1. Write a detailed synopsis of the story.
The short story called “Billenium”, written by J G Ballard, is set in the future. During
that moment, the population had increased three times its number, so the world
didn’t have enough space for everyone: people had to adapt in cubicles. The rules in
that times were like this: if you were single, you could only have one cubicle, but if
you wanted more space, you must get married and have three kids. John Ward and
Henry Rossiter were close friends who discovered a hidden room, which was a
symbol of freedom. They used that extra space and filled it with heavy furniture
because they couldn't deal with emptiness. They bought a wardroom which refers to
the Victorian age. Later, Rossiter wanted to invite their girlfriends to share the room.
The girls, later on, took their families to the cubicle to take advantage of the space.
Finally, they had to remove their wardroom, which represents the shattering of
illusions, in order to have more space.
2. Discuss the theme of overpopulation and the effect it has on both the
way of life and quality of life of the inhabitants of the city.
The impact of overpopulation on people’s lives were the followings:
➔ People were contributing to overpopulation since if they wanted more room,
they would have to get married and have three kids. The problem with this
was that population never stopped growing. It was ironic.
➔ The people had to live in very small cubicles and with the population growing,
those cubicles were getting smaller.
➔ People had neck issues because they didn't had space enough to have a
conversation face to face.
➔ The inhabitants of the city didn't have a kitchen or a bathroom on their own,
the buildings had community ones.
➔ The city, the street and the bars were overcrowded.
➔ Cubicles were expensive, not everyone could afford one since they were in
➔ People couldn't have a decent life, it wasn't good for them living the way they
did for the reasons we mentioned above.
3. The quest for living space has become an overriding obsession with the
people of the city. Discuss this theme in detail. Include in your answer
some discussion of the ways in which Ballard makes the quest for
space dominate the characters’ lives.
Overpopulation caused that people had to live in smaller places, the people got used
to live in cubicles. In the story, everyone complained when the cubicles had to be
smaller, but at the end, they adapted to live in those small places. Ballard thought
that space dominated the characters, as everybody was complaining when the
cubicles were getting smaller, but everybody ended adapting.
4. What sort of relationship does Ballard put forward between the inner
world of the individual (as represented by Ward and Rossiter) and the
outer world in which they live. In other words, how does Ballard
conceptualise the effect of surviving daily life in a hopelessly
overcrowded city on the consciousness of the individual as
demonstrated by the ways in which Ward and Rossiter manage the gift
of space in the secret room they discover?
Rossiter and Ward hate the way they had to live and the fact that their society was
overcrowded. For example, Ward hate landlords, but at the end, he end up being
one of them. They can't change the order of things because they are trapped in their
5. In the story, Ballard does attempt some sort of explanation of the social,
political and economic causes of the extreme overpopulation that has
beset the world. Explain his views as they are presented in the story.
Ballard wrote this story in a very ironic way. For example, the main problem of
overpopulation was that people were having many kids and therefore they were
much more people who wanted to buy a house. So the logical thing to do, is to put a
law claiming that women could only have one child or something of that sort. But
they stated a law which says that you had to have three kids in order to have a
bigger cubicle. This issue was completely affecting the population, so it doesn’t have
sense. Overpopulation affected more than just the space, it affected the economy,
politics and the inhabitants. As for the streets, traffic had increased a lot, the
sidewalks were crowded
6. Do you agree with his argument? Do you think that current population
growth projections indicate that we are likely to end up in the situation
portrayed in the story?
We actually think that we could end up in this situation, because if the government
restricts the quantity of children that people can have, then there would be more old
people than adults in the future. And if this happens, the economy of the country is
going to go backwards! Because the economically active population is going to be
less than the ones who are in their sixties. So it will be impossible to feed that
population with such a different amount of people.
7. Describe and analyse Ward’s character in some detail. What values does
he hold? Why does Ballard make use of this type of character as the
main character for this story?
Ward is the middle aged protagonist of Billenium. He works as a librarian and shares
the living space with Henry Rossiter. He is passive compared to Rossiter. Ward is
more sensitive to beauty and is more disturbed when the Victorian wardrobe is
destroyed to make more space, since it symbolized the slow destruction of the world.
He despises the greedy owners who reduce the size of the cubicles so that there is
no space for him to walk without stumbling. But by the end, he becomes an
important landlord himself when he finds the empty room.
8. What role does Rossiter play in the story?
Rossiter is very different from Ward though they are close friends. He is more
aggressive in his approach and persuades Ward to let their girlfriends into the spare
room. This is a disastrous move as the girls bring in their families too. Rossiter is not
sensitive to beauty and sacrifices the one thing that symbolizes beauty in their lives,
the Victorian wardrobe.
9. Describe the role of the female characters in the story.
The female characters in the story are Helen and Judith. The role they took in
Billenium was as Rossiter's friends and Ward’s workmates. They lived with them,
since they previously had an argument with the landlords of the cubicles. They took
their families with them into the cubicle that Ward and Rossiter found. Because of
this, they had to remove their wardroom, which represents the shattering of illusions,
in order to have more space.
10.Discuss the effects that overpopulation and its attendant ills has had on
the nature of family life in relation to Ward’s family as well as Judith and
Helen’s family relationships.
At that time, having a family was beneficial. Though they were trapped in that
horrible and hard reality, if you have a family, you were able to have a bigger cubicle,
as the law states. However, overpopulation was a difficult problem to solve.
11.What does the secret room symbolised in the story?
The secret room symbolised a leak to escape: it is a symbol of freedom. They filled it
with heavy furniture since they can't deal with emptiness.
12.Why do you think Ward and Rossiter are unable to keep the gift of space
to themselves? Is Ballard making a comment on how our inner world
ultimately reflects the shape of the external world in which we live?
Ward and Rossiter were unable to keep the gift of space to themselves because they
were trapped in their culture. They were used to live in small cubicles, that they
couldn’t have a huge one just for themselves. They had to share it. They were
framed and limited minds. Ballard was trying to express that our inner world
ultimately reflected the shape of the external world in which we live, by making this
13.What sort of living arrangement do they eventually end up allowing (and
accommodating to) in their secret room?
The fact that they are humans and humans can adapt to different surfaces, they
ended up adapting in the small cubicles. They started thinking that living in a small
place was normal, so Rossiter and Ward invited their girlfriends and their families to
the secret room.
14.Discuss Ballard’s style and language in the story? Consider also in what
ways it is appropriate to the nature of the story being told.
The author uses third person narrative. Words are chosen to highlight the cramped
cubicles in which people live their lives, for example, “ ‘Three square meters!’ Ward
sat up and looked around him. ‘It’s unbelievable’ the world is going insane, Rossiter’
” There is no privacy or comfort. Describing Ward’s cubicle, the narrator says
“partition pressed against his knees and he could hardly move”.
Have a look at this video and compare it to the short story we have read!!
(Thanks Alina Claps for sharing this video!!)
The video is about tiny apartments called “playground”. This apartments are very
little and practical. For instance, the bed is in the wall, but if you put it down it is a
bed. It is similar at the story we have read because both of them are little
apartments. Only that the ones in Billenium are much smaller. We really do not like
this video. First because it is claustrophobic and then because this video seems to
be preparing us to the time when overpopulation appears in the world
By: Rosario Segura, Maria Roggero and Victoria Landolfo