The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood & The God’s Gardeners

Article Posted in: Research Articles

The Eccentric Lifestyle of “The God’s Gardeners” in the novel “The Year of the Flood”

By – D Priyanka Priyavarshini (introduction at the end of the paper), Vol. III, Issue. XXVIII, May 2017
Research Advisor: R. Visalakshi, M.A, M.Phil, Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, PRIST University, Tanjore



This paper aims to examine the peculiar, and most importantly the strange lifestyle of the “God’s Gardeners” in the novel “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood. Her works are largely based on environmentalism. “The Year of the Flood” is Atwood’s one such novel in which she lays stress on the significance of ecosystem and a scrupulously precise way of handling the same.

The dystopian fiction predominantly deals with a religious sect called the “God’s Gardeners”, who predict a human-species-ending disaster. Atwood brilliantly narrates, how a handful of them survive the disaster with the help of their ecological and scientific knowledge, along with the teachings of Bible, which they acquired being a member of the God’s Gardeners sect.

Key words: Dystopian Fiction; Environmentalism; God’s Gardeners; Disaster; Margaret Atwood



 “The Year of the Flood” is set in a fallen future. And the novel portrays the role of God’s Gardeners, their eccentric behaviour, and their peculiar lifestyle in creating an environment-friendly society.  They strive to bring about a great ecological change in the society throughout the novel.

            The God’s Gardeners are a group of religious sect. They certainly followed some Biblical and scientific practices, and beliefs.  Adam One is the supposed leader of the God’s Gardeners cult, and all the other members  were addressed as Eves and Adams. They smiled a lot, but more in an aberrant manner. They were so much interested in doom, enemies, and God, and above all they spoke a lot about death. The Gardeners were particular about not killing any life form, but in contrary to that, they said death was a natural process and they felt that death is something which should be celebrated. If a member died among them, they believed turning them into a compost would be the best idea, they felt, that even after death they should be of some use to the environment. They were vegetarians, who honoured and preserved all the plant and animal life on earth. The members of the Gardeners took “Vegivows” when they joined them. The Adams and Eves always said “we are what we eat”. And even if accidentally they happened to kill any living creature, they would immediately recite their standard Gardener words of apology.

        Atwood depicts their strange way of living, which is completely different from that of others. Unlike others, they were not materialistic and nor did they run after worldly pleasure. The Gardeners liked living in places where they did not have to pay rent, and so they took up any abandoned building and placed their rooftop Garden on its terrace. One such place is the “Edencliff Rooftop Gardens”, one among their prominent gardens, which was once a sizzling wasteland, but now it has blossomed as a rose. They said by covering such barren rooftops with greenery, they were doing their small part in saving God’s creations “from the decay and sterility that lies all around us, and feeding ourselves with unpolluted food into the bargain” (p:11). The members lived in big rooms with some curtained cubicles. The curtains of the cubicles were made of plastic-bag strips and duct tapes, and they were not soundproof.  Though it is fine with the rooms, but when it comes to the restrooms, it is quite awkward. They called their restrooms “Violet Biolet”, and they said, that digestion was holy and there was nothing funny about the sounds and smells. They had massive storage rooms, called “Ararat” in which they stored preserved food in large quantities for their tough times. They slept on mattresses, stuffed with husks and straws, and quilts were sewed of jeans and used bathmats. Every morning the members were supposed to make their bed, which should be their first priority, because the Gardeners liked neatly made beds.

