Sensory Enhancement

What would the world we know be like if we experienced it without our senses? Nothing to hear or see, no smells to make our mouth water, unable to experience the thrills touch brings us, and food becoming tasteless. With this being said, it is understandable why the best most effective texts often incorporate vast and effective amounts of sensory into their descriptions. Sight allows us to visually understand our surroundings, express ourselves through objects and actions we are able to experience due to our eyes. Sound allows us to experience music, language, the sounds coming from our environment. Touch allows us to feel things and complete everyday tasks. Taste gives us motivation to eat certain foods. Smell fills our nostrils with the good and bad odors that surround us. All of these senses enhance our everyday lives. What’s also amazing about humans is that when one sense is taken away the others become keener. When the use of sensory words is applied the descriptions are enhanced and the meaning of the book can be more clearly understood in many cases.

 Using the texts I have studied during my time in this English class, I have complied a list of ways these senses have enhanced the meanings of the novels we have read. In Clay’s Ark by Octavia E. Butler, there was a disease that each member of an enclave had contracted and continued to spread. When the disease began to take over parts of their brain, there senses were stimulated and enhanced. This sensory enhancement was an important part of the book when it came to how the infected were feeling especially in comparison with the uninfected humans they were surrounded by. One of the characters informed another; “We read body language. We see things you wouldn’t even notice- things we didn’t notice before” (Butler, 486). In addition to enhanced sight with the ability to more quickly recognize body language and the meaning behind it as well as see clearly in the dark, the infected could hear much more keenly, and smell things humans would never even consider to have a specific smell like when a woman is at the stage of the month where she is most fertile. Their sense of smell also allowed them to distinguish who else was contaminated with the disease and what stage they were in, and who was uninfected. Their taste preferences also morphed in such a way that raw meat became desirable and the amount that they ate increased tenfold. The children that the infected population produced had senses even keener than their parents. The kids were more animal like in their features and have what we seem to consider more animal instincts and senses. Their hearing, sight, smell, and tastes gave them more animal like abilities. By explaining all of these sensory changes in the text it allowed the reader to have a better understanding of what the infected population was experiencing which in turn enhanced the overall effectiveness of the text in being able to rely certain themes and messages. In another book, Home by Toni Morrison, the main character, Frank Money, had been affected by his past traumas in such a way that in times of stress would alter his vision. His vision would go from vibrant and colorful then turn into a black and white scenery. In one scene when this happened to Frank, he was “just sitting next to a brightly dressed woman. Her flowered skirt was a world’s worth of color, her blouse a loud red. Frank watched the flowers at the hem of her skirt blackening and her red blouse draining of color until it was white as milk,” and the world became devoid of color (Morrison, 23). Then later, when the world had become black and white through his vision, “whatever the world’s palette, his shame and its fury exploded,” meaning that all the color reentered into his world (Morrison, 24).

The book Zulus by Percival Everett was heavily filled with descriptive language. One reoccurring theme I noticed throughout the novel was the importance placed on the color white and how the color was altered and effected depending on the situations. The white was described inside and outside of buildings and even to aid in explaining the feelings of emotions. The main character, Alice, describes a scene where the a building was “sickly white and clear, reflecting the sky’s hue” which was pink in color, meaning that the building had been painted white but was tinted with the pink from the sky, no longer pure (Everett, 143). This being said, it seems that most of the buildings looked this way in the tinted world. At one point Alice discovered “the one white building looked white” (Everett, 81). Later in the story, Alice was captured and beheaded by a woman running a rebel community named Rema. When Alice was exposed to what was called the Body room Alice noticed that “the white wall behind Body-woman Rima seeming more than white” (Everett, 105). The novel also uses the color white to aid in expressing Alice’s emotions. Fear and pain are described as “[flashing] white through Alice,” a few times in the book (Everett, 176).

Without our senses life would be dull just like books without descriptive words using senses would be much less enjoyable. The tastes, smells, sights and colors, feelings, and sounds of the world change our perspective. They change our experiences. They make the world better.


