Author: cv859

Zombie Apocalypse

It’s clear that society now a days is obsessed with the possibility of a zombie apocalypse. People actually plan and prepare for it. It’s immersed in our culture now and it’s curious to think why it came about.

This article has an interesting claim, saying that in fact “ zombies may be helping us cope with the aftermath of World War II.”

Then, we have 5 Scientific Reasons a Zombie Apocalypse Could Actually Happen, and its only hard not to remember Miami’s cannibal incident back in 2012.

Maybe people are actually starting to get ready for a zombie apocalypse. In the most recent display of consumerism, Black Friday, where masses of people fight almost to the death to acquire “cheaper” things, mostly all sales flopped except the gun sales. Read more on this here. 

Ancestors and Death


After our previous discussion regarding the new constitution that had been introduced to the community in the school by Ding Yuejin and Jia Genzhu, I thought it was fitting to provide some background information regarding the role of ancestors in Chinese culture, seeing as some of the rules – namely rules 2 and 3 – concern themselves with the humiliation and shaming of ancestors.

Just as a refresher, here are the specifics of rules 2 and 3:

#2. All government donations of grain, rice, cooking oil and medicine will be administered by the school. Anyone who gets greedy or takes more than their share can go f*** their ancestors, and may all their descendants die of the fever.

#3. Jia Genzhu and Ding Yuejin will be in charge of distributing coffins donated by the government, whenever we get them. Anyone who doesn’t follow orders will not receive a coffin, plus we will tell the whole village to go f*** that person’s ancestors and curse their descendants.

So what is the significance of ancestor worshiping in Chinese culture?

Ancestor worshiping has played an integral role in Chinese culture for centuries, so much so that these veneration practices have been incorporated into Taoist and Buddhist practices. It is the means through which the living honour the deeds, memories and sacrifices of the deceased, and it offers a way in which family continuity can be maintained, even in the afterlife. Ancestor worshiping also allows for the reverence of the wisdom of elders, and it seems to unify not only familial units, but also the society as a whole. Ancestors are given somewhat of a Godly status, and many believe that they are ‘guardian angels’ that watch over and protect the living. 

The worshipping process begins during the funeral and mourning phase, and is continuous from thereon in. The rituals are as follows:

  • Worshipping begins at the funeral of the deceased: necessities like a toothbrush, comb, towel, shoes, water etc. are placed in the coffin, or are burned as a sacrifice, to prepare the deceased for the afterlife
  • After the funeral, offerings are made once or twice a day to ensure the deceased has made a comfortable transition into the afterlife.
  • Necessities like favourite foods, wine and money (in the form or symbolic pieces of paper) are placed in bowls on the altar, or they are burned.
  • After the funeral, a home alter is set up by the family which includes a photograph of the deceased, a commemorative plaque and cups for offerings
  • The alters are taken down after 49 days, which is the period during which the deceased is thought judgement
  • Once the home altar is disassembled, the deceased is thought to reside in commemorative tablets – pieces of wood that have an inscription of the names of the deceased and the dates of their birth and death.
  • Tablets are kept in a shrine in the family home and incense is lit daily before the tablets, and food offerings are made twice a month

This video documents ancestor worshiping on Winter Solstice by a large group of Chinese delegates. This is the second most important day pertaining to ancestor worshiping in the Chinese calendar.

It can be understood why Genzhu and Yuejin use this tactic of shaming ancestors as a means to exercise control over the community within the school, which is made up of individuals who have such a high regard for their ancestors, that the mere thought of bringing their memory to shame is enough to coerce them into submission to the appalling new constitutional rules.

By Simi Roopra



It’s easy to observe the culture of death in China through Dream of Ding Village. Everything from the hanging of scrolls on the door of the dead’s house, to posthumous marriage is explored through the narrative.

