State of Wonder

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“State of Wonder” is a captivating novel by Ann Patchett, an author renowned for her intricate storytelling and deep character development. Published in 2011, this book takes readers on an enthralling journey into the heart of the Amazon rainforest. Patchett, who has penned several bestsellers, weaves a tale that explores themes of discovery, ethics, and the complex relationships between mentors and protégés. Falling into the genre of literary fiction, “State of Wonder” challenges its readers to consider the boundaries of science, the depths of human endurance, and the power of love. 🌳📚

Ann Patchett, with her eloquent prose and keen insight into human nature, has once again created a world that feels as real as it is mysterious. The novel not only entertains but also prompts readers to reflect on their own values and the dilemmas of modern life. Whether you’re a fan of adventure, a lover of literature, or someone who revels in the exploration of human relationships, “State of Wonder” is a journey you won’t want to miss. 🚣‍♀️💖

Plot Summary

“State of Wonder” begins with a mystery — Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company in Minnesota, learns that her colleague, Anders Eckman, has died under mysterious circumstances in the Amazon. He had been sent to check on the progress of a revolutionary fertility drug being developed by the formidable Dr. Annick Swenson, who has been incommunicado for years. Marina is then tasked by her boss (and lover), Mr. Fox, to find out what happened to Anders and to obtain a progress report from Dr. Swenson.

— Marina’s journey takes her to Manaus, Brazil, where she experiences the shock of a new culture and the daunting reality of her mission. The narrative builds as Marina moves deeper into the Amazon rainforest, finally locating Dr. Swenson and her research team in a remote tribal village. Here, Marina uncovers the truth about the fertility drug, which allows women of the Lakashi tribe to conceive well into old age.

— The climax of the novel occurs when Marina learns that Anders is not dead but was instead gravely ill and kept in the village by Dr. Swenson. Marina is faced with ethical dilemmas surrounding Dr. Swenson’s research methods and the impact of the fertility drug on the tribe and potentially the world.

— The falling action revolves around Marina’s decision to administer a treatment to Anders, her attempt to reconcile with the consequences of the research, and her internal struggle with her own past, including a traumatic experience during her medical residency under Dr. Swenson’s supervision.

— The resolution comes as Marina prepares to return to Minnesota with Anders, having confronted her past and made peace with the complexities of the Amazon, its people, and the moral ambiguities of scientific discovery.

“State of Wonder” weaves a dense tapestry of adventure, ethical questions, and deep personal transformation, taking readers on an unforgettable journey that challenges their perceptions of civilization, science, and the natural world.

Character Analysis

Dr. Marina Singh — Marina is the protagonist, a pharmacologist who embarks on a journey to the Amazon to uncover the truth about her colleague’s disappearance and the status of a groundbreaking fertility drug study. Initially, Marina is depicted as cautious and reserved, burdened by the weight of her past failures and uncertainties. Throughout her journey, she faces both physical and emotional challenges that test her limits and ultimately lead to her growth. She becomes more confident, decisive, and open to the complexities of human nature and ethics.

Dr. Annick Swenson — Dr. Swenson is a formidable, enigmatic character who serves as Marina’s mentor. She is leading the fertility drug research in the Amazon with an iron will and a deep commitment to her work, often at the expense of ethical considerations. Swenson is characterized by her intelligence, determination, and lack of transparency, making her both respected and feared. Her character challenges the ethical boundaries of science and the sacrifices made for progress.

Anders Eckman — Anders is introduced through letters and memories, a colleague of Marina who was sent to evaluate Dr. Swenson’s research. His apparent death sets the plot in motion. Later, when discovered alive, Anders embodies the human element of the narrative—his survival and the impact on his family back home bring a personal dimension to the ethical and scientific dilemmas faced by the characters.

Mr. Fox — Mr. Fox is the CEO of the pharmaceutical company and Marina’s lover. He represents the corporate interests driving the research. His character is pragmatic, focused on the outcomes and benefits of the research to the company, yet his relationship with Marina adds depth to his character, revealing vulnerabilities and personal motivations.

Easter — A deaf native boy who becomes an essential part of the story, Easter is under the care of Dr. Swenson. His relationship with Marina highlights the cultural and ethical complexities of the research and its impact on the indigenous population. Easter is a symbol of innocence and the unintended consequences of the clash between scientific ambition and the natural world.

Character Analysis Summary

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsCharacter Development
Dr. Marina SinghCautious, introspectiveTo uncover the truth about Anders and the research; personal growthBecomes more confident and decisive; embraces complexity
Dr. Annick SwensonIntelligent, secretive, determinedTo push scientific boundaries; protect her researchRemains steadfast, but reveals complexities and vulnerabilities
Anders EckmanKind, dedicatedInitially, to evaluate Dr. Swenson’s researchSurvival in the Amazon brings a human element to the narrative
Mr. FoxPragmatic, focusedTo see the research succeed commerciallyShows personal vulnerability and complexities in relationship with Marina
EasterInnocent, caringSeeks connection and belongingSymbolizes the impact of scientific ambition on the natural world

This table summarizes the complex tapestry of characters who, through their interactions and conflicts, explore the moral, ethical, and personal dilemmas at the heart of “State of Wonder”.

