For those of you that don’t speak Latin (myself included), the title of my blog post reads “With the name changed, the story applies to you.” In class, we’ve read stories that had a tendency of revolving around the topics of racism, medicine, and literature (which is understandable given the course’s title). Out of the six books and multiple online articles we’ve read this semester, I made a ‘both/and’ connection between Zulus by Percival Everett and Zone One by Colson Whitehead. Even though I’m not a fan of the doomsday genre of literature per se, I’ve realized that they’re inspiring nonetheless. The endings of both books leaves the reader to believe that the main characters follow through with the “forbidden thought” (suicide) like Professor McCoy explained to us.
In Zulus, protagonist Alice Achitophel is viewed as a beacon of hope because she was pregnant. Being fertile was against the law. The world Alice is on the brink of death due to chemical and biological wars. There’s no chance of crops, or any life form for that matter, to survive in a radioactive and contaminated environment. Thus, the government believed it was moral and necessary for women to become infertile and for everyone to basically count down the days until they ceased to exist. Alice, as public enemy no.1, has no other choice but to escape the enclosed city and reside in a rebel camp in order to keep and raise her child in a safer setting. At the rebel camp, the civilians praised Alice as if she was a newfound hope they could worship and praise as a fruitful deity. However, the birth in question wasn’t a fetus but a slimmer, authentic version of Alice. After she broke free from “her fat mother, earth mother, Alice Achitophel”, Alice then gave birth to a baby girl, who was then kidnapped by Theodore Theodore and Lucinda Knotes (pp. 109, 242).
Not only is Alice’s pregnancy revolutionary to the rebels outside of the structurally-confined city, it defies the overlying sovereignty because she decided to remain fertile in a post-war environment. Since the world is dying and people are counting down the days until someone finally releases a killing agent into the air, people believed there was no point in trying to create life if time is running out. Alice was independent and in control of her life, even though others turned towards forces of authority for guidance. I thought that this was a significant point Everett portrayed about Alice’s personality in the book. She started out as an insecure individual and was literally reborn as a confident woman who her own decisions she believed who benefit her and those she cared about. In the end, Alice and Kevin Peters did release the toxic poison into the air, committing the “forbidden thought” and ended suffering for all things living.
Zone One is told from the perspective of Mark Spitz, a sweeper (zombie killer) that clears out Manhattan during an apocalypse. Right of the bat, racism subtly sneaks its way into the plot by referring to the main character, a Black man who can’t swim (micro-aggression), with a nickname derived from a US Olympic swimming champion. That’s not the part that got to me though. What jumped out at me while I was reading was the idea of reincarnation in a less-than ideal society. People from Buffalo are supposedly looking to build up other survival camps, but in reality, they’re looking to capitalize on the idea that a community can be maintained given the circumstances Americans have to deal with.
The life motto of the sweeper teams and the survivors in general is the idea of the American Phoenix (Whitehead, p. 202). It’s symbolizes the idea of being reborn and rising up from the ashes. This mythological mindset was the driving force for people like Mark Spitz to keep their hopes up, especially since they might mistakenly humanize the stragglers/skels they were trained to kill. Another example of hope in this story was the survival of the Tromanhauser Triplets (Whitehead, pp. 42-45). Once again, infants caught up in a hopeless situation give hope to those who know the odds of their survival, but choose to believe that these babies can grow in this world. Even though it wasn’t necessarily spelled out for the reader, I have a reason to believe that Mark Spitz ended up carrying out the “forbidden thought” at the end of the novel.
Like I stated earlier, both of these books are written in a dystopian setting and the underlying message is about being able to rise up and rebuild again. Alice was viewed as a new form of religion by being able to give birth when all else was lost and Mark Spitz was reminded by his comrades about the Phoenix and a will to live. Zulus had a hopeless government that required its citizens to be bland and ordinary because they weren’t significant enough to express themselves as individuals anymore. Zone One used Buffalo as a business force to remind survivalists that they have a chance of being able to create communities again. In the end, the characters in both stories defied the odds and took a chance to carry out an act they believed would benefit their personal agenda and the human race. It was all a matter of time and they chose sooner rather than later.