Last night, my grandfather (who my sisters, cousins, and I all call Papa) came over to my house for dinner. With him, he brought pictures of him and some of his old friends from a beach trip they all took back in 1961 to show us. He went through one of the photos naming all of his friends, and as soon as he got to the last one on this picture, he just stopped and said: “I remember what we used to call him—like his nickname—but I don’t remember his actual name”. After a few minutes of trying to think of his name, my papa became upset by this, and it was bugging him a lot, so he decided to call one of his friends who was in the photo with them and who he has remained very close with through all of these years. Unfortunately, he didn’t know either. My papa tried to move on, and the conversation eventually moved past that, but after a little while, he finally remembered. Remembering and knowing this man’s name was important to him.

While sitting at the table during dinner with my family, I started to think: names are important to us. This is something that I had known, and it is something that, as a class, we have talked about several times in Literature, Medicine, and Racism, but this is one of the first times that I had seen something like this in action—someone’s name being lost over time and only remembered by something they were called almost 60 years ago.

Continue reading “Names”

Let’s Talk About Teeth

Teeth are the weapons of the dead. Colson Whitehead, in Zone One, creates a world where teeth are the single most feared object. Incisors, canines, and molars are weapons capable of killing a person and also infecting people to become another member of the vast zombie army. The seriousness and danger of teeth can be felt by Whitehead’s comparison to guns, “a gun to his temple or teeth to his jugular.” Teeth are to be feared as a tool that functions as a weapon against the living. In the apocalyptic world, teeth hold an obvious and significant role in society. Whitehead explains the primary objective of survivors living in Zone One, the “first priority was keeping their limbs and associated parts attached to their bodies free of teeth.” The importance of teeth in this society is established very early on in the novel.

However, Whitehead also subtly indicates that teeth are not only a functional tool but may have additional significance. After discussing the importance of dental health and reading Jack McKeown’s blog post, I realized that teeth are seen as a proficient indicator of socioeconomic status. Whitehead questions the role of teeth in society through Mark Spitz wondering, “Did it work the hairdo, the bleached teeth, the calculated injections, did it transform the country rube into the cosmopolitan?” Society places substantial weight on the condition and appearance of teeth. Unfortunately in most cases, the quality of teeth is dependent on a person’s socioeconomic status and access to dental care. Teeth are another aspect of society that qualify people based upon socially constructed principles rather than substantive content.

White, straight teeth are a trait that many people admire and wish to obtain. Teeth are a variable trait of all human beings and are commonly altered for physical appearance reasons alone. According to a survey conducted by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, 86% percent of dental patients indicated that a major reason  for receiving treatment was to “improve physical attractiveness and self-esteem.” Less than half (46%) of the respondents listed “for restorative or oral health reasons” as a major reason for seeking dental treatment. Those with financial access to dental procedures see the industry as a tool to improve their overall appearance in accordance with societal values placed on white and straight teeth. While many individuals seek treatment for cosmetic reasons there are patients who require treatment in order to improve their oral health.

According to the FDI World Dental Federation, oral disease affects 3.9 billion people worldwide and untreated tooth decay occurs in nearly half of the world’s population. They also report that 110 billion dollars are spent annually treating oral conditions, and worldwide more is spent on oral healthcare than in the treatment of cancer or respiratory diseases. The FDI also claims that oral disease can be extremely damaging when untreated, “ Oral disease is associated with significant pain and anxiety, as well as disfigurement, acute and chronic infections, eating and sleep disruption, and can result in an impaired quality of life.” The treatment of oral conditions is an extremely expensive endeavor and there are many Americans that lack the financial means to receive necessary treatment.

The Washington Post Article, authored by Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan, titled “The Painful Truth About Teeth”, brings light to the separation in dental care due to socioeconomic status. Jordan and Sullivan report that more than a third of American adults have no dental coverage. Although there are proven detrimental overall health implications that come with oral disease, Medicare, “which covers 55 million seniors and disabled people, does not cover dental problems.” Many of these people cannot afford supplemental dental insurances and are forced to go without. Jordan and Sullivan also explain that “if you are poor enough and live in certain states you can get coverage through Medicaid.” However, only 38% of dentists accept Medicaid and it only covers an average of 37% of the bill, leaving even those with additional government aid unable to receive imperative dental treatment. American people are desperate for affordable medical care. The article also describes a free medical clinic in Maryland where 1,165 patients waited to receive dental treatment of serious oral conditions. Many lower-class Americans are not receiving the support that they require in order to receive necessary treatment while many Americans use insurance to help pay for cosmetic treatments.  

