The Power was published in 2016 and has become one of the best-selling dystopian novels of the last ten years. The book leans heavily on its predecessors for inspiration but imagines the world in an entirely unique light.
The novel asks readers to consider themes of power, gender roles, control, and societal norms. It engages with these themes, turning many on their head and transforming readers’ understanding of what should be considered normal in everyday life.
Alderman’s clever handling of changing gender roles is one of the primary reasons I was drawn to the novel. Throughout the novel, readers are introduced to male characters, but, without a doubt, it’s the women who carry the vast bulk of the narrative. From Roxy to Ally to Margot and Tatiana, these women range in their likability and positive and negative features.
They suffer, gain and lose power, are oppressed, and become the oppressors. Many of the women in the novel lean in heavily into the new power they’ve received. Not only the physical power and the pain they can inflict but also the way that they are new talents allow them to overcome centuries of oppression at the hands of men.
In a telling quote, Alderman writes that gender is a “shell game” or something unreal. The difference between men and women is, in reality, negligible, but that’s not how society operates. She wrote in the novel:
Gender is a shell game. What is a man? Whatever a woman isn’t. What is a woman? Whatever a man is not. Tap on it and it’s hollow. Look under the shells: it’s not there.
Women and Power
Women break their physical, mental, and emotional bonds, as is seen through the destruction of the sex trafficking industry in Moldova. They find themselves capable of controlling their fates and the fates of others. They rise up in what is initially a highly inspirational turn of events. The novel includes inspiring quotes about women’s lives and strengths like this one:
You have been taught that you are unclean, that you are not holy, that your body is impure and could never harbour the divine. You have been taught to despise everything you are and to long only to be a man. But you have been taught lies.
But, the pure inspirational power of the novel changes quite quickly. The wife of the president of Moldova, Tatiana, is a prime example. While it’s not entirely made clear, it seems likely that Tatiana is responsible for the death of her husband. She takes over control of the country and establishes an independent state, Bessapara, where she decrees that all women can live free lives.
Her good intentions turn sour as power corrupts her new status. Soon, reports of her torturing and murdering men for the pleasure of it reveal her true character. She eventually loses her life due to her cruelty and inability to be reasoned with.
Tatiana is one example, but she is representative of the way in which Naomi Alderman sought to turn gender roles on their head and show that absolute power does, in fact, corrupt absolutely.
Readers may find themselves surprised to find the female main characters, many of whom have suffered throughout their lives, turning into warmongering villains and unlikable sociopaths. Many of the women in the novel, contrary to what one likely expected, demonstrate their power freely, seemingly feeling no regret or empathy for the men who they abuse and sometimes murder.
Reports of murders, severe injuries, rapes, and more reveal a terrifying truth behind what initially seems to be a liberating change of circumstance. Women become the oppressors in society, taking on the dominant role that had for so long been held by men alone. By shifting this power dynamic, Alderman draws attention to the ways in which having power in society allows one’s actions to go without consequences.
A Message for the Real World
The women in the novel face few repercussions for what they do, mirroring Alderman’s perspectives of how men are regarded in the real world. In contemporary life in the United States, Great Britain, and worldwide, men are the dominant social and political force, with centuries of oppression and abuse lurking behind their statuses.
By showing women torturing and controlling men with their power, Alderman seeks to cut through what is seen as normal or acceptable in the real world (aka, men controlling women or being feared by women).
Men fearing women in the novel is a strange and unusual experience and something that does not generally exist in the real world. Men do not usually find themselves afraid to go out at night for fear of being assaulted, but in The Power, they do.
By turning this dynamic on its head, Alderman reminds readers that no one, regardless of their gender, should feel this way. It’s not normal to walk the streets and fear for one’s safety, no matter if you’re a man or a woman, and that fear should not be normalized in day-to-day life.
Despite its lofty intentions, many of which are fulfilled, the novel concludes in a way that I couldn’t help but find disappointing. It leans heavily on allusion to define what happens during the Cataclysm and the fates of almost every primary character. It concludes without revealing what exactly the Cataclysm entailed, who and what was lost, and how the world came to be exactly how it is (as hinted at in the final pages).
The Power: Naomi Alderman's Dystopian Masterpiece
Lasting Effect on Readers
The Power Review
‘The Power‘ by Naomi Alderman is a unique dystopian novel that turns gender norms upside down. It recreates the world with women taking on the roles of leaders and oppressors.
- Creative concept
- Many interesting characters
- Suspenseful plot
- Lacking conclusion
- Characters are generally unlikeable
- Fates of characters are unknown