Wool by Hugh Howey

“If the lies don’t kill you, the truth will.”
The cover statement made by Hugh Howey on his dystopian fiction novel, Wool. Set in the not so distant future, Wool takes place in a huge underground silo containing what is known to be the remainder of the worlds surviving population. This ground-dwelling society must run without a hitch in order for everyone to survive and continue the human race as it is known. Fear is used by the governing body of the silo, the IT department, to control and manipulate the population as a way to maintain order and peace. 

The first example of fear being used by IT to control the people of the silo is shown when a new recruit in IT who is sharing information with the protagonist is discovered to be sharing sensitive and secretive information and is killed by IT. After being appointed sheriff, the main character, Juliette, delves into resolving why the previous sheriff and first narrator in the story, Holston, and his wife were sentenced to the outside world to die. After going through the sheriff’s computer, she makes contact with a fresh recruit working in the IT department named, Scottie to help her figure out the files in his hard drive. After several days of Juliette and Scotty sending wires of information back and forwards, Scotty asks that Juliette comes to his office immediately. The information that Juliette had shared turned out to be schematics relating to cleaning – the death penalty.. Scottie reluctantly explains this to Juliette and starts getting very anxious and upset. The day after Juliette leaves the IT department, she recieves an alert that Scottie has committed suicide in his office. Juliette is suspicious of his death and feels inclined to investigate coming to the conclusion that he was killed by a member of the IT department.

“Oh, Jules, I just want to go back to Mechanical. I want none of this to have happened.”

Scottie was more than frightened – he was terrified. For his life.”

This quote prior to Scotty’s death indicates that he was aware that IT was going to take action once they knew he was sharing sensitive information and was terrified of the consequences. The IT department and the threat of being sentenced to cleaning was able to scare Scotty into regretting his actions and ultimately paid the price with his life. Scotty’s death was also used as a warning to Juliette not to pursue any more information surrounding the previous sheriff and the inner workings of the IT department. 

They must have found him snooping, or maybe her visit had alerted them. She wondered what IT could see, if they could break into her wire account, even.

Juliette’s thought process presents the reader with the idea that after Scotty’s death, Juliette also becomes fearful of these punishments. This was the intention of IT to prevent her from trying to find more of this information. Both of these quotes show how it is common for people living in the silo to avoid the topic of the outside world and information surrounding it as it is taboo and has become customary not to ask questions with Juliette and the old sheriff being the exception. To keep their information a secret, the IT department uses the fear of punishment, persecution and death. This means that nobody asks questions and the society in the silo keeps running smoothly. 

Examples of fear being used as a method of controlling the population are also present in the real world but are far less drastic and for different reasons. For example, in my life, NCEA is a prevalent aspect of schooling that students are programmed not to try and go against. We are taught to view it as a defining aspect of our lives with the penalty for not trying hard or doing well enough being the lack of a degree or well paying job later on in life as well as rejection by our society. I can say from experience that I have feared not passing a certain paper because of the implications I believe it may have on my future. Being poor or homeless is looked down upon by society and even the fear of being rejected by my peers because of bad grades has influenced my motivation in some cases. While being a lesser extreme, I do believe that NCEA is a valid example of control through fear.

Another example of fear being used to control population in the silo is presented to the reader throughout the book. It is shown through people’s reluctance to talk about the outside world as well as a general disinterest in the inner workings of the silo. Throughout the story, we as the reader, are made to understand that talking about the outside world is recognised as taboo and is punishable by death. This would explain why there is a lack of discussion about the outside world by the general public. However we see that instead of being fearful, the reason people avoid these topics seems to be a general lack of interest and force of habit. Over time, people have been conditioned by the fear of capital punishment. Throughout the course of many years, the people of the silo have begun to recognise talking about the outside world as something that simply shouldn’t be done instead of immediately thinking of the legal ramifications. This is a form of long term control using fear and conditioning of the minds of the people to prevent them from delving too deep into ideas about the outside world. 

“They didn’t want people talking. Thinking was fine; they would bury you with your thoughts. But no collaboration, no groups coordinating together, no change of ideas.”

This quote presented in the later part of the text clearly identifies the intention behind the members of IT. The phrase, “no change of ideas,” shows the reader how the principals and customs that people lived by since the beginning of the silo have remained consistent and how the idea of manipulation and conditioning has been implemented over a long period of time.  

Humans are curious creatures by nature. In the real world, control through fear is a common theme used by governments to keep their people safe and their societies functional. Here in New Zealand, we have rules and laws set in place that mean if someone underage was caught drinking or smoking then there would be legal ramifications and punishments. While these punishments aren’t as extreme as the death penalty, there is still the fear of being fined or sent to prison that stops us wanting to take part in these activities. If these laws were not in place then there would be a stronger inclination to do these things. These laws have been reinforced over a long period of time so we know not to break them. When someone talks about underage drinking then we simply think they shouldn’t take part in it, not for legal reasons, but because we’ve been conditioned to think that way. 

Wool depicts the inhabitants of the silo as unaware and unable to think any differently than what they know from their limited existence within the silo. As a person living in the society and the world I live in today, I have a different perspective on the events that unfolded in the silo through the course of the novel. I am able to understand and see that IT is using fear to manipulate and control the population while these people remain oblivious as they have never known any different and are unable to comprehend the fact that there could be another way to live. 

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