Rural Citizens: The Underbelly of America

In Zone One we see the aftermath of the apocalypse from the perspective of the survivors, much like the rest of history. As we follow Mark Spitz, Gary, and Kaitlyn through what used to be known as Manhattan but is now recognized as Zone One, we see what daily life has come to be after the spread of the disease which turns people into “skels”. When comparing this to the current events going on around us, it becomes easy to see how the same personalities in our own time could easily spread and permeate the culture even after an apocalypse has taken place. While Zone One is a work of fiction, the attitudes of many of the characters could be transplanted into the current culture and have no problem living in our world. More specifically, I think the attitudes of many people living in rural areas who feel that they are losing control within the general population are clear in Colson Whitehead’s piece.

In the beginning of the book, we start to learn the dimensions of the characters being presented to us. Their personalities differ in many ways, but since such a large portion of the population has turned into something they are not familiar or comfortable with, there are slim pickings for friends. As part of the Omega unit, they work together to make sure spaces within Zone One are free of what they call skels, which can also be thought of as zombies. Gary, who used to work on cars, and Kaitlyn, who used to be a teacher, are both given the same job within their unit along with Mark. They have become blue collar workers attempting to clean out the city, no matter what their jobs were before. Throughout the book, we see that they all utilize their own coping methods in order to kill the skels. At one point Mark contemplates what Gary and Kaitlyn are thinking about when they kill. He thinks that Mark looks at the skels as “The proper citizens who had stymied and condemned him and his brothers all his life, excluding them from the festivities- the homeroom teachers and assistant principles’, the neighbors across the street who called the cops to bitch about the noise and the trash in their yard. Where were their rules now, their judgements, condescending smiles? (Whitehead: 266).” Gary has been stigmatized his entire life for being a mechanic, for having what some might consider a run-down yard, and for living his life how he feels comfortable. He feels like he has been excluded from the group, even though he didn’t do anything except ignore the societal pressures around him to look nice and get a white-collar job. Despite the fact that he worked hard and was a family-man, he still felt like he was being looked down upon.

On the other hand, Gary theorizes that Kaitlyn thinks of the skels differently. From her perspective, the lives she was ending were the lives of “the weak-willed smokers, deadbeat dads and welfare cheats, single moms incessantly breeding, the flouters of speed laws, and those who only had themselves to blame for their ridiculous credit-card debt… Her assembled underclass who simultaneously undermined and justified her lifestyle choices (Whitehead: 267).” From a different point of view, Gary believes that Kaitlyn finds it easier to kill when she believes that the people at the other end of her gun were drains on the system, when there was still a system to drain. While it seems that she viewed herself as a part of the group that needed to utilize systems such as welfare, she was defiant to group herself with those that abused such things.

In Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s piece titled “The Painful Truth about Teeth,” they uncover a world that many don’t want to look at. The working class living in Maryland voted for Trump with hopes that he would actually give them access to resources as simple as being able to afford a dentist. However simple we may see it as, it clearly isn’t since so many people are left wanting for this type of healthcare. After Trump had won and people like Dee Matello were still left without dental care they became resentful over the fact that he had not done what he had promised, with her and her husband discussing “Did we really vote for him?” The fact that many working-class people living in rural areas are feeling like they are being ignored by the government can be connected to the ways in which Gary and Kaitlyn judge the skels they are instructed to kill. They had each become resentful of the way they were being treated in their previous lives, and they were now in control of the situation. Even the act of moving the capital from Albany, which lies in a much more populated area of New York to Buffalo, which is surrounded by mostly rural areas, proves the same point. There is currently an underbelly of people living in rural areas who feel betrayed and ignored by their government, so even if they see someone come forward with an attitude they may see as problematic or racist in many ways, they may still be willing to support him if they think he will work in their best interest, as Dee Matello did for Donald Trump. These attitudes are best represented by Kaitlyn and Gary within Zone One before the 2016 election even took place, so they could be applied to politicians at any point that claim to stand for the rights of those who feel they are being marginalized.

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