The Wasp Factory

by

Iain Banks

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The Wasp Factory: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day Frank visits his injured friend, Jamie. Frank then walks into the hills behind the town, where he eats lunch alone.
Frank’s friendship with Jamie is genuinely sweet and selfless.
Themes
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Although Frank loves the island, he likes getting away from it sometimes to gain a sense of perspective. Still, he has no desire to every be out of sight of his home. Frank explains “I know my limitations,” and readily admits his “need for reassurance and safety in a world which just so happened to treat me very cruelly at an age before I had any real chance of affecting it.” Additionally, Frank saw Eric leave the island and lose his mind, and treats this as a cautionary tale.
One of Frank’s governing rules and superstitions is that the island is the only safe place in the world. As a child without a birth certificate. Angus likely told Frank to stay close to home, but seeing Eric leave the island and lose his mind likely cemented in Frank’s mind the danger of the wider world.
Themes
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Although Eric has undergone an “alternation” Frank still loves him. He compares this to how Eric loves him despite his “disability.” Frank sees this as a desire to protect someone weaker “which women are supposed to feel for the young and men are meant to feel for women.”
Frank’s love for his brother often manifests in a desire to protect him. Frank sees Eric as weaker and more feminine (two qualities he believes go hand in hand), and as someone stronger and masculine he much watch out for him.
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Eric primarily lived on the mainland until Frank was three, at which point he returned full time. Frank loved it when Eric was home, and was upset when he was old enough to leave the island again for private school. The brothers spent every summer together, playing, building, and inventing. Eric was always kind to Frank. The only times he upset his little brother were when they would play a game and Eric would play dead, killed in some make-believe war. Frank hated to imagine his brother dying. When Eric was occasionally bedridden because of a migraine Frank suffered too. Everything seemed “pointless” to him when Eric was ill.
Eric and Frank’s relationship has always been loving. Although they are half brothers, and didn’t live together until Eric was six and Frank was three, they quickly made up for lost time. Throughout the novel Frank often seems incapable of sadness or emotion, but he clearly is capable of some empathy, as demonstrated by how upset he would become when Eric would play-dead, or get truly sick. 
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When Eric left the island to train to become a doctor Frank was upset, but couldn’t blame his brother. He explains, “he was my brother, he was doing what he had to do.” Additionally, Eric never suspected or blamed Frank for the murders of their relatives, and so Frank feels he owes him a kind of reciprocal courtesy.
Frank strangely equates his forgiveness of Eric for growing up and leaving the island as similar to the courtesy Eric paid him by never suspecting him for the murder of their brother and cousins.
Themes
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When Eric returned after his first year away at school Frank could feel he had changed. He was now an adult playing with Frank, a child. Frank felt this loss acutely. He believed his castration would keep him “in my adolescent state for ever.” He believes he will never “grow up and be a real man, able to make my way in the world” in the way that Eric has. To cope with his loss of Eric, and his newfound realization that he would never grow up in the way his brother has, Frank made himself “unchallenged lord of the island.”
Frank often thinks about his castration, but Eric’s transition to adulthood revealed to him an entirely new loss — the impossibility of (hormonally at least) ever being an adult man. Frank sees adulthood as tied to sexual development, which he will never have. To make up for the lack of control he has over his own body, Frank instead decides to work on controlling his homeland.
Themes
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During Eric’s second year he had his “unfortunate experience.” Frank describes this as a complete reinvention of Eric’s personality — he was “satanically reversed,” “an adult damaged and dangerous, confused and pathetic and manic all at once.”
Unlike Frank, who was born insane, or else altered at a young age by his castration and has never been any other way, Eric’s switch from sanity to insanity was sudden and severe.
Themes
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Eric was already struggling at school romantically and academically. However, the incident occurred at a local hospital where he helped nurses on the late shift. He watched over one ward for very young, very sick children, many of whom were born with deformities. One night he was feeding a child with severe disabilities, who, on the best days, was barely responsive. This child had to wear a metal hat over the thin skin on its head where its brain plates had failed to grow together. The child was especially unresponsive on this particular evening, and Eric, seeing something strange on its head, lifted the metal had to discover maggots had made their way under the plate to consume the child’s brain.
Earlier in the novel Frank implied that there was a connection between Eric’s migraines, the fact that his mother died in childbirth because of Eric’s large head, and “What Happened to Eric.” He thinks there is significance in the fact that all these aspects of Eric’s life involve heads. Frank loves patterns, but in reality, Eric was likely worn down by the stress of school and work, and pushed over the edge by his truly horrible discovery.
Themes
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Seeing this, Eric was immediately devastated. Already unstable, he was discovered in a corner screaming, the child laying on the floor with a spoon stuck into its open head. Eric was sedated and cared for as a patient for a few days. He was eventually sent back to school, but could not recover — drinking, missing class, and eventually, when the school suggested he take time off, setting his books on fire in front of his tutor’s office. Eric returned to the island but was not the same as before. Frank was suddenly frightened of him. At first, Eric would start fights in public or else lock himself in his room. Eventually he started trying to feed local kids worms and maggots. Additionally, local dogs had been disappearing, and Eric was spotted lighting one on fire.
The spoon in the child’s head was probably to clean out the maggots. Just as Eric’s entire personality was reconfigured by this trauma, so was the trauma reconfigured in his mind. He went from trying to save a child from maggots, to trying to feed children maggots. Although he was unable to save Frank from castration when they were children, now Eric sets dogs on fire in some attempt to undo, or take revenge for, his little brother’s mutilation.
Themes
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Soon after that Diggs came to arrest Eric, but Eric hid out, first for three days, and then, when he returned, for another week. He was eventually caught, imprisoned, and certified as insane. His threats and violence towards the staff at the institutions guaranteed he was moved into increasingly secure facilities. But for a while he was calm, and now he has escaped. Frank suspects Eric was purposefully trying to “lull his keepers into a false sense of security.”
Although much of Eric’s behavior was clearly insane (burning dogs, feeding maggots to children), he maintained enough of his facilities to evade capture. Frank even suspects that Eric has been plotting his escape for months, behaving well so that he would be monitored less carefully, and would have an opportunity to escape again.
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From his perch on the mainland Frank looks out with his binoculars. He feels that Eric is nearby, but does not spot him. Frank begins to walk across the hills.
Frank continues to love his brother and feel connected to him, even sensing that he is close — a hunch that feels almost mystical.
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Frank passes some sheep, and reflects that he used to hate sheep for their “profound stupid[ity].” Now, he sees that sheep represent, “not their own stupidity, but [humankind’s] power, our avarice and egotism.” Humans bred sheep to be “docile, frightened, tasty wool-producers.” Frank believes this theory applies to other domesticated animals. He wonders if it can be applied to women, too, but admits it probably cannot be.
Frank sees, for maybe the first time, a downside of absolute power and absolute control. It can corrupt the object, animal, or person upon which power is being enacted. Frank tries to tie this newfound revelation into his theory of sex and gender, trying to justify scientifically or philosophically why women are inferior, but he fails.
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