Wither follows Rhine Ellery, a sixteen-year-old girl, through her capture and imprisonment by the upper class. In Rhine’s world, women die at the age of twenty and men at the age of twenty-five— unless, of course, you’re a first generation (the first wave of unnatural births leading to the genetic disorder characterized by premature death).
The effects of media in Lauren Destefano’s Wither show striking similarities to the effects of propaganda; in fact, they are this dystopia’s version of propaganda. Propaganda is more than just a poster or just an advertisement; it is a way of manipulating others to conform to your standards and desires.
In this alternate reality, there exists a severe caste system among the few humans remaining from the genetic disorder. Women are captured and either killed, sold into prostitution, or sold to the elite as a wife. If one of the captured women is lucky enough to become a wife, she gets provided with safety, comfort, and a steady food source. ‘House Governors,’ as they are called, and their wives often attend luxurious parties, which are filmed and either broadcast live, or are recorded and broadcast at a later time. These recordings paint a picture of luxury and lack of want.
Because the populations’s majority suffers from scarcity in every sense, exposure to the recordings from a young age gives them a sense of purpose and hope. Since the population mostly consists of later generations (who have been denied love, nurture, and full bellies by the early deaths of their parents), these young men and women view the lives of the elite as a utopia. A large percentage of them grow up in an orphanage and are ‘trained’ to be wives of the elite; they see images of sparkling, beautiful women dancing at parties where food is prolific and yearn for a better life.
Wither demonstrates this problem through Cecily, a thirteen-year-old wife. She is incredibly eager to please their husband and have children—it seems to be her only desire. From a young age, she was convinced by the recordings that covered TV broadcasts that to have freedom from want she needed to become a wife of one of the upper class. Furthermore, to pay for the luxuries she receives, she should produce babies and be the ‘perfect’ wife. Essentially, she should cater to her husband’s every need.
Rhine, the novel’s main character, is an outlier among upper-class women. She remembers her parents, and grew up in love’s warm embrace. When Rhine attends her first lavish party, she is shocked by how thrilled all the other wives seem to be with their new lives. But what she begins to realize is that it is because these women have never experienced love and nurture that the propaganda and media of the elite is so powerful. If, like Rhine, they grew up with loving parents, then it is likely that they would be less susceptible to the lure of captivity and complacency found in the mansions of the upper class. However, since such an upbringing is impossible under the conditions found in their society, it is likely that the cycle will continue, and young women will continue to idolize the elite and their society.
Destefano, Lauren. Wither. New York, Simon & Schuster BFYR, 2011.