting the extra space they have(as the main characters of the story).

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?

Ward and Rossiter hate the way that they have to live due to the overpopulation of society. They greatly disagree with the methods the goverment uses to deal with overpopulation. INstead of giving more living space for people, they reduce it in order to create more cubicles. They encourage people to have more children puttin ahead of them the possibility of having more space. However, this only worsens the overpopulation and continues to reduce people’s living space. Ward and Rossiter deeply despise the lack of privacy and space.  Ward hates landlords, but he ends up becoming one. The oppresion caused by these limited cubicles leads to a huge appreciation of space which is why at first the two friends are conscious of what they have. Nevertheless, as society has become used to the idea of living in these cubicles, Ward and Rossiter aren’t able to manage their new space correctly. They end up in the same position in which they started, as by inviting more and more people they were reducing their own living space.

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.

G. Ballard thinks that the population is selfish, that they only think about of themselves and their families. This is because people instead of wanting and contributing with the reduction of population, they are willing to do anything they can to increase their living space, which only happens if they have at least three kids. So this is ironic, because the government does not stop overpopulation, it increases it by encouraging society to have more and more children, as by doing this they would be rewarded with space. The governments encouragement to society of having more kids is believed to be the reason which led to overpopulation, and increases it more and more. Ballard through his writing says that the government does nothing to correctly deal with this issue.

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?

We believe that our possibilities of ending up in the situation depicted in the story are very small as nowadays in many countries birth rates have tremendously fallen, such as in european countries. We can begin to see issues concerning overpupulation in some Asian countries, but these countries have established measures to prevent an extreme overpopulation as the one shown in the story.

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 protagonists of Billenium, and he shares his living space with Henry Rossiter. He works as a librarian and he deeply hates overpopulation. Despite not liking overpopulation, he has accepted that he has to face it and live with it, so he has adapted to it. He has developed a particular hatred towards greedy landowers, although he ends up becoming one of them. He was very affected when the victorian wardrobe was destroyed to increase space.

8. What role does Rossiter play in the story?

Henry Rossiter is Ward’s friend and roomate. He is the one that made the terrible mistake of convincing Ward on inviting people(their girlfriends families) to live with them in the double cubicle. His idea led to the redcuction of their living space as more people occupied the space they lived in. He is agressive, and not as sensible as Ward is as he does not gasp the significance of the victorian wardrobe.

9. Describe the role of the female characters in the story.

In the story, female characters are not protagonists but they play the role of Rossiters and Wards girlfriends who are invited to live to their (Ward and Rossiters)double cubicle. These girls convice the two friends to let them bring their families with the to live into the cublicle. They finally let the girls bring their families, but this then led to the destruction of the wardrobe.

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.

What the effect of overpopulation has had on the nature of family is that the overpopulation was caused by how families wanted to have some more space that they decide to have kids which contribute with this. Having many children is rewarded with space. This means parents no longer have children because they truly want to, but they do it for the sole reason of getting more space. Families become a lie.

11. What does the secret room symbolised in the story?

The secret room next to Ward and Rossiter’s cubicle symbolized freedom, it was a leak or a crack that let them escape from living in a limited space. It was an escape from the oppresision they lived in. In this room they could escaoe from the awful reality.

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 are unable to keep the gift of space to themselves because they were used to live in a small place  and when they finally found a big place they had so long being craving, they started putting big furniture and then inviting people to live with them so they started reducing the space that they had. They were unable to properly manage their space and ended up spoiling it. Ballard makes a comment on how difficult is to change and adapt to places for all the humans and in this case, the protagonist didn’t take advantage of all the space that they had. They had gotten accustomed to living in a small space so they didn’t know how to manage the space. Ballard suggests that living in certain situation for a long time frames our minds into it so we get accustomed to it and keep returning to it.

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 were seven people living in the secret room, and they divided that room in seven parts so all the people have their own “room”. At the end, they end up living in a smaller place than the cubicles.

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.

Ballard uses different techniques of speech to emphasize his point of overpopulation. His diction is referred to oppression. He uses phrases such as «pedestrian jam» which show how extreme the overpopulation was(people could get caught up in pedestrian jams for up to two whole days). The story also names the word “cubicle”, which shows how small the living places are.

Task 2

The video shows how small and uncomfortable the cubicles are. Both, the story and the video explain that living in cubicles is the result of having overpopulation. This must be very hard to live in since they have so little space in their cubicles. The connection between the story and the videos is that, both in the story as in the video have to live in a very small place where they have to share it. And we can found the difference in the story, Billenium and the video because in the short story they lacked space in the world and that why they started reducing people’s houses and apartments. In the contrary nowadays we do not suffer a lack of space but there still existing small places where to live. The other difference is that in the story they all share a dining room and a bathroom and in the video those apartments have their own.

I worked with Gonzalo Irazusta and Francisco Montoya.

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