The first encounter the reader has with the death culture is the grieving process and reactions that different families have as seen on page 14. Then, the first mention of coffins and the carpenters appears. “The three elderly village carpenters worked all day long building coffins. Two of them came down with backaches from overwork.” (pg 14). In this video an assortion of pictures and videos shows how much of a back pain traditional coffin making really is!

The importance given to the coffins, especially by Ding Hui, is inmense. The wood used for the coffins, the engravings and what they represent, and what is put inside the coffin all has to do with the belief of the afterlife and giving the deceased all they need to prosper there.

Then, we encounter the funeral scripts. “Turning into a narrow alleyway, Grandpa noticed white funeral scrolls pasted on the lintels of every house (…) The funeral couplet pasted on the lintels read: Since you have gone, the house is empty, it has been three seasons now/ Extinguish the lamps, let the twilight come, we must endure the setting sun.” (pg 17).

There are many different types of couplets, including marriage couplets, longevity couplets, greeting couplet and funeral couplet. To read up more on the funeral scrolls and chinese couplets in general click here. 

Posthumous marriage plays a big role in the final part of the book. Ding Hui is making a huge profit off of this business, and we can note how ambitious he is when he marries his son to a girl much older than him, with a crippled leg and epilepsy. He does this only because her father is a very powerful man. 

“Over the last two weeks, they’ve been digging up the bodies of our girls who died of the fever, and marrying them off to dead boys in other villages. They’re selling our girls, digging up their bones and giving them to outsiders.” (pg 292)

This is actually still going on in rural parts of China, as can be seen in this BBC News article  published just last week and on this article on the South China Morning Post.

Camila Viera


Newspapers and Blindness

EXTRA EXTRA: Newspapers in The Plague vs. Present Day International Newspapers

What role do newspapers and social media play in regards to disease? Are they simply social informants or do they have another purpose? In several of the texts we have read so far (Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year, Ibsen’s Ghosts) newspapers have been the transmitters of social disease, as it is media publications that facilitate the spread of rumour throughout society with a rapidity similar to that of the contagious disease, and with implications that were detrimental in terms of the subsequent behaviour of the citizens. However, the newspapers in Albert Camus’ The Plague play somewhat of a different role, and this difference is highlighted when compared to some of the emotionally charged articles that have been recently published regarding the Ebola epidemic.

In The Plague, when the bubonic plague first infests the town of Oran, the newspapers function as social informants that document the death tallies of rats. They also seek to determine whether the civic authorities have any intention of intervening, or exercising their power, in what can been deemed as an emergency situation, in order to protect the public from this “disgusting infestation” (p.14). They can, in some way, be seen to represent the voice of society, and seem to stand alongside the citizens in regards to questioning to the response of authorities. They are very active during this period before the exact contagion that has infested the city has been identified. However, during the peak of the disease, when the death toll of civilians is increasing exponentially and when hysteria is slowly taking starting to rise, the newspapers fall silent.

This is a complete contrast to the behaviour of newspapers today, as it is during the peak of an epidemic that the journalists are most active. A primary example of this kind of fevered behaviour on the part of newspapers is the reporting on the current Ebola outbreak. Clicking on the following links will direct you to newspaper articles from various countries, which emphasises the absurdity of the silence of the newspapers in The Plague. 

Voice of America – USA

The Sydney Morning Herald – Australia

The Mirror – UK

The Daily Nation – Kenya

Daily News Egypt – Egypt

Daily Observer – Liberia

In The Plague, as the novel progresses, we see the newspapers slowly begin to increase their activity in regards to reporting about the infestation of the bubonic plague. The newspapers, more specifically The Courier of the Epidemic, aim to “inform…fellow citizens, in a spirit of total objectivity, about the advances or decline in the illness; to provide them with the most authoritative accounts of the future of the epidemic…to sustain the morale of the inhabitants “ (p.91). It is clear from the articles as posted above, that their intentions are not concerned with objectivity and they aim to alarm the public of the epidemic as opposed to being simply informative. The tone used in today’s newspapers seems to instil more panic than it does optimism or morale. It is interesting to note from these newspaper articles that they do not represent the concerns of the society, but instead inform in a way that is highly emotionally charged which elicit fear among the readers, as opposed to endeavouring to inform using facts, while also voicing the concerns of the society, as do the newspapers in novel.

