The Wasp Factory

by

Iain Banks

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Wasp Factory can help.

The Wasp Factory: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The book opens on the day that Frank and his father, Angus, are informed that Eric, Frank’s brother, has escaped from the mental hospital. Frank has spent the day surveying and maintaining his Sacrifice Poles, superstitious totems that he has set up around the island on which he lives.
Frank believes that his Sacrifice Poles protect the island and give him power over it. By maintaining them he maintains his control of the land.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Frank sees the town policeman, Diggs, cross the bridge from the mainland to Frank’s island. He spies on Diggs with his binoculars, watching him disappear down the path towards the house Frank shares with Angus.
In Frank’s life, knowledge is often power. Although he does not know why Diggs is visiting, he does his best to gather as much information as possible, as he suspects his father will withhold information in order to manipulate him.
Themes
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Frank uses a catapult to fire a ball bearing across the river separating his island from the mainland. He hits a sign, which he sees as a good omen. He notes that the Wasp Factory had sent him a vague, but likely important warning. Frank decides he will consult the Factory again tomorrow.
Frank has a host of superstitious beliefs that govern his life. The firing of a ball bearing and his reliance on the Wasp Factory, are just two examples.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Frank wonders if, when he returns home, Angus will tell him the truth about his interaction with Diggs.
Angus often withholds information from Frank in order to control him. Frank knows this, however, making Angus’s strategy less effective.
Themes
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Get the entire The Wasp Factory LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Wasp Factory PDF
Frank returns home in the early evening. He notices that Angus looks worried, but thinks he might be trying to manipulate him. Angus tells Frank that something has happened with Eric, and Frank immediately understands that his brother has escaped from the mental institution where he had been incarcerated. Angus adds that the authorities suspect Eric will try to come home, but are sure they will capture him soon. Frank is sure Eric will make it to the island; he doesn’t even feel compelled to ask the Factory about it.
Although Frank often feels the need to consult the Factory, or one of the other locations on his island used for rituals, sometimes he has intuitions that he trusts completely. While Frank believes his superstitious objects and tools can help him tell the future, he can also just sense that Eric will make his way home on his own.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Angus serves Frank soup and sits at the far end of the kitchen table. Frank observes his father, noting his delicate face “like a woman’s,” and his stiff left leg, which requires him to walk with a walking stick. Frank explains how his father’s walking stick prevents him from going into the loft above the house where Frank has set up the Wasp Factory. Angus has never told Frank his real age, but Frank guesses he’s around 45.
Frank and Angus both try their best to gain power in the household, and carve out private personal spaces. Because Angus cannot climb the ladder into the loft, Frank controls that space. Because Angus, as the father, is older than Frank, he is able to withhold certain information from his son. Frank will later reveal some of his sexist biases, so his observation that his father looks feminine can be seen as an insult and a sign of disrespect.
Themes
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Sexism and Gender Roles Theme Icon
Angus asks Frank how tall the table is. Frank answers it is thirty inches, and Angus corrects him, arguing it’s “two foot six.” Angus has obsessively asked Frank about measurements in the house all his life. Angus was once “genuinely afraid” of these attacks, but now sees them as “idiotic.”
Angus compulsively asks Frank about measurements—obsessive behaviors clearly run in the family. However, this particular habit is also a way for Angus to control Frank—forcing him to learn essentially useless facts, and to remain constantly alert in case he is called upon to recite them.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Frank was homeschooled by Angus, who taught him a mixture of facts and total lies. Only when Frank grew older and was able to go to the library on his own was he able to begin to distinguish fact from fiction.
Angus has done his best to control Frank in every possible way. By teaching him essentially everything he knows, Angus was able to carefully restrict and manipulate Frank’s worldview.
Themes
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Angus says he hopes Frank wasn’t out killing animals. Frank doesn’t answer, but thinks to himself that of course he must kill animals, because how else is he supposed to get bodies for “the Poles and the Bunker if I don’t kill things?”
Angus seems to have little concern for his son’s wellbeing, or the wellbeing of the animals on the island. Like most of his comments, this is an attempt to restrict the actions of his son, not a genuine inquiry. However, it is ineffective, as Frank will stop at nothing to make sure his rituals go as planned.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Angus remarks that sometimes he thinks Frank, not Eric, should be in the hospital. Frank thinks that this once would have scared him, but not anymore. He understands that people in town consider him strange, but he knows better than to make his obsessions and deviancies public.
Angus recognizes that Frank has some abnormal behaviors, but it’s unlikely he would report him to the police. Once again, Angus is simply trying to threaten and intimidate Frank. Frank understands that the biggest difference between him and his brother is that his brother made his insanity public, whereas Frank keeps it private.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Frank knows Angus is also nervous about Eric coming home, because any police investigations into the family might lead to “The Truth About Frank” coming out. The truth is that Frank has no birth certificate. He believes this is because his father was a “hippy-anarchist” back in the day. As a result, Angus educated Frank himself, and provided all of his early essential medical care.
Frank’s lack of birth certificate is just one more way that Angus controls his son’s life. Because Frank does not legally exist, he cannot go to school or work, and so is totally reliant on his father for food and housing, education, and medical care.
Themes
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Angus goes to bed. Frank thinks about his father’s study — the one room in the house he’s never been in because his father carefully locks it whenever he leaves. Frank suspects there is a secret in the study, but knows he cannot ask. Frank recognizes that his father holds “little bits of bogus power” in the form of secrets and locked doors, to control “what he sees as the correct father-son relationship.”
Just like Frank has his private room in the loft above the house, Angus has his private study. Frank recognizes the patterns in Angus’s behavior—almost everything he does is to hold “little bits of bogus power” over his son.
Themes
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Frank hears the phone ring, and answers it. It’s Eric. At first, Eric repeats everything Frank says, but eventually the two begin to have a conversation. Eric won’t tell Frank where he is, but remarks that he’s still “mad, of course.” Eric says he’s coming home to check in on Frank and Angus, but refuses to say how close he is. Frank cautions Eric not to “annoy people,” and especially not to torment their pets or burn their dogs. Furious, Eric denies ever having done such a thing, and hangs up the phone.
Frank loves his brother, even though he has committed horrible crimes. Eric, too, loves Frank, and seems to have broken out just to visit his brother. Unlike Frank, who is careful to maintain a “normal” exterior, Eric happily embraces his own madness. However, as Frank cautions Eric to stay safe and not call attention to himself, Eric denies having engaged in some of the most extreme behavior he has been accused of.
Themes
Family and Friendship  Theme Icon
Sanity and Insanity  Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Frank goes to bed. He reviews the Sacrifice Poles in his mind, examining each “like a security guard changing cameras on a monitor screen.” He believes the sentries, “which came under my power” through the murder of various small animals, say that all is well, and nothing will harm him.
To Frank, the Sacrifice Poles are more than just symbolic totems. He truly believes he has a kind of psychic connection with them that allows him to use them to survey the island.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Frank looks in the mirror. He’s naked aside from his underwear. He wishes he were “strong and fit,” but explains that because of his accident he is chubby instead. He reveals, “looking at me, you’d never guess I’d killed three people.”
Frank associates masculinity with violence and power. However, although he has exerted power over three people by murdering them, he is upset that he still does not look more traditionally masculine, which, in his mind, he associates with strength.
Themes
Ritual and Superstition  Theme Icon
Control, Violence, and Power Theme Icon
Sexism and Gender Roles Theme Icon