As I read Zone One and learn more about the Stragglers, I am faced with the morality of killing them. There are three groups in this novel; the humans, the Stragglers, and the Skels. The Skels are the zombies who act against the human population, searching for any bit of flesh they can sink their rotted teeth into. The humans are the remaining bit of the species that have yet to be infected by the plague, fighting to survive the hunt of the Skels. Finally, there are the Stragglers, who aren’t alive, but they don’t show the hunger for flesh like the Skels. Instead, they are seen standing amongst store aisles or sitting on park benches, unmoving and unaffected by the world around them. Like animals looking for a final resting place, Stragglers choose the places they linger because that specific room or restaurant might have been associated with comfort in their previous lives. They don’t have prey to hunt or predators to fight off, instead they rot in their own worlds captured by a freeze-frame of a memory, so they’re just sort of there.
I am constantly uneasy every time I read about the deforming or defacing of Stragglers, which appears to be Whitehead’s intention. By giving them the habit of lingering where they’re comfortable, Whitehead humanizes them and makes us face the question of if it is okay to kill something that is doing no harm. I believe that it is, without a doubt, necessary to kill the Stragglers; the city must be cleared for new inhabitants and there is also a sort of mercy in releasing the Stragglers from the illusion of death. Each character in Mark Spitz’s unit deals with the killing of previous humans, Stragglers and Skels alike, by placing the negative or less appealing variety of human to them. For Gary, there were those who were able to conform to society’s rules in the way he couldn’t. For Kaitlyn they were the opposite, those who strayed from the order she lived her own life by. For Mark, they all possessed the same mediocrity he saw in himself, “Middling talents who got by, barnacles on humanity’s hull, survivors who had not yet been extinguished.” (Whitehead 267) It is the only way for them to find comfort in killing, by giving themselves the false sense of ridding the new world of the blemishes of the old.
As discussed in Ashley’s blog post, Humanity in Death, and Taha’s blog post, Rest in Peace, Mark believes he is releasing the undead from their toil between life and death, but I believe what ultimately helps him to be able to pull the trigger is the illusion he paints for himself.