There is a serious separation in dental treatment, between socioeconomic classes, that needs to be addressed. I believe that Colson Whitehead is very creative by placing a heavy reliance on teeth in Zone One and hinting at the disparity in dental coverage. Zone One is a novel that tears down societal constructs and coerces readers to question what is truly important. Whitehead describes the teeth of skels as “black”, “rotten” and “broken” and hints at the idealized appearance through the American Phoenix mascot as “square and white.” When the skels finally overrun Zone One and prevail over a camp of the American Phoneix, black teeth overcome white teeth. I believe that Whitehead is providing the commentary that the superior white teeth provide no actual benefit and are simply a social construct. He forces the readers to question whether or not society should be using dental care as a socioeconomic indicator rather than necessary universal medical treatment.

Vodou and Zombies

            Colson Whitehead’s Zone One is best classified as a part of the horror genre. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the main characters are obligated to remove any skels that have survived. Whitehead uses terms to classify the fictional world he writes about while making it obvious enough to those of us that may not be familiar with the zombie genre.

Representation of the undead is often depicted in Westernized zombie-tropes, yet the genre is greatly influenced by Afro-Carribean literary traditions. The trope of zombies as representative of “undead” humans appear to have been the result of enslaved Africans expressing their fear of losing their native culture.

The history of “zombies” is far from the Western image of popular culture. According to the University of Michigan, the idea of zombies today from Haitian culture and religious practices. Religious diffusion resulted from the various belief systems brought from enslaved people via the slave trade. Vodou, commonly misnamed as voodoo, is one of the most popular religious traditions still widely celebrated on this island. The notion of a zombie comes from the belief that one’s soul can be subject to stay in this world, not being able to unite with ancestors until the gods grant permission. Becoming a Zonbi is metaphorical for a life that will be difficult and dangerous, so this figure becomes something that is feared. Given the extreme hardships and brutality that enslaved Africans faced, Vodou was a means of explaining the world.

 Zombies have become symbolic of humans living in a society that fails to recognize them as humans, and enslaved people were arguably treated as less than human. Although Whitehead writes a novel that is set in a very different world from ours, there are a few times where he could be suggesting that zombies are metaphorical of enslaved African people. In the beginning of the novel he describes the post-apocalyptic society: “untold Americans still walked the great out there, beyond order’s embrace, like slaves who didn’t know they’d been emancipated.” (48) It is unclear who Colson’s subject is that he writes about here, but this sentiment reminds me of the expression the fear in Vodou that Haitians had towards becoming a zonbi. Becoming a zonbi meant a life of hardships, so perhaps becoming enslaved is practically becoming undead. One can only imagine the fear that Africans may have felt when stripped from their homeland and forced into a society that treated them less than human. Belief systems became one of the few stabilities of life, Vodou’s influence reaching beyond Haitian mythology. In Zone One, religion is described as, “a taboo subject in former times, but now impromptu proselytizing sessions broke out…” (49) Even if an individual’s life was limited by slavery, religious beliefs seem to have remained strong for many people through the toughest times. Religion was influential in the forming of Haitian culture and Vodou, as evidenced by its current presence in film and novels. Zonbi or zombies are fictional representation of fear, but their significance to people are very real.

Sources: n.a. “Haiti and the Truth About Zombies.” University of Michigan, Accessed 21 November 2019.


After reading The Painful Truth About Teeth article I started thinking about all the privileges I actually do have. I have dental insurance through my mom. I had braces, I went to the dentist anytime something was wrong, and I never really had to worry too much about it. Not only just the dentist but also the doctors as well. Our insurance covered most anything that was happening with me and reading this article made me realize how many people do have to worry about things like dental insurance. 

