The Complexity of Human Identity and Disease

Navigating through the flashbacks and complex vocabulary of Zone One proved to be a difficult path. Coupled with the fact that it centered on zombies did not necessarily make Whitehead’s novel my favorite read. Nevertheless,the plague’s devastating symptoms weave into the course’s analysis of human identity. Genna’s post, Identity and Disease, helped me to identify this theme in Zone One. Her disclaimer at the beginning of the post stating that she wrote it prior to reading Zone One actually helped me to frame my thinking to consider the novel’s relation to her ideas while reading her post.

Genna’s post raised the question “at what point does a disease take our identity?” (McCormack, 2017). She discussed how in Clay’s Ark, the alien microbe infects individuals and causes individuals to commit terrible acts that are considered symptoms of the disease, not part of the individual’s identity. Although Blake rapes his daughter, he is not necessarily considered a demon because of this act–it is chalked up to a symptom of the disease (Butler 612).

The line between disease and human identity blurs further in Zone One. The skels and stragglers, infected by the plague, are regarded as merely animals that must be exterminated. Although Mark Spitz still sees them as the people they used to be, often imagining their backstory before the plague and relating them to individuals he used to know, others, such as Gary degrade them to figurines before obliterating them. Before disposing of a straggler fortune teller, Gary insists on putting on a show of getting his palm read (Whitehead 281). To treat a dead person in such a jovial manner is extremely disrespectful, but since the fortune teller was taken by the plague, Gary doesn’t regard her as human anymore–she has lost her human identity. This makes me question–what is it about the alien microbe infecting humans in Clay’s Ark that allows them to retain their human identity despite the inhumane symptoms? How is this different from the plague in Zone One which strips the infected of their human identity? Both are diseases that those infected did not choose to be infected with.

Both diseases in Zone One and Clay’s Ark reminded me of another condition that blurs the line between identity and disease. Antisocial personality disorder is a “mental condition in which a person consistently shows no regard for right and wrong and ignores the rights and feelings of others” (Mayo Clinic, 2017). Individuals with antisocial personality disorder show no guilt for their behavior, and the disorder is caused by an interaction of genes and the environment. Similar to the diseases in Zone One and Clay’s Ark, individuals with the disorder did not choose to inherit the disorder. The balance between identity and disease is often brought up when individuals with antisocial personality disorder commit crimes that are brought to court. When should an individual be sentenced for a crime and when should the mental disorder be considered the culprit?

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