Author: Mariam Al Shehhi


The concept of Contagion has proven itself to be a multifaceted tool. This idea of the spread of thoughts as well as disease has taken many forms throughout the course. From meme culture and Cholera to religion and AIDS, it has been interesting exploring the dynamic of such an expansion. The themes that have carried over throughout all of the books we have read include cultural influence, social class, sacrifice, shame and guilt, as well as the manifestation of reality into dreams. The interference of culture seems to be heavily present in the formation of identity and fate in Angels in America and Dream of Ding Village. Not only do these outside factors prevent the characters from forming their true identities, they also create a roadblock to them facing their well-deserved fates. Social class has been an interesting factor in some of these books as sickness knows no boundary. This is perfectly addressed in the convener’s post for Train to Busan where they describe the socially diverse group that faces the threat of death together. Another theme that is present in this film is sacrifice, this is best demonstrated by the homeless man’s heroic act of stalling the zombies in order to save the pregnant woman and the little girl. Angels in Americaportrays the idea of shame and guilt excellently as the characters are unable to live out their true identities in the fear of being judged by others. As for the manifestation of reality into dreams, Angels in Americaand Ding Villageare the perfect examples of how the subconscious can be a bridge to reality. All of these different ideas show that so much goes on behind the spread of a disease, and that sometimes, ideologies can be just as deadly and destructive as illnesses.

Excuse the stereotypical theme analysis of this post, I thought it would be interesting to look back and see the consistent ideas that were present in what we read. What would you guys add to the take away of the class and do you have any comments about what I said?

Thank you for being such an awesome group and creating such insightful discussions in class, it’s been a good semester! Have a good break!


Black Mirror- Nosedive

The state of the privileged community in Ding Village is very comparable to “Black Mirror”. While the entire show is centered around the future of humanity in its advanced technological state, the episode Nosedive is almost a perfect parallel to the events that take place in Ding Village. The premise of the episode is that each individual is ranked in social class based on the opinions of the people around them. People are categorized from 1 to 5 stars while each number comes with its own advantages and disadvantages. The higher the number, the more accepted by society that they are. Similarly, in the paragraph that describes the homes of the people who have donated blood to the community, the house that has donated the most blood has a plaque with 5 stars on it in front of their house.  These stars represent how accepted they are by their government. In both cases, these physical forms of recognition come with a sense of comfort and many benefits. While the people in the episode get to live in more expensive houses, drive more luxurious cars and travel anywhere they’d like to. The people in the book get to live in a beautiful neighborhood with household appliances and furnishings. The correspondence between the episode and the book reveal how easily we can be manipulated into participating in something, despite its benefits or disadvantages to us. This depiction of an alternate reality, as well as a historical event stand as a reflection of our current state. We most likely are going through the same experience right now without being aware of it. 

Who’s to blame?

While reading The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson, I was reminded by a piece of literature that addresses a very similar issue, Typhoid Mary. This book written by Susan Bartoletti shines a light on an Irish immigrant named Mary Mallon. Mary became a reliable cook as she made her way through several establishments upon her arrival in New York city in the 1880’s. But there was something that quickly destroyed her career and reputation as one of the greatest cooks, she carried a pathogen associated with typhoid fever. Mary was the first person in the United States to be an asymptotic carrier of this pathogen. This made her infect everybody that came in contact with her, but did absolutely no harm to Mary herself.

Mary Mallon has been presumed to have infected over 50 people, three of which suffered the unfortunate result of death. Sadly, Mary suffered the same fate. Nobody could comprehend that she was merely a carrier of the disease that was not infected, but could infect others through contaminated food or drinks. Mary was sent to prison for her determination to keep working as a cook for families. She died of pneumonia on the floor of her room, alone.

In Typhoid Mary, Mary Mallon was blamed heavily for infecting the people around her. She suffered many harsh consequences such as being sent to prison several times. The public hated her and saw her as a danger to society, and therefore treated her terribly. This is contrasted by the events that happen in The Ghost Map where the idea of blaming somebody for the spread of cholera is barley discussed. The difference between these two events are very drastic. One is centered around blame and getting rid of the human that is causing the disease without trying to understand the situation, while the other builds the investigation of the epidemic slowly and collects facts and evidence for proof.

The difference between these two strategies is very interesting, it brings up the question of who is to blame for the spread of an epidemic. Is it a metal pump that distributes the contaminated water? The government officials who let the public throw their waste in the water? The baby whose diaper was thrown in Broad Street? Or the oblivious cook who ignorantly infected her employers? Another reason why Mary was potentially blamed for unknowingly infecting others was because she was an immigrant. This is what she believed, which is not out of reach as similar occurrences have happened today. Ignorant people generalize and blame entire groups for something that is out of their control. These questions force us to place the responsibility of the death of many on one reason. Should this be the case? Or should we all collectively assume the authority of the situation?

History vs Fiction

The comparison of Thucydides’ and Defoe’s accounts of the plague is reliant upon the type of literature that each one is created for. While one is seen as a fiction and another as an accurate description of the history of the plague, my opinion is that they are both more similar than they are different. I believe that both of these accounts are a fictional depiction of real life events, as they both tend to rely on history, as well as their own interpretation of what happened at the time, which to me is imagination. Whether it’s adding a few words to an existing historical fact, or creating a character that is suffering through the misery of being among the infected, both of these share the foundation of true events, with the addition of the writer’s own spin on the matter. My question is, what makes a human influenced writing piece different from a story? Aren’t they both dependent on the style of the writer to get the point across? How do we know that historical work over time has not been manipulated by the way that it has been written?