In this article, it talked about hundreds of people waiting in line outside in the bitter wind. What all these people were in line for was dental care. The first 1,000 people in line would get their teeth fixed from dentists from five different states. These volunteer dentists pulled 795 teeth within two days. Lots of the patients had good jobs too! Which shocked me because even these people with regular jobs did not have dental insurance and didn’t have enough money for dental work because of how costly it is.

Matello, was a small business owner who had no dental insurance, yet thankfully got her molar fixed at this volunteer dental work event. She talks about her support for Donald Trump because he talked about the forgotten people whose voices are not heard, such as the working class. After Trump was elected, he was supporting a health care plan that did not help low-income and the elderly at all. It even showed that some of these people who do have coverage will lose it. Trump talked about helping the lower-class citizens of America to get their votes, yet they still have no voice. Who’s listening to them and trying to fix the world to help these people? These people voted for Donald Trump to be our president because he said he would give them a voice. Yet here are all these people with no help. Dental insurance is just one of the examples.

Thinking about how someone had a cracked molar and had no dental insurance, therefore forcing her to chew on one side of her mouth for YEARS is crazy. Because this lady did not have dental insurance she lived for years with pain in her mouth. Thinking about how many other people are probably also living with pain like this lady is incredibly horrifying. I could not imagine living for years with pain like that. I have the privilege to walk into a dentist office and pay a co-pay of a few dollars and be able to have straight, white, and healthy teeth. Many Americans, like me, have this same privilege but reading this article made me realize how many people don’t have this option as well. They do not have the option to have healthy teeth. These people have no way to get these options until someone steps up and makes changes. 

In this article, there was a very interesting point made about how the wealthier Americans spend over 1 billion every year just to make their teeth white, while there are Americans who cannot even afford dental work. Hardly any Americans have a real tooth left after 65 years old. Usually having perfect straight white teeth is associated with being wealthy. Most people on tv and other famous people all have perfect teeth. You will most likely not see any famous wealthy people with crooked or yellow teeth. Trump for example has perfect teeth. Yes, some people are born with perfect teeth, however, most people have to have some dental work done throughout their lifetime. I would make the assumption that our president has most likely had dental work done and I would assume he had dental insurance being that he is such a wealthy man. He had the privilege to have dental insurance and end up with perfect teeth and I am sure he has amazing health insurance too. Trump and many other people in America have these privileges yet they just sit there and don’t try to help the people who do not have these advantages. Just because you are privileged why shouldn’t you help other people have the same privileges as you? I personally feel very grateful for the insurance that I have. I have had lots of medical issues and I also had braces and had teeth fixed. I know that not everyone has the same privileges and I feel grateful for having them. If I had the chance to somehow help the people who don’t have these options I would. I’m not sure how much change an 18-year-old, college student can make but if I had a chance to help, I 100% would. But the wealthy, famous people who could make a change just sit there and don’t help. Trump and many other people in the government should be concerned about the lower class and trying to help them. The lower class in America should not be forgotten and the people who have the power to give them a voice should do exactly that and give them a voice.

In the book we read, Zone One by Colson Whitehead, it was talked about that the rich were the ones who tended to escape. They took all their possessions that they could and escaped. A lot of the poor had to stay and try to block their doors and windows to stay safe. Which then led to them being infected with no choice. Some people couldn’t leave, and some people wouldn’t have enough money to go anywhere else, so they had no choice but to stay. Just like with natural disasters the low-class people don’t have the means to leave. They were stuck with no choice. The low-class Americans have no choice with insurance either. Even in this fiction book, these people have no choices and are stuck in these situations because they don’t have enough money. They don’t deserve to be abandoned in a “zombie” apocalypse, they don’t deserve to live for years with a tooth ache, they shouldn’t have to wait in a line out in the cold to finally have their teeth fixed for free. So, who’s going to finally take a big enough step and change life for these people? They deserve to have a voice and they deserve change.

