Names in Zone One

As I’m reflecting on Zone One, I find myself returning back to one of the earlier descriptions of the Omega unit’s duties. I found it very interesting that, after Gary kills the skels, Kaitlyn asks Gary to search for the skels’ IDs. After discussing the information the Lieutenant had previously told him, Mark Spitz narrates: “[Buffalo (the new government capital)] were keen for the sweepers to record demographic data” (Whitehead 37). The book then details specifically what Buffalo means by “demographic data”: “the ages of the targets, the density at the specific location, structure type, number of floors” (Whitehead 37). I was surprised by this because I was confused as to why names were not included in the type of data the government wanted to collect.

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middle school braces

When I was in middle school, I got braces. Just like most of my friends in my Catholic, private middle school did. They hurt, and they were a pain to take care of, and I hated the appointments. I loved that I got to choose new colors for the rubber bands every time I went in. But what I remember most about my experience with braces was that they were a privilege.

I am the daughter of a single mom. Every appointment, every adjustment, every time I entered the orthodontist’s office, I was aware of just how expensive this endeavor was. For my friends, braces were just an annoyance, a part of growing up. For me, they were a bill near impossible to pay. 

I have bad teeth in my genes. My dad’s first dental appointment was late into his thirties. He is still incredibly afraid of the dentist. I have been aware from a young age that dental work was a lot more than just a mundane, irritating part of life. Straightening my teeth was both a privilege and a health necessity — anatomically, my teeth were bad enough that if they weren’t fixed they would end up permanently damaging my jaw. However, the braces felt necessary for reasons other than that, too. Cosmetically, I had a huge gap between my two front teeth. I had crooked bottom teeth and an underbite. My smile was far from up to society’s standards. And my mom struggled to pay off the bill to fix that. 

In class, we discussed the idea that teeth serve as an indicator of one’s social status. We read two articles that supported this. First, we read an article from The Washington Post called “The Painful Truth About Teeth” that talked about an event that was hosted in Maryland where dentists volunteered to fix people’s teeth for free. Hundreds of people were lined up in the bitter cold, and more people than could be served waited copious amounts of time, some ten or more hours, just to be told they had to come back the next day because there was not enough time left in the day for them to be helped. 

The fact that the need was so high for this service is a sign that dental care is not accessible for those in the United States, particularly those who are not well off financially. Even with decent or good insurance, dental care is often not covered. As Dr. McCoy mentioned in class, sometimes dental care is regarded as a luxury, but often it is a basic healthcare need, particularly with issues like a tooth abscess, for example, which can be life-threatening. This distinction is not at the discretion of the patient, but rather, at the discretion of insurance companies who are profiting off of people instead of helping them.

In my group last class, we talked about the books we have read for this course throughout the semester. Adrianna posed a question: which of these novels do you see as possibly coming true? We discussed the idea that we felt that aspects of all of the novels coming true were sadly completely feasible. And although we are not living in a post-apocalyptic world, it is easy to see that there are sometimes there are elements of all of these novels that connect to our reality, both historically and currently.

The History of Zombies

In class this Monday, Dr. Beth talked about how there are two paths that one could go down when talking about zombies: either the pop culture path (which has many branches of its own and it continues to grow) or the historical path, which is rooted in Haitian culture going back to the 17th Century.

In the past, I have heard about how there was a deeper history to zombies than just appearing in American movies and TV shows, but I had never known much about it. Considering how zombies (or skeles) are a large part of the plot of Zone One by Colson Whitehead, I thought it would be a good idea for me to learn about where the concept and myth of zombies came from. Though I personally have never had much of a fascination (or even vague interest) with zombies and the culture surrounding zombies in entertainment, I still think learning more of the history of this now incredibly popular subgenre of horror would be beneficial to me and my understanding of the literature.

