Whitehead’s Zone One is definitely an unusual post –apocalyptic scenario set in New York. The novel opens with the narrator describing Mark Spitz’s dream of wanting to live in New York City. We as the audience are walked through a pre-apocalyptic Manhattan apartment that belonged to his uncle. A considerably wealthy man, living the New York City high life, his uncle’s apartment makes Spitz dream about residing in the heart of the city. Fast forward to the apocalypse, and none of his wealth mattered. All of New York City slowly evolved into a wasteland.
New York City is unique in many aspects of its pace, people and culture. In a city that never sleeps and is always in motion, what was the author’s intention of situating the narrative in New York? Could it have been any different if it were in some other city?
Mark Spitz, the protagonist, is the most average guy. He wasn’t the best of the lot neither was he the worst. “He was their typical, he was their most, he was their average” ( Whitehead, 11). This average guy is part of the sweeper force comprised of other civilians. This raises an interesting question, why were regular civilians placed in-charge of a critical task of eliminating the zombies? Why didn’t the Marines handle the task completely when they had the chance?
Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder appears multiple times by far and is an significant issue in the novel. In the interview with Whitehead, this is how he defines PASD:
“It seemed that if the world ends and everyone you know is mostly dead, you’d probably be a little bit bummed out… so the remaining psychiatrists have come up with the diagnosis of Post Apocalyptic Stress Disorder, the symptoms of which are insomnia, sleeplessness, eating a lot, eating too little, irritability. Basically, it’s like a case of the Mondays. The things that were making you stressed out before the apocalypse are pretty much the same after the apocalypse.”
The zombie apocalypse seems to turn everyone into a kind of zombie. Not only do they have the symptoms, “The soldier sprang in and out of a fetal posture, collapsing and exploding, smearing his body through a clump of vomit.” (68), they also get the mindset of it. Those who survived, who suffered from PASD, seem to take up the mindset of the stragglers which they cling too hard to the world they used to know. The memories of the horrors during the apocalypse made them act in irrational, unpredictable ways akin to the mindless zombies. Something interesting is that the abbreviation PASD sounds similar to the word “past”, which corresponds to the situation they’re in– dwelling in the past. This notion is further emphasized through the multiple flashbacks appeared throughout the book. DIfferent from previous readings that have clear markings to highlight different narrations, such as the use of Italic in Dream of Ding Village and wavelike frames in Black Hole, these flashbacks often start and end without warning which makes the reading quite confusing. What is the intention of the author to write it this way?
Whitehead portrays two types of Zombies. Those who eat flesh (majority) and those who become “Stragglers” (minority). The latter travel to a place that was once meaningful during their lives. They stay there, in their disturbed states, slowly dying although in no need of food and a threat to no one. The Straggler makes it easier for Whitehead to stress the similarities between real zombies and figurative zombies stuck in their own routines. To what extent is the zombie a dead metaphor for an unfulfilled person or a mindless consumer, and is Whitehead successful in giving this metaphor new life?
Zombies in zone one are not treated as zombies of a single entity but rather each is their own even though they are separated into two types. If we compare the way zombies are set in this universe to for example zombies in a show/comic like The Walking Dead or of video games like Resident Evil; there are varieties of Zombies but they all have the same purpose of being used as props for setting a survival based story where the zombies are nothing but dangerous. where the zombies are presented with no history, they are just dead dangerous beings.However, Whitehead steers away from that cliche and creates a new type of Zombies called Stragglers whose purpose is to just go back to a place that was once meaningful to them and just stay there. This in a way is kind of sad as the comparison between the zombies and the living has been drawn, there are people who care about nothing but achieving and working and becoming just part of a repetitive zombie like routine who are represented as almost a single entity, the skells. Whileas the Stragglers struggle to stay in places where they once belonged, where their memories still lie. Is there something bigger to be seen in Zone One about the way that humans and society functions that Whitehead is challenging? Is there a reason to empathise(sorry) with the zombies considering they are technically dead but are still showing human emotion?
In popular media, zombies are easy targets. They are easily killed without motive, thought or moral repercussions. Whitehead emphasizes this aspect of the mainstream zombie narrative by making every person in Mark’s team see something different when they kill Stragglers. They see their targets as their worst enemies. Mark sees himself. Can we read this aspect of the text as a meta-commentary on other zombie texts, and readers’/viewers’/gamers’ participation in those texts?
This is the website of the interview with Whitehead. Hope it helps you gain more insight into what the author thinks about his creation!
Neha, Kai-Wen, Lateefa, Abdulla