Study Guide

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party Part 1, Chapter 2

By M.T. Anderson

Part 1, Chapter 2

  • Octavian's going to give us the rundown of his upbringing, and—let's just say—it's not for the faint of heart.
  • He begins by introducing the men of the house—a group of scientific philosophers led by this guy called Mr. Gitney (or 03-01).
  • These guys are the ones who raise and educate Octavian. Octavian, by the way, never wonders why (as a kid) he doesn't have a biological dad or why his mom and he are the only ones with actual names. (He's Octavian, which you already know; she's Cassiopeia.)
  • Mr. Gitney hands off Octavian's super-classical education (Greek, Latin, math, botany, music) to the other men in the house.
  • These men kind of act like tutors, but they're more than that since they're also artists, scientists, poets, etc.—in other words, super-nerds of olden times. They also don't live in the house exactly; they just visit the house all the time, staying there for days or weeks.
  • These guys are also into painting—especially Cassiopeia in all sorts of ways, including nude.
  • A variety of experiments are done in the house, and a lot of these experiments involve living things.
  • There's one door Octavian's not allowed to pass through.
  • He knows this because they tell him and there's also a drawing of Octavian's face, with skulls drawn over it, on the door. Yeah—not subtle.
  • Octavian doesn't go out much.
  • In fact, Mr. 03-01 is all about hiding him and tells him to stay hidden or else he'll be taken away from his mother. Nice guy, that Mr. 03-01.
  • Octavian tells us he sees himself as a quiet, serious kid—about as serious as his mother is cheery and smiley.
  • Which she is—all the time—especially for the men who come to the house.
  • Then Octavian explains why Mr. Gitney calls himself 03-01.
  • Mr. Gitney's all into creating a numerical naming system so that the world can be more rational, and 03 refers to the fact that he's of the third family (the Gitneys), while 01 refers to his position as the head of the household.
  • 01-01, by the way, would refer to the King of Great Britain; 01-02, the Queen; 01-03, the next in line, the Prince of Wales, etc.
  • 02-01 happens to refer to the Earl of Cheldthorpe, a major patron of the house (in other words, a majorly important guy, who's even more of a head honcho than Mr. Gitney).
  • Cassiopeia, for one, never really points out how strange this whole situation is, but Octavian thinks she probably gets it.
  • He wonders, in fact, how his mom would have smiled if they didn't live in that house.
  • He also doesn't ask why he and his mom aren't numbered; he thinks it's because his mom is supposed to be of "royal blood"—like a real queen even.
  • Anyway, back to the men, who, by the way, call themselves the "Novanglian College of Lucidity." (Sounds cultish, huh?)
  • Octavian points out how classical his education is again, and then he launches into an example of how good an observer he was taught to be.
  • Hang on here—this is some freaky stuff.
  • Octavian observes the men: pet a dog and then time its drowning; calculate how high cats can be dropped without being able to save themselves; take a special-needs kid and beat her until she's nearly fainted because she can't use verbs.
  • Because of all of these incidents, Octavian becomes really good at "observing"—without moving—a bare wall for hours.
  • One time, 03-01 asks what Octavian has observed, staring at the wall.
  • Octavian tells him "nothing," but 03-01 points out that that's impossible, so Octavian says he watched a daddy longlegs.
  • 03-01 wants to know what he hypothesized.
  • Octavian tells him that he hypothesized whether a daddy longlegs was the same thing as a spider.
  • So 03-01 asks Octavian to prove the hypothesis through a syllogism.
  • Octavian doesn't say anything at first, so his mom jumps in and gives him the first phrase: spiders have eight legs.
  • Octavian continues the proof by pointing out that daddy longlegs have eight legs, so daddy longlegs must be spiders.
  • But 03-01 says that's wrong because Cassiopeia's point—that spiders have eight legs—is wrong, and this is why Octavian can't have his dinner (which 03-01 gives to the dog).
  • Cassiopeia's not happy about this.
  • But 03-01 tells Octavian that he shouldn't listen to his mom so much in the future—Cassiopeia jumps in though, saying that Octavian's her son.
  • Not really though; 03-01 tells them that Octavian "belongs to all of us."
  • Octavian "observes" all of this and goes to his room (without dinner, of course).
  • He also wonders who has all the power in the house and who doesn't have any.

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