As explained by Mike Mariani in “The Tragic, Forgotten History of Zombies”, an article for The Atlantic, there is so much more to the history of zombies than what movies, television, and other forms of entertainment would suggest. Mariani claims that the origins of zombies are rooted in folklore from those who were enslaved in Haiti from 1625 to about 1800. The enslaved individuals were originally from Africa, and when they arrived in Haiti, they were treated with a complete lack of humanity as a result of the slavery of the time. It was at this time that the ideas of the undead became a subject that had immense importance to the enslaved people in Haiti. Many of these people believed that the only way they could ever be free was if they died. However, if they were to kill themselves, they would “be condemned to skulk the Hispaniola plantations for eternity, an undead slave at once denied their own bodies and yet trapped inside them—a soulless zombie.” Essentially, they believed that if they were to kill themselves, they would lose all hopes of freedom, and be permanently trapped in their body as a slave, turning into what we all know as a “zombie” today. The initial concept of the zombie was a clear demonstration of how much these individuals suffered both physically and mentally, as they were fearful of the afterlife in the hypothetical event where the pain and suffering endured during slavery didn’t end for individuals with their death.

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Respect for the Dead

In Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One, the story follows Mark Spitz and his fellow “sweepers”. Being a “sweeper” involves leaving the safety of the camp and ridding a designated area of Zone One of zombies. The primary target of the volunteer sweepers were zombies known as “stragglers”. Stragglers are a form of zombie that is not outwardly aggressive and present a reduced risk to the remaining unaffected. Stragglers are thought to be “mistakes” as the Lieutenant puts it. These zombies are stuck in a task or in a location that had some significance to them during their life and posed no threat except the slight possibility of infecting others. Whitehead describes stragglers as regular people that when infected become trapped in a moment after being infected. He describes the straggler existence as “…winnowed to this discrete and external moment.” Stragglers are a small percentage of the zombie population that do not attack humans. In essence, stragglers are like humans that paralyzed in shock. The zombies and the healthy are regular people that are only separated by the fact that some are infected and others are not.

Mark Spitz and the other sweepers are tasked with simply putting a bullet in the head of any straggler they find and place the body in a body bag. I, along with Mark Spitz,  have some apprehension about the treatment of the stragglers. When Mark, Gary, and Kaitlyn find a straggler bent over a copy machine, Mark instinctively asks the group “What if we let him stay?… He’s not hurting anyone.” His indication of unease caused a similar feeling for me. What if the infection can be cured? The Lieutenant explains to Mark that there are Nobel prize winners working on a cure. In my opinion, because the stragglers do not present a clear danger and have the potential to be cured, they should be kept alive until their affliction is completely understood. They may still be, at least partially, human.  However, I understand the panic associated with keeping these zombies alive because the knowledge of the plague is not yet completely understood. Mark explains fearing the unknown by saying “The plague doesn’t let you in on the rules; they weren’t printed inside the box.”

This idea reminded me of something that I had overlooked while reading. That even if stragglers weren’t curable, they still were once human, as were the skels. The sweepers treat the remains of the infected with indifference. It was common practice for sweepers to simply place a body into a bag and throw it from a window to the street. The practice was only halted because it created a mess and a possible source of infection, not because they were defiling the remains of someone formerly human. The Disposal unit disposes of bodies by the use of a machine called “The Coakley”  which is capable of converting almost all of the infected remains into smoke and ash. The lack of humane treatment of the remains is clear in the speech of one of the disposal technicians Annie, “Usually we like to stuff as many as we can in there before we fire it.” The cremation of the remains is conducted without any sort of care and respect for the dead. All of these zombies, through no fault of their own, were infected by a plague. Does the mere fact that they were infected prevent their remains from receiving the same respect as the remains of healthy humans? There are many cultures and religions that call for certain treatments of the dead, and none of them involve being shot out of an incinerator as ash by the handful. Ashes of the dead cover New York City. It is important to note that the characters in the novel would have no way of knowing what post-mortem rituals that the infected desire. However, I believe that the healthy should at least attempt to treat the remains of the dead with respect because they too were once fellow humans.

The mass disposal present in Whitehead’s novel is parallel to actual historic events of maltreatments of corpses. Nina Golgowski, of the HuffPost, reports that approximately 7,000 bodies were located under the University of Mississippi Medical Campus. This land was home to the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum 80 years prior to the mass grave’s discovery. Like in Zone One, these remains were disposed of in an efficient, though careless, way that was not in agreement with the post-mortem wishes of the deceased. Many descendants of the inhabitants of the asylum wish for the bodies to be exhumed and identified in order to learn about their family lineage and finally determine what happened to their ancestors. I believe that this needed to occur for a greater reason. The insane asylum inhabitants were never given a proper burial. The Social Life of DNA, by Alondra Nelson, describes events after the discovery of a mass African-American burial site in 1991. Hundreds of African-American slaves that lived during the 1600s were buried underneath what is now lower Manhattan. In an effort to determine genetic information on the inhabitants of the ground, the bodies were exhumed. However, the researchers failed to treat these remains with respect as well. The exhumation was conducted with “…little consideration given to the conservation of the remains.” Their remains were treated as if they were less than human in life.  It is noble to want to identify the dead in order to give their families closure about their ancestors, but the bodies themselves are worthy of respect. Like in Zone One, the infected were discriminated against after their demise. These are all human remains and deserve to be treated with the respect that they warrant as recently deceased human beings. Whether or not the remains belong to former slaves, those considered mentally insane or people who have been infected, they deserve proper burials or cremations. After all, our last acts as humans are to be put to rest.