Simi Roopra


The state of quarantine is seen visibly through the Plague. People get restless and try to escape, longing to see their loved ones and get away from the internal chaos of Oran.

Reading this, I was especially reminded of Jose Saramago’s Blindness. It is about a mass epidemic of unexplained white blindness in an unnamed town, and the social unrest and chaos that arises because of this. The infected are transferred to overcrowded asylums where they are kept in quarantine indefinitely. The government soon forgets about them, not providing food or personal hygiene products for long periods of time. Curiously, the main character, “the doctor’s wife”, as she is referred to in the text, never catches the blindness, despite the fact that she lies and says she does have it to take care of her husband during quarantine. She has close contact with all the infected, and never catches it, much like Dr. Rieux in The Plague.

Quarantine causes major social unrest in both books. There are scenes where people try to flee and are killed by the police force, huge fires and other chaotic situations.

“In fact, what with the heat and the plague, some of our fellow citizens were losing their heads; there had already been some scenes of violence and nightly attempts were made to elude the sentries and escape to the outside world.”

“As a result of the fighting at the gates, in the course of which the police had had to use their revolvers, a spirit of lawlessness was abroad. Some had certainly been wounded in these brushes with the police, but in the town, where, owing to the combined influences of heat and terror, everything was exaggerated, there was talk of deaths. One thing, anyhow, was certain; discontent was on the increase and, fearing worse to come, the local officials debated lengthily on the measures to be taken if the populace, goaded to frenzy by the epidemic, got completely out of hand. The newspapers published new regulations reiterating the orders against attempting to leave the town and warning those who infringed them that they were liable to long terms of imprisonment.”

Similar scenes can be observed in the movie of Blindness linked below:

See 1:22, a scene in which all the blind must escape the asylum because it has caught fire. Looking at the scene they even look like zombies. Once they get to the gates they realize even the guards have fled, leaving them to their own doom if it were not for their own escape.

Camila Viera

Feeling Alive?

What does it mean to be alive? Aside from the physiological component, to be alive can be understood to have the capacity to feel and experience a wide range of emotions. The way in which we respond to these emotions can be seen as a determinant of how we live our lives and what we classify as significant.

In Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts, it is evident that the character that is the embodiment of being alive is Mrs. Alving. On numerous occasions she experiences such raw emotions, which cannot be said for any of the other characters. We see that she has a strong affinity to her son, a daughter-like sentiment for Regina, and an undoubtable romantic connection to Manders. The way she feels emotion is unlike anyone else in the play and this is due to the fact all of the other characters represent ghost-like figures in Mrs. Alving’s life. They are all examples of temporariness, a lack of dependability and transparency – they all seem to torment Mrs Alving and hinder her life trajectory, yet she is somehow so emotionally bound to her ghosts and cannot seem to evade them.

“Ghosts. When I heard Regine and Oswald in there, it was jut like seeing ghosts. But then I’m inclined to think that we are all ghosts, Pastor Manders, every one of us. It’s not just what we inherit from our mothers and fathers that haunts us. It’s all kinds of old defunct theories, all sorts of old defunct beliefs, and things like that. It’s not that they actually live on in us; they are simply lodged there, and we cannot get rid of them. I’ve only to pick up a newspaper and I seem to see ghosts gliding between the lines. Over the whole country there must be ghosts, as numerous as the sands of the sea. And here we are, all of us, abysmally afraid of the light.” (p. 126)

See minute 48:43 – 49:43

Firstly, let’s look at Engstrand, who seems to be the most malicious ghost of all and an impediment in Mrs Alvin’s world. His shrewdness and cunningness liken him to a ghost, as he brings about troubles in a way that is so sneaky and evasive that his actions almost come across as being supernaturally based. The perfect example of this is the fire incident, when he encourages Manders to hold a prayer meeting, which results in the burning down of the Orphanage – which he uses to his advantage in terms of establishing his seaman’s hotel.