Themes and Symbols


Ethics of Science and Exploration: “State of Wonder” delves into the moral dilemmas faced by scientists pushing the boundaries of knowledge in remote and culturally distinct regions. The novel questions the costs of scientific progress and the responsibility of researchers towards their subjects and the natural world.

Mentorship and Personal Growth: The relationship between Dr. Marina Singh and Dr. Annick Swenson explores the dynamics of mentorship, challenge, and personal evolution. Through their complex relationship, the novel examines how mentors can influence the paths of their protégés, for better or worse, and how this relationship contributes to personal growth.

The Mystery and Power of Nature: The Amazon rainforest is depicted not just as a setting, but as a living, breathing entity with its own mysteries and dangers. This theme emphasizes the power of nature, its undiscovered wonders, and the humility and respect it demands from those who seek to explore its depths.

Cultural Collision and Respect: As the characters navigate their interactions with the indigenous tribes, the novel addresses the impact of external influences on traditional cultures. It raises questions about cultural imperialism, the ethics of intervention, and the importance of respect and understanding in cross-cultural relationships.


The Lakashi Tribe and the Fertility Drug: The tribe and their unique fertility capabilities symbolize the untapped and often misunderstood potential of the natural world. The fertility drug represents the double-edged sword of scientific advancement—potential for great benefit but with significant ethical and moral implications.

The Anaconda: Encountered by Marina in the Amazon, the anaconda symbolizes the dangers, mysteries, and the primeval forces of the rainforest. It serves as a metaphor for the challenges and fears Marina must confront and overcome on her journey.

Letters from Anders: The letters sent by Anders before his disappearance serve as a symbol of connection and the human element within the scientific and ethical dilemmas of the story. They remind Marina and the reader of the personal stakes involved in the expedition.

Easter: The deaf native boy, Easter, symbolizes innocence and the unintended consequences of the clash between different worlds. His fate underscores the novel’s themes of responsibility, cultural respect, and the collateral damage of scientific ambition.

These themes and symbols are woven throughout “State of Wonder,” enriching the narrative with layers of meaning that invite readers to reflect on the complexities of scientific discovery, human relationships, and the intersection of different cultures.

Writing Style and Tone

Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder” is celebrated for its rich narrative style and the immersive tone that draws readers into the depths of the Amazon rainforest alongside the protagonist, Marina Singh. Here’s an exploration of Patchett’s writing style and tone:

Lyrical Prose: Patchett employs lyrical prose that captures the beauty and mystery of the Amazon. Her descriptions of the rainforest are vivid and evocative, making the setting a character in its own right. This poetic quality adds depth to the narrative and enhances the reader’s sensory experience.

Detailed Characterization: The characters in “State of Wonder” are deeply developed, with their motivations, vulnerabilities, and complexities laid bare. Patchett’s ability to craft multifaceted characters allows readers to engage with them on an emotional level, understanding their dilemmas and rooting for their growth.

Atmospheric Tone: The tone of the novel is both atmospheric and suspenseful. Patchett masterfully creates a sense of unease and wonder, reflecting the protagonist’s journey into the unknown. The tone shifts subtly to match the narrative’s emotional and ethical landscapes, from the intrigue of scientific discovery to the introspection of personal growth.

Themes of Duality: Patchett’s writing explores themes of duality—science and nature, tradition and modernity, mentorship and independence—with a balanced tone that neither judges nor idealizes. This nuanced approach invites readers to ponder the ethical and moral questions raised by the story.

Shifts in Perspective: While the novel is primarily told from Marina’s point of view, Patchett skillfully shifts perspectives to provide insights into other characters’ thoughts and motivations. These shifts enrich the narrative, offering a more rounded understanding of the story’s complex dynamics.

Economic Use of Dialogue: The dialogue in “State of Wonder” is purposeful and revealing, used sparingly but effectively to advance the plot and develop characters. Patchett’s dialogues are realistic and contribute to the natural flow of the narrative, emphasizing the characters’ personalities and the tension between them.

Patchett’s writing style and tone in “State of Wonder” are integral to the novel’s success, creating an immersive experience.

