The Day of the Triffids is often considered a ‘cosy catastrophe’ where people of Britain fret about the end of the world while sitting around and drinking tea. It is, to many, as quaint as a greyhound sleeping by the fire in a country pub.By the end of this article, I’m hoping you’ll see just why the Day of the Triffids is actually pretty dark and weirdly cutting edge.
The blind are the real danger
If you hadn’t read the Day of the Triffids before you would be forgiven for thinking it is the Triffids that pose the biggest threat to humanity, but it’s not, it’s the newly blind. There are even scenes where the characters try and hide from the blind in the way humans hide from zombies in pretty much all zombie movies. While those who were blind before the disaster are used to living in a world not designed for the sightless the newly blind have no such skills. They also vastly outnumber everyone else. Initially, our protagonist believes that those who can should look after the blind. He is soon disabused of this notion when he comes to the realisation that this can only ever be a short term solution.
Think about how truly brutal this is. There is nothing evil or for the most part dangerous about the newly blind, they are simply unfortunate. Yet in order to survive the sighted humans must kill their compassion and leave the blind to their fate. This is reminiscent of scenes in many apocalypse horrors where the survivors have to decide whether to help someone in danger or who has some physical disadvantage. In the Day of the Triffids those who try to help, die.
The only newly blind it is considered worth saving are women of childbearing age. For in a world dominated by man eating plants, a ladies uterus is one of the most valuable resources. Which brings us, in a round about way, to my next point.
Society is a construct
For a novel often put in the cosy catastrophe genre The Day of the Triffids is pretty upfront in it’s disregarding of societies norms. For example: the idea of monogamy goes straight out of the window in the first few chapters. If you have what is effectively a massive reduction of the useful population then you need to repopulate, and fast. This leads to the conclusion that monogamy has to go. There is some dissension voiced in the novel but one of the characters bluntly says that marriage is a construct for use in a society that is now dead. This sort of point is normally made by the bad guys in the apocalypse genre, with the heroes clinging onto their values in the belief that they are somehow more important in a post apocalyptic world. In the Day of the Triffids it does not end well for those who do not understand that they will have to leave their old ways behind.
This may seem like quite a brave point for a book published in the fifties to make, but given that it was being released into a society that had lived through two world wars it is very probable that it is our society that has idealised marriage and the current ‘rules’ by which we live.
You’re not going back to living on the land
The protagonist in Day of The Triffids comes across many attempts to set up new little societies. They are often trying to live small scale agrarian lives and the author is scathing of all of them. The author, probably correctly, points out that the types of agrarian communities you often find in apocalyptic literature and movies are living on borrowed time.
One bad harvest? You’re all dead.
Outbreak of infection? You’re all dead.
Can’t forge your own tools? You’re all dead and feeling a little stupid.
The Day of the Triffids is topical – again
The cause of the outbreak of blindness is never given, but it is strongly suggested to involve some of the satellites orbiting silently above us. The triffids themselves are suggested to be part of a Soviet plot. These ideas were topical in the 50s and are right back in vogue again. In fact the idea of satellites being used for nefarious purposes is, if anything, more likely than before. And while Putin isn’t creating killer plant monsters in some Russian laboratory; if he could, he would.
If you like articles that take a look at classic science fiction then you should check out our classic science fiction section, which is full of second looks at great sci-fi. You may also like our list of must-read science fiction novels.
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