Consent can be analyzed through many different faucets. From the perspective of a woman, consent can mean many things, especially in a society that often tries to tell us what we should and shouldn’t be doing with our own bodies. Analyzing female characters such as Alice Achitophel from “Zulus”, we can unpack this idea through studying the sequence of nonconsensual actions done to her, and how she evolved because of them.
Everett’s novel begins with a horrendous sexual assault to Alice Achitophel by a stranger. In a violent turn of events, Alice actually becomes impregnated by the man, and this is what begins her entire journey and experience with the rebels and escaping the city to avoid the discovery of her outlawed pregnancy. In Everett’s dystopian future, all women were forced to be sterilized as the nuclear-scarred earth was no longer suitable for continued life, and the pregnancies of women would most likely go extraordinarily wrong due to the high levels of radiation after the war. Yet, due to Alice’s size, she is outcasted and forgotten about in the sterilization process: “She had thought to herself then that the people at the hospital had seen her and knew she was fat and ugly and could see from her file that she was an old maid, probably knew that she had never kept company with a man. They hadn’t called her, and she hadn’t called them, and so she had not become sterilized like every other woman” (Everett 12). Just in this quote alone, we can see how Alice has an intensely negative image of herself, forced upon her by a world that told her she was different; in a way this can be viewed as something that is verbally nonconsensual. What gives someone the right to tell you that how you look and who you are is not okay? Alice is shamed for being different, but in the novel this individuality is what drives her forward through the atrocities that she is about to face. Circling back to the idea of sterilization, we can question as to whether this demanded by law sterilization of women was truly consensual. Did all the women collectively agree to this intense measure to prevent continued life on earth? When Alice becomes pregnant, she is filled with joy at the hope a child could bring to her world, judging off of this excitement we can assume that other women might very well have felt the same. Looking at the novel from this perspective, it can be speculated that Everett is making a statement about consent and women’s rights within the subject.
After Alice is assaulted, she manages to immediately know that she has become pregnant. Rather than processing the assault and focusing on its violence, Alice decides to focus on the child and the hope that it could bring to this barren and melancholy society that she is living in: “Alice Achitophel just stayed a mound of fat on the floor,… now crying and smiling and knowing that she was pregnant” (Everett 12). Alice even goes as far as to call it the “messiah baby” because she feels her child will be able to start a new hopeful age for the survivors of the war: “She began to grow fearful, wondering how she would hide the child, this special child, this Messiah child, yes, say it, just say it, the Messiah child, a little girl, the only success on a failed planet” (Everett 16). Along her journey, Alice is consistently poked and prodded against her will by doctors, and her body is quite literally put on display for everyone to gawk at without any of her consent. Alice had been ridiculed her entire life due to her size, told it was wrong that she looked different from everyone else. Now that she was pregnant, she stood out even more, the only woman left on earth who was not sterilized. Despite all this adversity, Alice managed to keep a positive attitude throughout the entire novel. She was bright eyed and always ready to start a new path that would have purpose, as demonstrated by her efforts to try and work with Geraldine Rigg in the hospital and get in on helping the rebel cause. However, this hope has a deadline as the novel comes to its conclusion.
It is not until the very end that we see Alice give up her last shred of hope. Seeing her partner, Kevin Peters, care nothing for their child’s future is what drives Alice to give up her hope. Alice comes to the conclusion that there shouldn’t be a future if the father of her child can’t even see one for their own child. In the end, Alice and Kevin quite literally end the world, releasing a chemical agent that is to end all human life on earth. Reflecting on this, I asked myself, how is this act any less nonconsensual than the act of forcing all women to become sterilized? Confused by the ending, I was shocked at the conclusion for Alice’s character, and disappointed with her choice to give up on something she deeply believed in just because someone else didn’t share the same perspective.