Study Guide

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party What's Up With the Title?

By M.T. Anderson

What's Up With the Title?

Before we get started, we figure we should write the title out in all its glory, since it's so long that mostly we just refer to the book as Octavian Nothing.Ready, Shmoopsters? Here it is: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume 1: The Pox Party.

Need a moment to catch your breath? We totally understand.

The thing about this title, though, is that it's not nearly as complicated as it might seem at first. The first part—The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing—is pretty darn straightforward. The book is about Octavian's, well, astonishing life. As for the Nothing component, well, Octavian can't very well call himself Gitney, can he? That's the name of the man who bought him, so keeping it as his own maintains the ties of ownership. So instead he calls himself Nothing, and in doing so, refers to the lack of history and family he has in addition to claiming ownership of himself.

We don't know for certain, but we've got a hunch that this name might get formalized in Volume 2. Remember, there's much more to come in the next installment of Octavian's saga. We'll say the same about the Traitor to the Nation part, too, since at this point, England's still officially running the show. As the story ends, though, the United States is on the brink of being born… and Octavian hopes to land a position in the British military orchestra.

As far as the Pox Party is concerned, it references the major turning point for Octavian in this installment of his life story. It is the pox party that leads to his mother's death, and in doing so lays bare for Octavian the stakes of a life of enslavement. It is the thing that catalyzes him away from the College for good, and in doing so, truly sets his coming of age in motion.

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