The Wasp Factory Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 32 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of The Wasp Factory.
This section contains 690 words
(approx. 2 pages at 400 words per page)
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The Wasp Factory Summary & Study Guide Description

The Wasp Factory Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

The novel by Iain Banks, "The Wasp Factory" tells the story of 16-year-old Frank Cauldhame. He lives on an island (unnamed) off the cost of Scotland with his father, Angus. Frank has no official status. He has no birth certificate and no national insurance card. At the direction of his father, he must tell anyone who asks that he is the nephew of Angus—not the son.

Angus seems to be somewhat concerned and protective of Frank. He always insists on cooking and makes all of Frank's meals. Angus keeps some things from Frank. He has a study that he keeps locked and has cautioned Frank against entering—although Frank tries the door every time his father leaves. What is the secret behind that door? Angus was a scientist before his retirement so Frank assumes that his father is conducting some kind of chemical experiments.

Frank has many secrets of his own. He routinely kills and mutilates small animals and uses them in his bizarre rituals. Located on the third floor loft of their home is what Frank has dubbed The Wasp Factory. His arthritic father is unable to climb the stairs leading to the loft so he does not know that it exists. Frank designed and constructed the factory, made from a large salvaged city clock and other items. The device is enclosed in glass and aligned with each number of the clock face is a corridor. A live wasp is placed inside the device. It is not large enough for the wasp to fly so in an effort to get out, he walks down one of the corridors seeking a way out. As soon as the wasp passes that threshold, his fate is sealed. He will either meet his death being burned to death, eaten by ants, bitten by a poisonous spider, eaten by a Venus Fly Trap or other terrible ends.

When Frank consults the Wasp Factory, he receives an answer or a prediction by applying the wasp's fate to a person. Between the ages of 6 and 9, Frank murders three relatives. He kills a boy cousin, a girl cousin and his own little brother. He murders them in the manners dictated by the Wasp Factory.

Frank lives an isolated life on the island and misses his brother Eric, who has been committed to an mental institution. At the beginning of the book, Eric escapes and is not seen until the very end although he makes frequent, bizarre telephone calls to Frank throughout the story. Eric had been a brilliant medical student who went insane after witnessing a horrible incident occurring to a hospitalized child with profound birth defects—its skull was basically missing. When he pushed the temporary flap back over the brain, he saw that maggots were eating the child's brain after which Eric spirals into insanity.

When Frank was three years old, the family dog mauled him and chewed off his genitals. He was understandably bitter and angry but had become a soldier and killer to out-man the men who could procreate.

There is a major twist at the conclusion of the story. Frank finally sneaks into the study and finds a set of tiny genitals preserved in a jar of liquid. He also finds male hormones and other mysterious items. He confronts his father who finally admits that the genitals in the jar are made of plastic. Frank was actually a girl, a perfectly formed female. When the dog attacked her, Angus used the opportunity to rid his life of women. He told Frank that he was a boy and that the dog chewed his sex organs off. He put hormones in his food everyday to stimulate beard growth and prevent menstrual periods.

All the killing, mutilation, lies, secrets, fears and anger were all for naught. The Wasp Factory was a fraud. Frank's father taught him to hate women but ironically he turned out to be a woman. In the end, Frances finds Eric asleep on a hill. Eric, who had escaped from the hospital to see his brother, would soon be awake to meet his sister.

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This section contains 690 words
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