When I finished Zulus, I was left confused and (unsurprisingly) disappointed. Like I mentioned in my last post, it is important for us to examine why the novels we read make us feel the way that we do. We can simply close the book and walk away from it, we can read something that we know may be more fulfilling, but little growth will come from doing that. After reflecting on the way that Zulus ended, I have figured out the root of my disappointment: I desperately wanted a scene with Alice where she finally gives birth to her daughter and gets to hold her in her arms. After all, the focus of the novel is on this baby, right from the first chapter. However, instead of a baby, we get two disappointing “births.” Alice’s first pregnancy ends up not producing a baby, but a slimmer version of herself (Everett, 108-109). Then Alice becomes pregnant again only to have her baby stolen from her. Theodore Theodore and Lucinda Knotes literally cut the baby out of Alice (Everett, 217). My frustration with never getting a scene with Alice and her baby led me to wonder: was Alice even pregnant?
After all, looking back on the novel, there seems to be a lot of evidence that suggests she may never have been. For example, mere minutes after Alice is raped, she knows she is pregnant (Everett, 12). When she tells Kevin Peters that she’s pregnant, he doubts her, reminding her that she never even had a period (Everett, 178). I know that this novel exists in a dystopian world, but how could Alice possibly become pregnant without having a menstrual cycle? And how could Alice be so sure that she is pregnant without any real tests? The scene at the end of the novel also has me doubting Alice’s pregnancy (and, by extension, Alice herself). When Alice frantically asks Kevin Peters to help her find their baby, he tells her “our daughter was dead before she was born” (Everett, 242). He ignores Alice’s pleas that their daughter is alive and instead presumably pulls the lever that will end the human race (Everett, 243). Why would Kevin Peters do that if there is hope for humanity? (I could probably make a whole new blog post for just that question alone!)
I find myself very conflicted. On one hand, it seems quite plausible that Alice was never actually pregnant either time. However, I think this is an “easy” way out. Zulus was a very uncomfortable novel for me to read. There were times where I had to take a break from reading because I found the content so disturbing. It is tempting to just say that much of what Alice experiences is all in her head. However, during our discussion of the end of the novel from class, Dr. McCoy made a point that really stuck with me. We were talking about whether or not Alice is mentally ill and Dr. McCoy reminded us that Alice is not only repeatedly victimized throughout the novel, but is also told that it is her fault for what happens to her. I realized something then: am I any better than Alice’s abusers by not believing her? How could I possibly be on Alice’s side if I do not believe some of her most fundamental experiences?
Although I am disappointed in how the novel ends, I am more disappointed in myself for how I begin to view Alice as the novel ends. I think that as Everett’s writing became more and more disjointed and confusing, I took out my frustration on Alice and started becoming more fed up with her claims. I almost feel like Everett is testing me: despite the way he portrays Alice’s thoughts and experiences, can we still stick with her through the novel? Clearly, I had some trouble. Even if I am right, even if Alice is never indeed pregnant, I think that Everett is trying to make an entirely different point: why do we sometimes have trouble believing those who have been victims of violence, of abuse? Can we support someone (or a group of people) who has been repeatedly victimized instead of questioning if they are actually the one who is the issue? I do not have any easy answers to these questions because I do not think there are any. However, I do know that this novel really made me think a lot about who I am not just as a reader, but as a person. Although I found it to be confusing, non-sensical, and disappointing, I am thankful for Everett for writing Zulus in the way he did. I most certainly would not have come to the realizations I have if he wrote it differently.