The novel ‘The Power’, written by Naomi Alderman, is a novel that explores the change that would take place in the world if power was in the hands of women instead of men. By doing so, the novel also exposes our daily reality of how men have abused their power for centuries and still do so. In the novel something vital has changed, which makes sure that everyone’s lives drastically change. Women namely discover that they have the ability to generate electrical power, which enables them to cause agonising pain and even death to others. With this power given to women, the social structure of the world changes utterly. Now women hold power over men and treat them as lesser human beings instead of the other way around. To name an example, men are now getting raped by women instead of men that do the raping.
Overall, ‘The Power’ is a captivating and unsettling novel that doesn’t let you turn away from its horrifying scenery. The two questions that keep circulating in your head after finishing reading it are ‘What if the power structure would reverse?’ and ‘Why do people abuse power?’. Two questions that are equally important in our male dominated world.
Throughout the book several themes are developed upon through the narration of the four characters: Allie, Roxy, Tunde and Margot. The underlying theme first exposed to the reader and is the theme, which all four characters have in common: the theme of suffering. The book revolves around the four characters that have all been abused: physically, sexually or emotionally. The second theme introduced to the reader is the theme of power. The book revolves around the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes. However the book explores this through extreme power inequalities and not through balance. The theme power is explored literally in the book through the abnormal female ability of electrical transmission but also through female empowerment – demonstrated early in the book during the first encounter with Roxy – “its saying: you can do it. Its saying: you’re strong” (p05) and when Tunde knows “Enuma could have killed him if she’d wanted” (p12). The theme of power goes hand in hand with the exposure of the theme gender. Gender is explored continuously throughout the book as a reverse of current roles. The fact that women have an ability to transmit electricity and deems them dangerous to men elevates women above men – and is exactly the extreme position the book takes in order to demonstrate the reversed gender roles in current society.
The story is narrated by four characters, who live all over the world: the American politician Margot Cleary; the British Roxy Monke, daughter of a gangster; the American Allie Montgomery-Taylor and Tunde Edo, a Nigerian self-made journalist who travels the world to report on how women are taking over power once they develop the power to transmit electricity. All characters go through developments in the course of the book when the balance of power ultimately changes in favour of women and at the expense of men. Allie develops from a young abused girl into a charismatic and influential self-proclaimed prophet, and starts calling herself Mother Eve. Initially Tunde was optimistic about the revolutions that were taking place worldwide, in which oppressed women finally were able to stand up against abuse, however at the end of the book nothing is left of his optimism when women start abusing their power just like men used to do before. All the storylines converge in the end in the fictional matriarchal country of Bessapara, where an army of women (indirectly coordinated by Margot) and the trafficking of illegal drugs that enhance women’s powers (coordinated by Roxy and her family) are all important factors in the war against men that is taking place there.
Naomi Alderman follows a timeline in her fictional story. The novel initiates the story with, "Ten years to go" (Alderman, 2017, p. 6) . This implies that the novel will start off at the very beginning of the storyline of each character. The novel continually follows the individual story line of each character. As the story progresses, there is a countdown. The story counts down the years to the very end until it says, "here it comes" (Alderman, 2017, p. 292). This is the final part of the novel where everything comes down to the ultimate ending of each character. Moreover, from this point on, the story does not necessarily follow the storyline of each character anymore. This is because most of the characters have met each other in the story. The storylines now merge together into one final story.
Finally, the novel consists of images that are considered to be of historical value. Most of these images do not necessarily relate to the storylines. Yet, they give the fictional storylines some sort of life. The depiction of these historical objects gives significance and emotional bonding to the stories of each character.
Melzer: The power and science fiction
Science fiction makes it possible for artists (novelists, filmmakers, etc.) to create realities and social orders that are significantly different from the social reality as we know it (Melzer, 2006, p. 2). Especially feminists have found the political implications of science fiction and increasingly use the genre to explore social relations. In this way, feminist science fiction is a form of feminist theorizing (Melzer, 2006, p. 4). In The Power, Alderman has challenged and changed the current socially constructed order of gender relations. In her science fiction world, women, not men, have ‘the power’ in their hands, literally. Alderman explores the relationship between women and technology (the ‘electric’ power, the ‘Glitter’, but also the spread of female power and resistance by means of new communication technologies) and she reclaims the figure of witch and healer (think of Allie who has the power to heal people). Despite the fact the story is fictional, it does not seem entirely unreal or impossible to the reader due to the fact that the story starts with today’s reality as we know it. Moreover, UrbanDox, an (online) group of ‘all white men’ (Alderman, 2017 , p. 177) who stand up for the rights of men, reminds the reader of contemporary white male anti-feminist movements (the ‘manosphere’). As Melzer states (2006, p. 4), ‘the ‘’realness’’ of science fiction narratives enabled individuals (and groups) to relate to and recognize the debates as relevant to their own lives’. Instead of dismissing the story entirely, the reader recognizes the ‘realness’ of the story and might wonder: what would it mean for today’s society if this would really happen? What does this tell us about today’s gender relations? Alderman gives a possible answer to these kind of social questions and in this way shapes a feminist thought that contributes to today’s theoretical and political debates. As such, we should not only read feminist science fiction as entertainment, but also as a cultural text that contributes to real feminist debates as well as reflections of these debates (Melzer, 2006, p. 9).
1. Perhaps the irony of the book is that when things like abuse because of your gender happens to men, we start to notice how strange and oppressive gender bias actually is. Did other people also experience this?
2. Did globalization, in the novel, contribute to the increasing aggression of women towards men? Imagine if the story were real, would it also have such an impact on women today? If yes, can globalization still be viewed as a positive thing?
Alderman, N. (2017). The Power. Penguin Books: London.
Melzer, P. (2006). Alien Constructions: Science Fiction and Feminist Thought. University of Texas Press: Austin.