In dystopian works (especially those set in zombie apocalypses like Zone One), the idea of the “forbidden thought,” also known as giving up and committing suicide, is so deeply ingrained and common into the setting that it is often overlooked (or at least I know I have). This is usually due to the focus on a main set of heroic characters that fight tooth and nail against these blood-thirsty zombies. However, Colson Whitehead combats this familiar theme with his very own Mark Spitz.
While Mark Spitz is not brimming with confidence and charm, he does have enough rationality and common sense to get him through the initial wave of the pandemic. Mark Spitz’s mediocrity allows the reader to have a sense of comfort and empathy that is not usually present with our usual epic main characters. Whitehead is able to pull of such a character by focusing on Mark Spitz’s perspective of the world rather than the action often associated with this genre. Although Mark Spitz acknowledges the idea of the forbidden thought right in the very first part of the novel, he acknowledges the idea during the post-interregnum period.
However, during the interregnum, Mark Spitz notes that no one cared whether you decided to give up or not. In fact, Mark Spitz believes that the chaos allowed everyone to emphasize their true personalities; to each their own. On one hand, those brimming with prejudice and hate roamed free like animals looking for a pack or for prey. On the other hand, those who considered themselves more cowardly embraced that part of their being and accepted death on their own terms. As Mark Spitz put it, “Now I’m more me,” (245).
According to Wikipedia, the definition of an “interregnum” is a period of discontinuity or “gap” in a government, organization, or social order. During this time, those of higher power and class had no control or grasp on [what was remaining] of society just yet. To Mark Spitz, regular citizens were “like slaves who didn’t know they’d been emancipated [yet]” (48). Since there was no authority to use these civilians for their own gain, no one cared who died for what reason. Only when the government and the social structure comes back into play is there a distinction between heroes and cowards.
These labels are used to manipulate the population into fighting for “the greater good” and to “win the nation back.” Those who feel shamed for not joining the crowd are pushed over the edge with a more severe form of PASD such as the kid soldier who has an episode when he is prepared to go past the wall. Unfortunately, this reinforces the idea that one must suffer first in order to make their death meaningful.
Therefore, is the forbidden thought really as forbidden as we say it is?