Some of our strongest abilities are weakened with the sight of fear. Being frightened is indeed an experience. We are a society that adores fear. We thrive off of it; creating terror movies, the influence of shows like Fear Factor, and the media’s portrayal of it. Yet others find it horrifying to leave their homes, to walk down the street; to live. Fear is experienced by many, but only defined by few. Fear is a bodily reaction to stressful stimuli and ends with a release of chemicals that triggers a response. Fear is a feeling we’ve all dealt with before, but have trouble processing this emotion when it happens. Similar to Alice Achitophel in Zulus, fear is something we can’t control, however, we try to find solutions to fight this reaction. We try to find different ways to cope, find people to confide in, but ultimately, this feeling can overcome your psyche.
In Percival Everett’s Zulus, all characters are drowning in fear. Fear of life and death. These characters who are mostly women, deal with a devastated post-apocalyptic world doomed to no return. People are undeniably scarred by an environmental catastrophe making all women unable to bear children. All except for one: Alice Achitophel. In her attempt to grapple reality, she must decipher what’s real from what’s not. Whether her reality is real or not. Readers, like myself are taken into the lamentable life of Alice, an obese government clerk, rejected by society, and the only fertile woman in her world. Alice is both insider and outsider in a world where state violence transforms life into a dystopia. On this dying planet, Alice must cope with being grotesquely obese (considered by her peers), impregnanted, alone, and afraid. And like many of us (and Alice), we too, have our own dealings to cope with, still facing daily pressures: our happiness, health, and the little voice inside our heads.
There have been many instances where Alice felt daunted and uneasy during her journey in Zulus. It is a feeling that often encompasses Alice, facing the dichotomy of her feeling helpless as she was raped by a stranger (and later impregnanted) and how pivotal it is that she’s “giving birth to the first child in twelve years”. (Everett, 102). She was burdened with nightmares because of this fear. In Chapter H, Everett references her screaming in her dreams. She heard a voice yelling at her claiming that she knew ” [Alice] was infected with a child. I will catch you and kill you. You are not two lives, but half of one” (104). Earlier that day, she had an incident with Rima (a camp resident) who scorned her about being pregnant saying those same words, “I will catch you and kill you”. Post-war, it was unheard of to be a woman and fertile. Alice Achitophel faced people who hated her simply because she was an anomaly, a pregnant and obese woman. Their fear of fertility surrounded Alice because she was different. She wasn’t the norm they adapted to.
She realizes that she is the fate of the planet, but when most around her don’t understand her “condition”, she was hopeless. As said by Alice, “she knew she had no home to which to return, no friends to save the ones who had brought her here, and no hope save what these strange and unknown people offered her” (Everett, 90). She knew she was an outsider.
Alice had a choice. She could’ve chosen to kill off of her child to be accepted by her society or have a healthy baby, with the formidable task of being the only fertile woman alive. Alas, Alice chose herself. In Chapter W, we find that Alice finally welcomes the atypical; her having a child that was a product of rape. Throughout the novel, she battled with this, however, she was the hope of her dying world. She realized her offspring was “a living, breathing child that she could not let go. It was [her] child, a life”. (Everett, 243). I can’t relate to Alice’s experiences entirely, but I can personally understand the feeling of being overcome with anguish. It’s an important observation to make that feeling like an outsider, is in fact, a feeling. There is genuine truth behind this, and in truth, it can be a label you accept and let define you. Like Alice, I’ve always felt opposed to my peers for many reasons (color of my skin, my name, my country of origin). It is an easy place to stay. However, you have the power to change your reaction (to your fears) and to choose yourself and your destined path.
Don’t fear breaking the norm, fear the regret of not making your own choices.