The Traditional Grave

Continuing more conversation with the article from Huff Post, “Up To 7,000 Bodies Found Buried Beneath University Of Mississippi Medical Center” by Nina Golgowski. Which talks about the discovery of a grave with as many of 7,000 bodies beneath the University Of Mississippi Medical Center. That was apart of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum until it was shut down. Dr. Molly Zuckerman explains more in the article about the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum institutionalized by up to 35,000 patients between 1855-1935. Zuckerman continued to explain that death was a constant action, many patients died from tuberculosis, strokes, heart attack, and occasional epidemics of yellow fever and influenza, which was common during that time. Also, due to the grave being found, people wanted to find their ancestors and complete their family lineage. With that being said, before I questioned, should one be allowed to examine and test unidentified bones, for a higher purpose? Now, I want to bring to light how increased death and trauma leads to the practice of mass graves.

Connecting the article from Huff Post with the novel Zulus by Percival Everett, there is a clear connection with mass graves and how people are buried in each story. In Zulus, Alice Achitophel, the main character, tells a story through her eyes after a nuclear war that has left the world in shambles and left the people traumatized, including herself. Through her journey throughout this book, there are a few moments where Alice is confronted with the practice of mass graves. With the thermonuclear war, Alice notices the difference in grave areas. “..piled high with hermetically sealed lightweight body boxes”(Everett, 169). Meaning when one passes on if their body was exposed to the nuclear explosion, they are put into a hermetic seal, which prevents the body from releasing toxic gases. The tradition of putting dead bodies in coffins in the ground has changed to piling bodies on top of each other in hermetically sealed boxes to persevere as much life as possible, instead of respectfully, putting the dead to rest. Alice realizes that significant moral value when her boss Sue Kabnis and host Geraldine Rigg’s real purpose were at the hospital. “She watched as they dug a grave and she found the sight thrilling, then she felt deeply hurt that Sue Kabnis and Geraldine Rigg hadn’t trusted her after all, that there was no smuggling of medicine, that Sue Kabnis’ drawer was probably full of every pill, capsule, and tablet she had collected, that the real underground activity was burial of the dead.”(Everett, 223). Furthermore, Alice Achitophel realizes the real reason why she was reporting names. I feel like in society; we put bodies in coffins and bury them underground for closure and comfort. Coffins allow the one who has past to be comfortable and protected from any disturbances. The tradition allows people to feel like they have taken care of and have respect for their loved ones. However, at the same time, there is a plot twist that can be applied that is portrayed in the article.

When looking back at the article, the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum Center created this mass graves for many reasons. One reason is due to the typical death and increase amount of patients, they needed space to take care of others entering the center. Additionally, the Asylum Center could have buried people for sanitation purposes, multiple people dying at once due to diseases like yellow fever, flu, and tuberculosis, which are highly contagious. Mass graves allow people to prevent certain diseases from spreading. The plot twist for Zulus is maybe this hospital was a State Lunatic Asylum Center, and people who were cared for had diseases from before or after the nuclear war. There is a possibility both mass graves in Zulus and at the University Of Mississippi Medical Center were for sanitation purposes to limit the exposer of contagious illnesses and gases to the earth. As well as with war, death is prevalent, and a need for disposal of bodies. What if Zulus is our future? That may be our society will lose our morals and traditions due to war and disease. What if we are awaiting the trauma and tragedy that happened in Zulus? Or have we already experienced it in our own ways?

Income Inequality and Disasters

“The rich tended to escape.” is written on page 62 of Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One. The rich tended to escape. In this case the rich had escaped what one would call a plague, a plague that turned people into the living dead. Mark Spitz, a survivor and sweeper, sees first hand this effect. He sees the valuables left by those who could afford to evacuate, sees the broken glass of their lobby doors, and feels the lack of their presence. Mark Spitz finds himself “clearing out” the bodies of the poor. “A larger percentage of the poor tended to stay, shoving layaway bureaus and media consoles up against the doors.” (pg. 163), Mark Spitz is the one who sees those who are left behind. One of the first scenes that we see is of three HR ladies left behind in their place of employment, their bosses or CEOs are nowhere to be found. This is to be expected, as the rich were able to make it out, gather together, and rebuild. The poor are less fortunate, being unable to leave, they are left to survive on their own, or if that doesn’t work,  die. 

