Define Apocalypse

Katherine Lyons 

Dr. Beth McCoy

Black Apocalyptic Fiction

20 September 2022

The word Apocalyptic could have many different meanings to individuals. Many people when hearing this word may think of zombies or the whole world incinerating, but there is a much deeper meaning to the word. Although the apocalyptic genre focuses more on supernatural events and fiction, the meanings behind the events give you a better understanding of an internal apocalypse and a worldly apocalypse. The novels and articles discussed in class were all apocalyptic events but also all had very different reasons as to why they needed an end to the world.

In Andrew Santana Kaplan’s Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought, the author explains how the world is unredeemable because of all of the barbarity and racism in the world. This was the type of world that many came into so it is all they know, most people are raised with these biases and violent thoughts about others. The author is explaining how there is no way to fix this way of being, this mindset is already spread across the world so would there be any way of fixing this turmoil? Or would the only way to fix it be to end it? In this article there was not a big combustible event that would cause the world to come to an end, it was just the mental and physical state of our world that caused this question to arise. The reason needed for an apocalypse was a worldly issue, the racial discrimination and toxic mindsets of people will only continue on and perhaps get worse. So the only solution that the author seemed fit for this worldly trouble was for it all to just come to an end. 

Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed also explored the ideas of apocalyptic events but in a supernatural idea of sense. Although this was a worldly apocalypse the author focused more on how this affected the individual characters in the story rather than the whole world. Anyanwu and Doro are both immortal with special abilities that are non-human-like but this leads to them sharing a connection. Doro has the most dangerous ability which gives him all the power in situations so he can control whom he wants to. Although this is a worldwide issue the author chose to focus on how this is affecting Doro and Anyanmu, this allows the reader to understand the individual effects events like these have on people. In the novel Doro and Anyanwu eventually and inevitably find love for each other, but this takes a toll on both of their worlds. Doro continues his iniquitous ways of killing and harming others which were what abilities he was given, Anyanwu on the other hand was not. This leads her to threaten her own life which shows the readers the more humane side of Doro. In both scenarios, Doro could end up with an individual apocalypse, either losing his sole reason for existence or the woman that he loves. In many ways, this story covers many aspects of apocalypses and can give readers better insight into what an apocalypse is.

An additional text that covers the different aspects of apocalyptic events is Percival Everett’s American Dessert. In this novel, there is an individual apocalypse where Ted’s world comes to an end but he is given another chance to make things right in his life. While the novel shows the personal effects that this event has on the characters it also focuses on how this affects the world as a whole. The readers can see how this event causes a domino effect of many horrendous circumstances for the world and the protagonists. While Ted was able to find his true self during this apocalypse the rest of the world was in shambles and this had a horrible effect on the mental state of others. The author makes the readers question whether or not this apocalypse was necessary, while the world broke out into complete mayhem over Ted’s resurrection he was able to find himself and start over mentally. Although it was not Ted who intentionally caused the apocalypse he is seen as the one to blame, causing so much chaos that he is not able to think about and come to terms with being alive. This novel lets the readers interpret the apocalypse in their way, whether they believe that this was or was not necessary or if they believe this is a worldly apocalypse rather than an individual one. 

All of these texts follow the general standards of apocalyptic fiction; there is still room for interpretation of what apocalyptic is. The standard definition of the genre is a literary genre that foretells supernaturally inspired cataclysmic events that will transpire at the end of the world. While this is the dictionary definition of the word, readers can make their interpretation and have their understanding of the word. These readings touched upon all different types of apocalyptic events whether they happened to many people or just one, which can help better understand different types of apocalyptic readings. Readers can only define apocalyptic literature after having read it; one definition of the genre will not be able to speak for all novels. There are too many different ways that this genre can be executed to just be able to define it under one word. In some cases like the Kaplan article, an apocalypse seems necessary in the situation, whereas in Wild Seed the apocalypse was horrific and unnecessary. Therefore, there can not be one definition set to the term because not all pieces of literature can meet its criteria. 

Reading different pieces of literature from the apocalyptic genre can give readers a better understanding of what the term means and what the genre is. While putting a set definition to the term can be difficult after being exposed to so many different kinds of apocalyptic literature, this could help readers be able to have their own definition of the term.