EveryBODY Has a Story

Unfortunately, throughout history the mistreatment of human bodies after they have died appears many times. This mistreatment of course depends on how the person discarding the body views its life even if they weren’t apart of it. This theme runs rampant in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. The main character Mark Spitz, and the rest of the group almost seem to discard bodies as if it were an instinct. Outside of fiction, finding discarded bodies is a reality in our society today which is unpacked in Nina Golgowski’s article titled “Up to 7,000 Bodies Found Buried Beneath University of Mississippi Medical Center.”

Throughout Whitehead’s Zone one the killing of infected people and the disposal of their bodies is constant. I found myself detaching the humanity from the victims with the disease in an attempt to get through the book and avoid the emotions associated with all of the death. This is exactly what the characters in the book are experiencing as well so they can get through Zone One and finish their assigned task. Whitehead trapped me in the exact thing I resented the characters for, and I had to self-reflect on the innate human mechanisms that I share as well. “Gary gripped the fortune-teller’s hand again. Don’t you want to know when you meet Mr. Right?” Gary is pretending to be the fortune-teller and not only mocks her previous profession, but touches her body without valid reason or consent, just for the simple fact that he can because she’s dead. He puts on a show for everyone in the room but then, “He lifted his fingers from the fortune-teller’s hand and in the instant he broke contact she grabbed his hand and chomped deep into the meat between the index finger and the thumb.”  After infection the person dies but is then brought back to life in a zombie -like state. I think Whitehead was cleverly trying to show that if dead people could come back to life, like in the book, and their bodies were being mistreated, they would do something about it as this fortune-teller did when she bit Gary. Whitehead challenges the assumption that once someone is dead that their body can be used without consent or care. 

Nina Golgowski highlights the more present reality that’s being uncovered at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Unlike the comfort provided in being able to detach from Zone One as it’s a fictional novel, what Golgowski writes about is as real as it gets. The medical center used to be the site of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum that left behind a mass grave site of its patients. Many loved ones of the patients still wonder why they were never informed when the patients died, “Those people buried in the asylum’s cemetery likely had relatives who couldn’t come and claim them or weren’t notified of their deaths in time, she said. People consistently want to know; can you find my ancestors in the records? she said. Overall, it’s just tremendous sadness and curiosity.” The facility clearly believed that its patients weren’t worth the effort of tracking down loved ones after their passing. Just as Mark Spitz from Whitehead’s Zone One believed that the sick people were no longer human, so did the Asylum. Creating a mass grave site was easier than dealing with families and asking for consent. An especially touching case was highlighted by Golgowski, “Clark discovered that one patient was her great-great-great grandfather, Isham Earnest, who fought in the War of 1812, a conflict between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Earnest is believed to have died at the facility some time between 1857 and 1859. It followed Earnest being ruled insane.” One can assume that Earnest probably had post-traumatic stress disorder from his time spent fighting in the war yet although he risked his life for his country, he was labeled insane and was discarded with the thousands of other patients. How could a brave man who deserved peace and care be discarded so senselessly? It’s a human responsibility to treat others as if they were your own family member because if it were you would want them to be treated with respect. A fundamental lesson many learn in kindergarten yet seem to struggle with in adulthood?  

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