The inability to escape from disasters due to financial burdens is not a new one. Whether it is a zombie plague or an environmental disaster, the poor have always had the short end of the stick. Leaving your home behind and then replacing everything that has been destroyed is much easier when you aren’t already finding it hard to get by. Even for those who don’t face obvious financial burdens, having to rebuild after a disaster can be difficult for them. As I traveled through the world Whitehead had created, traveling and seeing what Mark Spitz saw, I couldn’t help but think of my time as an intern for the Summer Institute for Human Rights and Genocide Studies ( this summer. Over the course of a week I had helped a group of eight high school freshmen undergo different human right based conversations and activities. About halfway through the week, we sat together awaiting a new challenge. A group of climate change activists had come in to teach us about the effects climate change has on natural disasters, and how that affects people in different income brackets.

“Okay so there’s a hurricane coming, we have five days to get out or get our house boarded up. We have 500 dollars to last us the entire week, unless we work, which earns 50 dollars a day. We have to be careful what we spend our money on.” I summarized to everyone. I passed around the list with the prices of the different things we could “buy”. This ranged from buying supplies to evaluating 50 or 250 miles. 

“We have to leave 50 miles before we can go 250 miles? AND we have to go those 50 miles by the end of day three or else all the hotels will fill up?” One girl asked, a bit on edge. 

I nodded, “Don’t forget that after we leave we have to buy supplies each day. The hotels won’t cover all the food and clothes we have to leave behind.” 

“But we only have 500 dollars. We’re in an almost direct line of the storm.” I could feel the weight of eight pairs of eyes on me, looking for the answers. I had already decided that I would try to let them work together as much as possible. I prefered to hand them the reins, and point out what they had missed afterwords. 

I listened, let them argue, let them figure out what they felt was the safest way to get out. They decided to work for two days, making an additional 100 dollars, before evacuating 50 miles, and then 250. We bought all our supplies and ended up only 100 dollars in debt. Everyone sighed, until we heard: 

“Alright now to see how your houses held up.” An activist came to each group, checking our location and if we had secured our houses. My group had not, it would have taken a whole day, and getting more money seemed more important. A large red “-14,000” appeared on the line labeled “additional damages”. My group looked shocked, eyes wide, mouths slightly open. At least we had been able to leave, a few groups had been less lucky, some had lost their lives because of it. 

“What? How do we repay this?” They glanced at each other, then back to me. 

“Well, this is the end of the activity itself, but try to imagine how people would actually get out of this kind of debt.”

I listened to their different answers, ranging from loans to taking on three different jobs. One girl asked about government assistance, and if that was an option. I sighed, “I’m not 100% sure on how that works. I’m lucky enough to have never been in a natural disaster. But yes, there is some government help, although at one point President Trump was looking at cutting it.” They gathered around my phones as I read about the possibility of cutting FEMA back in January. It was a time of wildfires in California, a time of devastation for many people. (You can read more on this here.) 

“How is that fair? We’d be okay if we weren’t so poor.” 

“Yeah, some of those guys made it out without an issue. They owe nothing.” 

I studied their faces, slightly unsure of how to explain that this had been the norm for a long time. When it came to escaping tragedies and danger, those with more money would always have the upper hand. The system just so happened to work in their favor. It was human nature, in a sense, to make things easier on those with money. I saw it, they’d see it, and Whitehead was aware of it too.

At the end of Zone One the skels break through the wall, swarming the city Mark Spitz and his crew have been diligently clearing out. The sea of living dead swarm the streets separating everyone. The higher ups who have banded together after escaping the first time around may still be able to escape, they may still be able to use their influence and money to get out. Mark Spitz who has been paid in socks and underwear, will not be able to just flee, he will have to fight his way out. Like those before him, Mark Spitz will have to use what he has to get by. Like those caught in any natural disaster, the fight all revolves around how to get back on one’s feet, how to overcome a huge setback. Income inequality, be it in the world of zombies or in the world of climate change, makes this fight much harder on some. Whitehead is aware that it we are not understanding of the struggles other’s face, we will continue to be unaware even after society has fallen, and we are stuck trying to pick up the pieces. After all, how can we rebuild a stronger community if we leave the most vulnerable to try to rebuild on their own?