          Their food habits were quite impressive and kept them away from getting ill very often. They relied on natural products, rather than artificial ones. They were against white sugar and products made out of them. They ate their meals in a main room, on a table which had been made out of a door. Their dishes, pots, and pans were often obtained from various sources. Back in their ceramic period, the Gardeners used to make thicker plates and mugs with ceramics, but soon they realized, that kilns used up too much energy. The Gardeners did not believe in wasting too much soap and water on washing and cleaning. So the members were allowed to wash and change only once in a week, that is every seventh day. Their clothes were always clammy, because of the humidity and also they were not allowed to use any electronic equipment like dryers. They wore a loose sack-like dress and its dye caught up on their skin easily, and would never leave as they were not allowed to bathe daily. Their water for shower came down through a garden hose directly from the rain barrels and was gravity-fed, and they used no energy. Gleaning was a part of the Gardener children’s everyday routine. They were supposed to gather anything that was found to be of use to them. They believed in recycling things. During the gleaning process, the children were supposed to move only in groups, so that they could defend themselves against the “pleebrat gangs”. The Gardeners were totally against toys, they said “Nature is our playground” (p:64). However, toys sewed out of leftover fabrics or those knitted with strings were not taken into account. They also did allow dominoes, because they carved the sets on their own. The Gardener women always had long hair, and considered it to be of aesthetic value. There were new Gardener members everyday, some stayed for a long time who were genuine converts, and some left very soon. The Gardeners did not encourage personal questions, they only considered their present, they did not bother about their past. And moreover they were expected to avoid sharing their personal problems with other members, they said it would cause negative impact on the others.

           Atwood further depicts the “Wellness Clinic”, that is what the Gardeners called their school. The benches were hard and the place smelled of chemicals, because the place used to be a clinic once. The Gardener children wrote on slates, and wiped them off at the end of the day, they said that, they should not leave words where their enemies could find them and use it against them. They considered paper to be  sinful, because it is made out of the flesh of trees. The Gardeners said “Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.”(p: 6), so they spent a lot of time memorizing and chanting things. They said, they cannot rely on anything that is written down. They believed that books, papers, and computers could be destroyed, but the spirit lives forever. The Gardener children had a lot of things to memorize and they found it hard. They had to memorize mathematics, science, and worst of all was memorizing every saint’s day. Every single day, they had at least one saint or sometimes even more to memorize.  The Wellness Clinic had a notable number of courses which included Buds and Blooms Choir, Fabric and Recycling, Culinary Arts, Sewing, Mental Arithmetic, Bees and Mycology, Holistic Healing with Plant Remedies, Wild and Garden Botanicals, Meditation, Predator-Prey Relationships and Animal Camouflage, Emergency Medical, and Human Reproductive System. And all these courses had a tutor who was specialized in the same. Some of the tutors were those members of the Gardeners who were from well known Compounds and Pharmaceutical  Companies, who had been at top rankings there. Their courses were peculiar, may be because they were preparing for a “Waterless Flood”, and they would have felt that these classes would come in handy, during the emergency.

          Moving on to the “Waterless Flood”, that the Gardeners had always warned about. Adam One had mentioned “The Waterless Flood” in all  his speeches on special occasions. He said “When the Waterless Waters rise, the people will try to save themselves from drowning. They will clutch at any straw. Be sure you are not that straw, my Friends, for if you are clutched or even touched, you too will drown”(p:21). They believed a massive end of the human race was approaching, due to overpopulation and wickedness. The Gardeners, they made arrangements to be exempted out of this. In fact their daily routines and classes were based on their survival after the apocalypse, apart from their efforts on rejuvenating the environment. Adam One in one of his speech during a saint’s day declaims, that according to the Bible, God gave the task of saving chosen species to Noah, he alone was forewarned of the approaching flood, that wiped off the earth. He says in the same way, the God’s Gardeners have also been forewarned. He said, they could feel the symptoms of  the impending disaster. According to Adam One, human beings are the ones ruining the world, he blames mankind, for causing irrecoverable damage in the Southern shores of the Mediterranean, which was once a fruitful farmland, but now a desert, and he further accuses human beings for the ruinations caused in the Amazon River basin and the wholesale slaughter of the ecosystems. “Beware of Man, and of his evil heart”(p:91). Furthermore, he says that the Gardeners will survive, with their knowledge of the species and their prominence to God. But those who have broken the bond with the ecosystem will be punished, and carried away by the Waterless Flood.

