The Wasp Factory

by

Iain Banks

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The Wasp Factory: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next morning Frank visits the Poles. Most are in good condition. He plants the burned remains of a wasp from the Factory between two important Poles. Then he climbs a tower on the mainland from which he can survey the island. He cuts his thumb and rubs the blood on the tower.
Much of Frank’s day, and much of his life, is dictated by regular maintenance of his sites of ritual. Because he does not go to school or leave the island, his routine is essentially all he has.
Themes
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Frank provides a history of Mary Cauldhame, Eric’s mother. She died in childbirth, because Eric’s head was too big. Eric had migraines the rest of his life, and Frank wonders if Mary’s death, Eric’s migraines, and “What Happened to Eric” are somehow related. Frank also considers that perhaps disaster befalls anyone who leaves the island, and that’s why something bad happened to his brother.
Frank loves to search for coincidences and patterns in his life and the lives of others. Although not revealed until later, the incident that fully pushed Eric over the edge was also related to heads and babies, a pattern Frank can’t ignore.
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Frank remembers “the Factory said something about fire.” Although the obvious answer seems to be that Eric will set some dogs on fire, Frank believes the message is more complex.
Frank looks to the Factory for guidance, and uses its perceived wisdom to unpack anything complicated in his life.
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Frank is partially upset that Eric is coming back. Frank had wanted to have a make-believe war — a game he plays with his toy soldiers and real explosives — but will have to postpone it to deal with the “real world.” Frank instead spends the morning building a dam. He loves to build dams, and explains that he enjoys how “you can never really win against the water; it will always triumph in the end.” Instead, you can only “divert it or block its way for a while; persuade it to do something it doesn’t really want to do. The pleasure comes from the elegance of the compromise.” He builds a dam, and downstream builds a little village. He enjoys watching the dam burst and kill all the tiny, imaginary people.
Frank loves violence. Even when he is not killing children or animals he is enacting make-believe death. Although dam building is ostensibly less violent, it is similarly about power and control. Frank recognizes that water is more powerful than he is, or will ever be, but he still gets a thrill from momentarily diverting it. Additionally, Frank’s construction of miniature villages fulfills the same violent, sadistic urges that cause him to blow up toy soldiers when playing war.
Themes
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Related Quotes
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Frank returns home for lunch. Angus is going out, but Frank knows better than to ask where—Angus never gives him a straight answer. After Angus leaves, Frank checks the door to the study. It’s locked, as always.
Frank and Angus are constantly engaged in a power struggle. Each keeps secrets from the other, which gives them some amount of control over their adversary.
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Frank eats lunch, and then goes out to the Rabbit Grounds. He brings his gun, although he notes that he prefers a catapult to a gun. The catapult requires more skill and effort—it is an “Inside thing” that fires differently depending on how he is feeling. In contrast, the gun is an “Outside” thing, accurate regardless of his mood.
For Frank, not all violence is created equal. He doesn’t often kill for the sake of killing. Instead, he enjoys killing as a demonstration of his mood and skill, or for some ritualistic purpose he perceives as being necessary.
Themes
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As he walks to the rabbit grounds, Frank reflects on various relatives of his who have died: Leviticus Cauldhame, who was crushed by a man committing suicide, and Athelwald Trapley, who tried to poison himself with a leaky gas stove, but accidentally set himself on fire.
Although much of Frank’s behavior and many of his thoughts might strike readers as strange, his lack of emotion when recounting the violent deaths of his relatives is especially shocking, and reveals that there is likely something very wrong with him emotionally.
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Frank arrives at the Rabbit Grounds. He notes that local boys used to set snares there, but he would tear them up or put them on walking paths so the snares would instead trip the teens who had placed them. Now, the boys no longer set snares. Frank suspects they’re off “spraying slogans on walls, sniffing glue or trying to get laid.”
Frank has never had many friends, or gotten along with boys his own age. He has little regard for his peers, tormenting them until they leave him alone. It is not a regard for the rabbits’ wellbeing that inspired him, but instead a desire to be left alone to torment rabbits in peace.
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Frank spots a huge male rabbit, or buck, and aims his gun. He accidentally startles it and the buck runs at him. He must take a shot quickly, and only manages to hit its back leg. The buck continues towards Frank and attacks him. It wrestles with Frank in the grass, gnashing its teeth at him and biting his finger. Frank eventually strangles it with his catapult, although the Black Destroyer is broken in the process. Sitting back and catching his breath, Frank knows what he must do. He thinks, “There was no time to waste. There’s only one way to react after something like this”—he must retaliate.