Literary Devices Used in State of Wonder

  1. Foreshadowing — Ann Patchett uses foreshadowing to hint at future events and build suspense throughout “State of Wonder”. Early mentions of the Amazon’s dangers, both natural and human, set the stage for Marina’s challenges and the ethical dilemmas she faces. This device helps to create an atmosphere of anticipation and unease, priming readers for the novel’s unfolding mysteries.
  2. Imagery — The vivid imagery in “State of Wonder” is crucial for bringing the Amazon rainforest to life. Patchett’s detailed descriptions of the lush landscapes, the sounds of the jungle, and the oppressive humidity immerse readers in the setting. This sensory detail not only enhances the novel’s atmosphere but also underscores the themes of nature’s power and mystery.
  3. Symbolism — Various symbols, such as the fertility drug, the anaconda, and Easter, convey deeper meanings related to the themes of scientific ethics, the clash of cultures, and the unintended consequences of progress. These symbols enrich the narrative, inviting readers to explore the story’s underlying moral and ethical questions.
  4. IronyIrony is used to underscore the contrast between the characters’ intentions and the outcomes of their actions, particularly in the context of the scientific research and its impact. The irony of seeking to control nature, only to be overwhelmed by its unpredictability, highlights the hubris of the characters and the unforeseen consequences of their work.
  5. Metaphor — The Amazon rainforest itself serves as a metaphor for the unknown, the untamable, and the sublime. It represents the vast, uncharted territories of science and the human psyche, challenging the characters to confront their limits and the complexities of ethical decision-making.
  6. Personification — Patchett personifies the Amazon, imbuing it with life and agency. The jungle is depicted as a living, breathing entity that interacts with the characters, shaping their experiences and growth. This personification emphasizes the connection between humans and the natural world, as well as the respect it demands.
  7. Allusion — Throughout “State of Wonder,” Patchett makes allusions to classical mythology and literature, subtly comparing the Amazon’s mysteries and the characters’ journeys to epic quests and moral trials. These references enrich the narrative, adding layers of meaning and inviting readers to draw parallels between the story and broader human themes.
  8. Flashback — Flashbacks are a key device used by Patchett to reveal Marina’s past and her complex relationship with Dr. Swenson. Through these glimpses into Marina’s history, readers gain insight into her motivations, fears, and the events that have shaped her character. Flashbacks also provide context for the dynamics of mentorship and personal growth that are central to the novel.
  9. Juxtaposition — The novel frequently juxtaposes the modern world with the timeless nature of the Amazon, the scientific with the mystical, and the ethical with the unethical. This technique highlights the contrasts and conflicts within the story, emphasizing the dilemmas faced by the characters and the multifaceted nature of human endeavor.
  10. Parallelism — Patchett employs parallelism in the development of her characters and themes, drawing connections between the lives and choices of Marina, Dr. Swenson, and other key figures. This device underscores the recurring motifs of mentorship, the quest for knowledge, and the consequences of ambition, reinforcing the novel’s thematic coherence.
  11. These literary devices are woven throughout “State of Wonder,” enhancing the narrative’s depth and complexity. Patchett’s skillful use of these techniques not only enriches the storytelling but also invites readers to engage with the novel on multiple levels, exploring its themes, characters, and moral questions.

Literary Device Examples


Early references to the unpredictability of the Amazon and its dangersThese hints set the tone for the challenges Marina will face, suggesting that her journey will be fraught with both physical and ethical obstacles.
Mention of Marina’s past experiences with Dr. SwensonSuggests unresolved issues and tensions that will be significant to the story’s development, indicating that Marina’s journey is also one of personal confrontation and growth.
The initial mystery surrounding Anders Eckman’s deathCreates suspense and anticipation, foreshadowing the complexities of the situation Marina will uncover in the Amazon.


Descriptions of the lush, vibrant jungle and its teeming lifeEvokes a sense of wonder and danger, immersing readers in the setting and highlighting the power and mystery of nature.
Vivid portrayal of the Lakashi tribe’s life and customsPaints a detailed picture of the cultural context Marina encounters, emphasizing the novel’s themes of cultural collision and the ethics of scientific research.
The oppressive heat and the dense, tangled vegetation of the AmazonReinforces the challenges and isolation faced by the characters, mirroring their internal struggles and the moral complexities of their endeavors.


The fertility drugRepresents the potential and perils of scientific discovery, raising questions about ethics, progress, and the natural order.
The anaconda encounterSymbolizes the unforeseen dangers and the primal fears that the jungle and the unknown evoke, reflecting Marina’s personal and professional challenges.
Easter, the deaf native boyEmbodies the innocence and unintended consequences of the clash between modern science and traditional cultures, highlighting the human impact of ethical dilemmas.

These examples showcase how Ann Patchett uses literary devices to add depth and nuance to “State of Wonder,” enriching the narrative and inviting readers to explore its complex themes and moral questions.

State of Wonder – FAQs

What is the main plot of “State of Wonder”? The main plot revolves around Dr. Marina Singh, a pharmaceutical research scientist, who travels to the Amazon rainforest to find out what happened to her colleague, Anders Eckman, and to check on the progress of a groundbreaking fertility drug being developed by the elusive Dr. Annick Swenson.

