Octavian Nothing The Pox Party

(Revolutionary Times) written in 2006


M. T. Anderson (author) won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature for The Pox Party (first book in Octavian Nothing series) in 2006 when the book was first published. It was also named a Pritz Honor Book when it won the Michael L. Pritz award.

"And then they imprisoned me in darkness; and though there was no color there, I still was black, and they still were white; and for that, they bound and gagged me."

This quote shows the prejudice against Africans of that time period. It shows the inhumanity that most Africans experienced from white citizens, especially those who were supportive of slavery.
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"It boots us nothing to feel rage for things that long ago transpired. We must curb our fury and allow sadness to diminish, and speak our stories with coolness and deliberation."

This quote is meant to say that one cannot dwell on things of the past because they've already happened and can never be changed. By dwelling on past experiences, one gains nothing but loses everything: their peace of mind, their mind, even their freedom. This dwelling becomes yet another chain holding one down.

This lesson was taught to Octavian after his whipping and he learned about other injustices in the world--slavery and torture.

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"A man is known by his deeds." - "Just like a house is known by its deeds. The deeds say who owns it, who sold it, and who'll be buying a new one when it gets knocked down."

By saying this, Bono opens Octavian's eyes to what he really is: property. To the people who study him, he is nothing but an experiment. He is not a child, nor a man, but something they can use to study and benefit themselves, and once he dies, they will find a replacement.

This shows how people of the era viewed Africans and how little they meant in the grand scheme of things.

Like the American Revolution, Octavian's life was an uphill battle for hope, dignity, and freedom. Instead of being known because of his master (or the state of Great Britain) he wishes to be known for himself by his own name, thus beginning his own "revolution".

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The main character in this novel is Octavian. He was raised in an educational institution as part of an experiment to analyze the development of an infant to an adolescent and study the intellect of the African race to see if it is equal to that of the European race. When the college is purchased by new investors who send a delegate, Mr. Sharpe, to the college to supervise everything, he oversees Octavian's studies and changes them. He also forces Octavian to do more servant-like chores and whips him repeatedly. This is because the people he works for wish to disprove the idea that Africans are just as capable as whites are to be productive members of society.

The main conflict in this novel is Octavian's fight for freedom. He attempts to solve this problem by running away but cannot be free because of the color of his skin. The people at the college later find him and bind him in shackles. He eventually solves this problem with the help of an academician named Dr. Trefusis who poisons Mr. Sharpe and another man who wish to contain Octavian. After they are poisoned, Dr. Trefusis and Octavian escape to another town to hide. This is Octavian's key to freedom, but will he remain free?

A major point in the novel is that the things that bind us eventually become us. Octavian even says that the shackles that held him became a part of him because they were there so long. If you are unwilling to fight against your chains, you become used to them and they will forever be a part of you. It takes a strong person to go against the "authority" that imprisons them, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional. Sometimes the prisoner is also the warden.

Why is this book interesting?

1) The main character in this book is under the assumption that he is free even though the academicians of the college control his every move and record everything he does; even his poop. This makes the book interesting because while all of the other slaves and servants know what is going on, he doesn't and it gives him a sense of innocence that is later stolen from him when when Mr.Sharpe shows up.

2) Lord Cheldthorpe's proposal to buy Octavian and his mother. What really makes this scene truly astonishing is Octavian's mother's reaction to Cheldthorpe's proposal. Instead of saying yes and celebrating she shouts at him and says she will not go unless she is free and they are married. Being a former African princess, she wants the respect due a princess of any nation and refuses to corrupt her royal line. She takes a stand for herself and all women, thus showing that women are not merely pawns for men to toy with and that they deserve respect and honor.

3) The death of Octavian's mother is an interesting turning point in the story because it is was finally drives him over the edge. She died from smallpox during the Pox Party for which the book is named. With her gone, he had no reason to stay at the college to be abused. He saw her death as a new beginning, one in which he was not an experiment; thus he ran. He left and was on his own. This was his first "lone wolf" experience without anyone making decisions for him or recording his every move.

4) When Dr. Trefusis poisoned Mr. Sharpe and Mr. Gitney. This was a plot twist to me that added last burst of excitement before the end. I knew Trefusis cared for Octavian but I did not think he would take any action. This act of heroism finally gave Octavian the sense of freedom he'd been after, but it left one question: why didn't Trefusis kill them? Why did only give them enough to render them unconscious?

History in the Novel

The Transit of Venus

In this novel, the academicians head off into the wilderness to observe the Transit of Venus where Venus is in perfect alignment with the earth and the sun. This is a historical event which happens twice every hundred years, give or take. The one they would have observed would be the one that happened in 1769.

The Boston Tea Party

In this novel, Octavian and the academicians flee the city of Boston and go to a country house because of conflict in the city. One such event mentioned is the Boston Tea Party in which the Sons of Liberty dump English tea into the Boston harbor.

Siege of Boston

In this novel, Octavian was temporarily a part of the rebel army that fought the British in the American Revolution and the Battle of Bunker Hill. The militiamen of the US trapped the British army in the city of Boston after they gained control of the harbor.


Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I rank it a 4 out of 5 stars because of the interesting turning points and characters. I, however, did not enjoy the letters from the soldier who was in the company of Octavian. The language confused me and was tough to read, and I also felt some of the information was redundant and added nothing to the plot. However, I felt a deep connection the characters and was deeply saddened when Cassiopeia was killed because it was heartbreaking to witness the deterioration of Octavian. I felt empathy for him and I felt his rage and hate, but I also felt his happiness and security.

This novel gave me a new perspective on the great Revolutionary war and I strongly recommend it to those who are into history and new perspectives.

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Book Trailer: Octavian Nothing Volume I: The Pox Party