        Atwood  further depicts their bizarre wedding ceremonies, which brings out their weirdness. The Gardener’s weddings were extraordinarily simple. Both the parties had to announce publicly, that they loved each other. They were supposed to exchange green leaves, which is considered as a symbol of growth and fertility. And moreover, they were not interested in those grandiose and impressive weddings. For divorce, they just did the opposite of the same ritual. They exchanged dead twigs, instead of green leaves.

      The sect had a completely different view on medicines and treatments. They were totally against any medicines made by the Corporations, and nor did they believe in their treatments.  They believed that the Corporations imposed something baleful in their pills, in order to increase the rate of patients, so that they could make money out of it. The Gardeners followed the method of “Holistic Healing”, for treating most of the diseases. They had their own bee swarm and also harvested maggots, which were used for their holistic healing purposes. They also grew a few variety of mushrooms and poppies in their garden which were of great medicinal values. The Gardeners spoke to the bees, and they extracted honey from their hives with the permission of bees. They used honey in treating open wounds; it fastened the healing process. They also harvested maggots of their own, maggot therapy was an ancient practice, and it was also effective. When maggots were placed on a gauze and taped around a wound, it healed much faster. They ate out the decaying flesh, and also killed the bacteria, thus preventing the wound from serious bacterial infections. The maggots created a pleasant tickling sensation, but they had to be watched over carefully, because if in case they ran out of decaying flesh, they would start consuming the living flesh.

        Out of the many courses the Gardener children had, “Predator-Prey Relationship” classes always had its own prominence. In spite of having taken “Vegivows”, the children were taught, how to hunt down animals, in case of emergency when they need animal protein. They were supposed to start from the lower level of the food chain. Eggs of various birds should be their first preference, in absence of which they could hunt down small animals and consume them, and most preferably, those animals which were not in the list of “endangered species”. In this process of hunting down and consuming the animal, they should not forget to recite their standard Gardener apology. Being used to vegetarian food habits, the Gardener children found these sessions to be awful.

         The Gardeners also did indulge in trading their goods, which they prepared in their shelters. Goods such as natural honey, natural vinegar, mushrooms, organic fruits and vegetables were traded in “Tree of Life Natural Materials Exchange”. This place was not just for the Gardeners, everyone who claimed their products to be natural had their stalls in there. But Adam One insists, that the products of others were contaminated. A lot of people from the gated communities came to the “Tree of Life”, and they preferred Gardener products over the supermarket ones, and they said, though the Gardeners were eccentric and fanatical, their products were authentic.

         Towards the end, even though all of their rooftop Gardens and Ararat were destroyed, the most awaited “Waterless Flood” had wiped off almost all the human beings, and they did not have a proper shelter, the Gardeners, they never lost their faith in God. Adam One in his speech towards the end of the novel declaims that human beings have destroyed the world and the creatures created by God. And that is why, the “Waterless Flood” has wiped off no other species than humankind.  Though many of their members lose their life due to starvation and disease, they still do not lose hope.

           On the whole, “The God’s Gardeners”cult played a prominent role in the novel, in spite of their strangeness and freakishness. In fact, I personally feel, it is this eccentric lifestyle that should be followed by everyone in order to escape serious environmental threats in the future. The Gardeners had actually been an example throughout the novel. I consider, that among all the other characters and incidents causing ecological holocaust in the novel, Atwood  has shown keen interest in bringing out the importance of leading such simple life through her God’s Gardeners sect. In “The Year of the Food”, Atwood ingeniously narrates about a nearish-future from which we are not very far. And she also implies that leading such eccentric lifestyle as that of the God’s Gardeners could earnestly procrastinate the impending and imminent environmental apocalypse.



Introduction to the Author:

Priyanka Priyavarshini is an M.Phil research scholar, department of English, PRIST University, Tanjore. She has a great passion for creative as well as academic writing and also she is a person with feminist thoughts. Her area of interest lies in Eco-Literature, Feminism and Psychoanalysis.


Works cited:

  1. Atwood, Margaret. The year of the flood. London: Virago, 2010. Print.


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