Who is Dr. Annick Swenson in “State of Wonder”? Dr. Annick Swenson is a formidable and secretive researcher leading the development of a revolutionary fertility drug in the Amazon. Her methods and ethics are mysterious and controversial, and she becomes a central figure in Marina’s journey, both professionally and personally.

How does “State of Wonder” explore the theme of ethics in science? The novel delves into ethical dilemmas through the development and potential implications of a fertility drug that allows women to conceive beyond the usual age of fertility. It raises questions about the limits of scientific intervention, the responsibilities of researchers towards their subjects, and the impact of scientific discoveries on indigenous populations and the natural world.

What role does the Amazon rainforest play in the story? The Amazon rainforest is not just a setting but a character in its own right. It represents the unknown, challenging the characters with its dangers, mysteries, and beauty. The rainforest is a backdrop against which themes of nature, discovery, and survival are explored.

How does Ann Patchett develop her characters in “State of Wonder”? Patchett develops her characters with deep psychological insight and detailed backstories. Through their interactions, personal dilemmas, and growth, the characters reveal the novel’s central themes and ethical questions. The characters’ journeys, both physical and emotional, are intricately tied to the novel’s plot and thematic concerns.

What is the significance of the title “State of Wonder”? The title reflects the novel’s exploration of the marvels and dangers of the natural world, the awe-inspiring potential of scientific discovery, and the emotional journeys of the characters. It encapsulates the feelings of amazement, ethical contemplation, and personal transformation experienced by the characters and provoked in the readers.


QuestionABCDCorrect Answer
What motivates Dr. Marina Singh to journey to the Amazon?To start a new lifeTo find Dr. Annick SwensonTo discover a new speciesTo investigate her colleague’s disappearance and report on a drug’s progressD
Who is Dr. Annick Swenson in relation to Marina Singh?Her sisterHer mentor and former professorHer best friendHer rivalB
What is the primary focus of Dr. Swenson’s research in the Amazon?A cure for cancerA revolutionary fertility drugAn antidote for snake bitesA new antibioticB
What symbolizes the dangers and mysteries of the Amazon in the novel?A riverA jaguarAn anacondaA stormC
How does Marina’s character change throughout the novel?She becomes more fearful of the unknownShe resigns from her jobShe grows more confident and decisiveShe loses faith in scienceC
What ethical dilemma is central to “State of Wonder”?Whether to report a colleague’s misconductThe impact of scientific research on indigenous populationsDeciding between career and personal lifeThe use of animals in researchB
Which character is found to be alive after being presumed dead?Dr. Annick SwensonMr. FoxAnders EckmanEasterC
What role does Easter play in the story?He is the antagonistA symbol of innocence and unintended consequencesMarina’s guide through the AmazonThe chief of the Lakashi tribeB
What is a major theme of the novel?The pursuit of wealthLove conquers allEthics of science and explorationThe importance of familyC
What does the fertility drug developed in the Amazon enable?Faster recovery from illnessExtended human lifespanWomen to conceive at older agesIncreased intelligenceC

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of “State of Wonder” and to encourage deeper engagement with the themes, characters, and events of the novel.


Spot the Literary Devices

Read the following paragraph from “State of Wonder” (fabricated for this exercise) and identify the literary devices used:

“In the heart of the Amazon, Marina felt the oppressive heat wrap around her like a thick blanket, stifling her breath and blurring her vision. The jungle whispered secrets in a language only it understood, its lush greenery an emerald sea stretching into eternity. Somewhere, an unseen bird trilled a melody that seemed both a lament and a celebration of life’s tenacity. As she moved deeper into this verdant labyrinth, Marina couldn’t help but feel that she was not just an observer but a participant in an ancient ritual, one that tested the limits of her understanding and courage.”


  1. Simile: “like a thick blanket” – Compares the oppressive heat of the Amazon to being wrapped in a thick blanket, enhancing the reader’s understanding of the environment’s intensity.
  2. Personification: “The jungle whispered secrets” – Attributes human qualities to the jungle, making it an active participant in the story and deepening the sense of mystery.
  3. Metaphor: “its lush greenery an emerald sea” – Compares the vast expanse of greenery to a sea, emphasizing the jungle’s beauty and vastness.
  4. Imagery: The entire paragraph – Uses descriptive language to create vivid images of the jungle setting, engaging the reader’s senses and immersing them in the scene.
  5. Symbolism: “an ancient ritual” – The journey into the jungle symbolizes a rite of passage, a test of Marina’s character and resolve, suggesting deeper themes of personal growth and discovery.

This exercise encourages students to explore how literary devices enrich the text, adding layers of meaning and enhancing the narrative experience.