Personal Experiences with Ethical International Health Practices

When I saw a publication by Irmgard Bauer titled “More Harm Than Good? The Questionable Ethics of Medical Volunteering and International Student Placements” posted on Canvas, I was both interested (and a bit apprehensive, as I will explain) about the information I was going to be reading. From as far back as I can remember, my desire to be a physician was synonymous with participating in some sort of international medicine program upon earning my MD; the information Bauer presented could not be more pertinent and timely to my endeavors, as I recently traveled to Perú and participated in a student health training program which strongly affirmed my desire to work as a physician and pursue international health. I read the publication with a strong obligation to be informed on current issues that might exist within international medicine. I also read it with some degree of apprehension, thinking that it was possible I would learn that I had unknowingly participated in well-meaning but detrimental practices. Bauer’s work identified a wide array of problems that need to be addressed in international health initiatives, and as I read I compared the examples listed in Bauer’s publication to my real-life experiences and observations during my program. I was also somewhat relieved to find that some programs, like the one I participated in, have already acknowledged and taken steps in order to avoid these issues. In my post I hope to both highlight what these problems are and demonstrate possible solutions that I saw during my own experience.

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In class we discussed how words can be said differently, or have different definitions. Some people may have seen those posts on social media that say things like “Read and read, and you just read those differently” or something close. These memes are popular because it shows us that language is strange, we can read words that are spelled the same way in two different ways. We also can go back to the internet debate on how to say the word “gif”, with a hard or soft “G” sound. There are many words like this in the English language.

In the book Zone One by Colson Whitehead, there are many words that one may not know how to say, such as “defenestration”, the act of throwing something or someone out of a window, or “enamored”, having a liking or admiration. There are also many words throughout the book that many people just did not know what they meant, and therefore struggle to say. An example of this is “Ronkonkoma”, which is actually a place located on Long Island, but the book uses the word to mean some sort of STI. “Ronkonkoma? he asked, holding one of the HR ladies’ licenses. “Had a lump of that on our crotch once”(Whitehead 69). The book takes some words and creates new definitions for them that fit the context of the book.

Words also can be differently said because of geography. We know that in the United States alone there are many different accents that make words sound different, and they are still evolving to this day. Words like “caramel”, “egg”, “tournament”, and “elementary”, as well as many others have different pronunciations. They all have the same meaning, but depending on where you live, you may say them differently than another person from somewhere else. There are many accents throughout the United States, as well as many more across the globe. Many words have the same definition, but different ways of saying them as you travel the world.

In conclusion, words are complex. We may not always know what they mean, or how to say them, and sometimes they even are made up or have made up definitions. Words also can be pronounced differently depending on region. Words will always be a complex thing in our world, as they are necessary to communication. Words are needed in a functioning society, even if they are pictures, it is still a means of communication.

Group Projects Aren’t Always That Bad.

Group projects have always been my biggest nightmare. In my experience, in college and in high school, one person is always left doing all the work, while everyone else just gets to put their name on it. In almost every group project, I have always been the one stuck doing all the work. 

My senior year of high school we had to do a project in government class where we had to come up with a make-belief island and choose a form of government to rule that island. It was a fun project, we got to draw up the island, make up a flag and a name and choose our imports and exports. I was excited about this until I got my group. They notoriously did not help in group projects and just rode the wave while someone else did all the work. As we started working we were given in-class time to complete this so we had a time when everyone could meet up and there was no excuse to not help. HOWEVER, I received no help on this project, even with the in-class meeting time! It put me in a hard spot because I did all the work and I didn’t know whether I should let the teacher know or if I should just let it go. I chose to let it go but after that group projects had a bad taste in my mouth, and I had yet to have a group project prove me otherwise.