Although Frank was the one to instigate the fight with the buck, he had expected to win easily. Having been injured, and having lost his catapult, he becomes very angry. He doesn’t see the ways in which his own actions enraged the buck—instead he only sees the wrong that has been committed against him, and feels that it must be righted.
Themes
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Frank returns home, trades his rifle for his War Bag, and jogs back to the Rabbit Grounds. He plants bombs in many of the rabbit holes, and shoves a larger one inside the corpse of the buck he had previously killed. He lights the fuses and smiles as the bombs explode. Any rabbits uninjured by the initial blasts Frank lights on fire with his petrol flamethrower.
Although Frank occasionally engages in violence for the sake of violence, this massacre is, in his mind, justifiable retribution. However, the violence is so extreme that readers will see it as a brutal, unnecessary overreaction, which only highlights Frank’s own mental instability.
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Satisfied that his catapult is “avenged,” Frank re-christens the hill Black Destroyer Hill. Frank has a “lovely sated feeling,” and returns home, wondering “what lessons were to be learned, what signs to be read in it all.”
By renaming the hill, as well as massacring the rabbits, Frank feels he has regained control he lost in the fight with the buck. As he often does, he looks for signs in the violence, and wonders if he can somehow see the future through the actions of the present.
Themes
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Frank emotionlessly recalls another dead relative—his uncle Harmsworth Stove, who killed himself after Frank killed his daughter, Frank’s cousin, Esmerelda.
Although Frank loves his brother, in most cases family means nothing to him. He does not care about someone simply because they are a relative.
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Back at home in bed that night, Frank wonders what the events of the day meant. The Factory has taught him to observe patterns, “from the smaller to the greater,” and so he looks for meanings in his massacre of the rabbits. Frank is sure the buck was a “Sign,” but believes the sign was not only the animal, but also Frank’s “furious, almost unthinking” violent response.
Frank looks for patterns and signs in the world around him. It is essentially the only way that he finds meaning in his life. Often, the search for meaning comes from violence, as the Factory and the Sacrifice Poles (as their name implies) require the death of animals to work.
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Frank recalls the first time he killed another person. This act of violence was also related to rabbits—one summer his cousin, Blyth, was visiting and murdered Frank and Eric’s pet rabbits with a flamethrower that Eric had invented. Eric, a sensitive child, was inconsolably upset. Frank, in retaliation for both the death of the rabbits and the grief of his brother, decided to kill Blyth.
Frank is more easily spurred to violence than the average child or teen, which is especially clear when his childhood behavior is contrasted with Eric’s. Eric was an especially gentle child, while Frank was violent from the start. Although family means nothing to Frank, he loves Eric, and will do anything for him, including enacting revenge on anyone who hurts him.
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The next summer Blyth returned. Still unpleasant, he was now missing his left leg below the knee (replaced with a prosthetic), having lost it in a road accident. One day Blyth, Eric, and Paul, Frank’s little brother, were relaxing in a meadow. Blyth had taken off his prosthetic leg and fallen asleep. Frank was wandering the island and found an adder. He immediately knew what he wanted to do with it, catching it and stuffing it into Blyth’s hollow leg.  When Blyth woke from his nap and put on the leg, the snake bit him, and he died quickly but painfully. Frank feigned ignorance, and didn’t tell anyone—not even Eric—about his involvement in Paul’s death.
Frank decided to kill Blyth less because he was upset that Blyth had killed his rabbits, and more because he hated how upset Blyth had made Eric, who Frank loves more than anything else. Although, of all the murders he commits, this one is the easiest for a reader to understand or rationalize, Frank’s immediate decision to murder his cousin nonetheless seems like an extreme response.
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In the present, Frank wakes from his reveries. He observes that Angus hasn’t returned home, but he isn’t concerned. Frank notes his own “ambivalent attitude” towards his father’s wellbeing. He finds the idea of death exciting, but admits that he would miss Angus. Additionally, he doesn’t know what would happen to him legally if Angus died.
While Frank definitely loves his brother and has no emotional attachment to much of his extended family, his relationship to Angus is more complicated. He does not love his father simply because he is his father, but the time they’ve spent together and the effort Angus has put into raising his son have left some kind of positive, if not loving, impression.
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As he falls asleep, Frank thinks about the three murders he’s committed in his life: Blyth, then Paul, two years later, and then his little cousin Esmerelda the year after that. Frank remarks that he doesn’t “intend to [kill] ever again. It was just a stage I was going through.”
Frank’s emotionless reflections upon the murders in his past paint him as a kind of sociopath. Still, he doesn’t see himself as a cold-blooded, out-of-control killer, as he’s satisfied with the death he’s inflicted and doesn’t plan to kill again.
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