Is Hope a Bad Thing?

With a book as content-loaded and complex as Zone One by Colson Whitehead, you are sure to run into at least a handful of memorable scenes and quotes.

As I am quickly approaching the end of this novel, I’d like to point out a quote that has had me thinking for quite some time. “He told himself: hope is a gateway drug, don’t do it.” (Page 222) Take that in for a second. For me, personally, that one sentence has the most dreary, despondent feel to it. And yet those two adjectives reflect the atmosphere of New York City and its inhabitants during the course of this novel quite nicely. It especially embodies the mood in the “Sunday” portion of this book. But I’ve been thinking about how this quote relates to Mark Spitz’ character, specifically. Mark spends a great deal of time reflecting on his past, and the “good ol’ days,” and how things will probably never be the same. In this nostalgic representation of his past, there is a glimmer of hope to hold on to.  From pages 189 to 191, we delve into one of Mark’s memories at a restaurant that his family used to go to for birthdays and celebrations. These sweet and vibrant events are always juxtaposed with the harsh and hopeless reality of the skels and the stragglers and where Mark is now. These memories seem to, if anything, side-track Mark from his responsibilities in the present.

It got me wondering: is hope, in any form, a dangerous thing? When you’re in a situation as gloomy  and dismal as Mark Spitz, I think a yearning for the past and hoping for what once was (but will never be again) can really just make you feel worse. In this case, hope in this nostalgic view of the past is literally a drug. Knowing that you will never have the past back really make you feel messed up inside.

Though this may be a stretch and in an entirely different context of hope, I think this quote can be applied to our reading of Clay’s Ark as well.  Ok, bear with me while I switch tracks. Remember when Blake Maslin, Keira, and Rane were abducted? They were taken into a small farm– a society of its own where the family repeatedly told Blake and his kids that there was no use escaping the disease. That they were better off just adopting to the new lifestyle and to let the disease become a part of their identity. Though knowing the book has much more context to it, I’d say that’s a pretty dreary outlook on life. Yet Blake ignores this and remains hopeful and determined to find an explanation, or a way out of the disease. He isn’t willing to submit to these people and this lifestyle and feels as though he’ll be able to cure the disease. At the very end of the novel,  we find that Blake, the most hopeful one of all, is the one to get killed and spread the disease even further. As depressing as it is, should Blake have just listened to the family on the farm? Though completely different from the way hope is defined in Zone One, Blake Maslin has his own glimmer of hope that he holds onto. And yet, it ends up hurting him.

What do you guys think? Of course it’s always good to be hopeful of something, but do you think having hope can be a bad thing in some instances?

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