So naturally, when I found out we were doing a group blog post I was dreading it. Right in the thick of my semester with all my papers being due, I was going to be stuck doing a group blog post alone and letting other people ride the wave that is the grade. 

I was wrong. The group that I was in for our group blog post was amazing. There was no one person doing all the work, but instead, we all split up the work and did our own part. We spent one day coming up with ideas and supporting quotes, all getting on the same page. The next day we all wrote our own paragraphs while still consulting and running things by each other and helping to edit for each other. We often bounced ideas off of each other so we were able to have one cohesive blog post where each paragraph flowed into the next. Everything worked nicely together. The last day we met we all edited the blog post TOGETHER. There were times when we all didn’t agree on what was being proposed, and we often didn’t agree on the wording of things. However, we still managed to stay respectful, even when we disagreed on things. We were able to compromise without hurting our blog post. It was a nice switch up from what I was used to with group projects. 

This project has taught me something very valuable that I plan to bring with me to future projects and future jobs. This has taught and showed me that even if you have a big group with different views, the assignment can get done in a timely manner. It is a whole new level of respect and teamwork that due to previous experiences I had never experienced. I feel as though this is something I can write on my resume for future employers to illustrate to them that I can respectively work in groups with people who have different views from me. 

Humanity in Morrison’s Home

Our Alondra Nelson reading made me want to revisit Home due to the fact that both texts deal with burial. The one thing that was left unanswered for me at the ending of Home is the significance of the line that caught my attention the most: “And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). Frank narrates this in the opening chapter when he speaks about his memory of watching horses in a field with his sister, Ycidra (Cee). Frank says that, although he and Cee also witnessed a violent burial, all he remembers from the field that day were the horses: “I really forgot the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). When I read it, I knew that the description of the horses held some type of significance; I just didn’t know how or what. After our Nelson reading, I think I’ve managed to put things into perspective.

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Stockholm Syndrome in the Literature: A Technique of Questioning Our Own Morality

As you may know from life experience, people can bond over stressful situations: from being in a hard class to being on the same sports team, shared struggles often serve as a catalyst for the formation of stronger relationships. The two situations I have mentioned are examples of eustress, or stress with positive effects, however bonds can also be formed by more damaging forms of stress coined as distress. A well-known example of the latter is the infamous Stockholm syndrome, which I will begin to explore later in this post. In Octavia Butler’s novel, Clay’s Ark, the experiences of characters seem to parallel that of Stockholm syndrome. However, as Butler often does with her work, we come to notice that this may only taking place at the surface level; upon deeper examination of the what Stockholm syndrome is and comparing it to the experience of the novel’s characters, we begin to realize that perhaps their captors, and their ideals, are not as evil as we may originally think. This makes us as readers question both the morals of those in the book and in our own society, as well as how we can approach changing this.

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(Un)Informed Consent: Examples & Consequences

Written by: Katie Barry, Zach DeGraff, Matty Jackson, Courtney Lyon, Nina Mustico, Emily Vesperman

The topic of informed consent versus uninformed consent is repeatedly brought up throughout Clay’s Ark, whether it is mentioned subtly or outright. We are able to ground the differences between informed consent and uninformed consent in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid. She defines informed consent clearly as “not a signed piece of paper, but rather, the fluid, continuous process by which a researcher informs the subject in detail of what he or she proposes to do … and what the possible consequences the experiment carries. The researcher must continue to inform the subjects of developments in the experiment that could affect him, and the subject may withdraw from the experiment at any time” (Washington: 55). In the case of informed consent, a subject must be aware of what is being done to them and why it is being done. If they are not provided with this information, it can be said that they do not have proper informed consent. Also, if the person involved in the research is not updated on what each step means, they are not providing informed consent, because they do not have the information needed to consent. In certain cases, such as in deception studies done by Dr. Ben Chapman, institutional review boards seek to provide an environment where test subjects are able to give informed consent according to the review board’s standards, but there can still be moral objections to deception studies as a whole. While this could be debated, the difference between informed consent and uninformed consent as a whole is clear. A person is able to provide consent without fully knowing what they are consenting to, but this by no means is adequate. The process of informing a person in order to get their consent is the principle that differentiates the two. 

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