Secondly, Manders – the Ghost of What Could Have Been. The romantic sentiment Mrs Alving has for Manders is undeniable:

Mrs Alving: “I thought you realized where my heart, as you put it, had strayed at that time”

Manders: If I had realized anything of the kind, I would not have been a daily guest in your husband’s house” (p.123)

He is the embodiment of the love Mrs. Alving’s has always yearned for, and what she would have been content with in another reality, and so Mander’s presence torments her, like that of a ghost, though he acts as a confidant to whom she reveals her deepest and darkest secrets, and who’s company she seems to enjoy, despite his undermining her ability as a wife and mother.

Thirdly, Regine. From the onset, Regine’s permanency is challenged, with the presentation of the opportunity to work at her suppose father’s seaman’s hotel. Though she refuses, and for the duration of the play is seen as constant and faithful to her post as Mrs Alving’s worker, we see the fickleness and ghost-like qualities of her character when she is told the truth about her father, and almost immediately seeks to obtain her inheritance. This demonstrates the two-sided nature of her character, and her departure, once she has what she wants, is as seamless as that of a ghost. The lack of emotional attachment or concern also relates to her ghostliness, and alludes to the idea that on the inside, she seems to be devoid of emotion. Regine also acts a daily reminder of the ghost of Mr Alving, as she is the product of his sins and misdeeds.

Finally, the most ironic ghost of all is Oswald – the son of Mrs Alving. Oswald seems to be his father resurrected. His sickness, which can be seen to come from the sin of his father as “the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children” (p.138), and his wrongdoings, which are in direct reflection of those of his father, demonstrate that he has become what his mother has tried so painstakingly to prevent him from becoming. He is indeed the ghost of his father and what makes it ironic is that he – who is most ghostlike relative to all the other ghost figures in the play – is Mrs Alving’s attachment to him and her non-willingness to let this kind of ghost, go, despite that her efforts to keep him pure and proper have gone in vain. It is possible that her strong motherly love towards him has clouded her better judgement, and so when he is becoming an actual ghost, as he goes into “the sun…the sun” (p. 164), she is left isolated in a state of pure hopelessness, as she has already lost Regine and to some extent, Manders.

Can you think of any to other instances of ghostliness? What about the wrongly attributed credit of the foundation and operation of the orphanage being given to Mr Alving instead of Mrs Alving? Can this be seen to have some ghostly connection? Can you think of any others?

Finally, some questions to keep in mind as you continue to read:

  • Can you think of any beliefs, characters or instances in the novel that can be perceived as ghostly? (As above)
  • Ethically, is it wrong to lie to your children?
  • Looking at Regina’s reaction, is Mrs. Alving’s not telling her the truth about her father justified?
  • What role do relationships have in the play in building tension?
Sudikchya, Silviu, Camila, Simi

Final Thoughts on Arthur Mervyn


Arthur Mervyn is undoubtedly filled with numerous events, experiences and circumstances that the reader can see has profound effects on the development of Arthur’s character in the novel. However, when looking closely at the types of plots that Charles Brocken Brown weaves into Arthur’s story, we can see that some are typical, template storylines that have been used over and over again in various types of literature. And so we arrive at the question: Is Arthur Mervyn a pure memoir or is it a drama, plagued with cliché storylines?

Two examples of how Brockden Brown has incorporated typical dramatic/ cliché storylines include the return of Welbeck from the dead and the revelation of Achsa’s feelings for Mervyn by Dr Stevens, due to the one-dimensional aspect of Mervyn’s character.

This notion of characters that were thought to have died, but return and are re-integrated in plotline is a dramatic device that has been used in numerous works of literature, and more recently, used in television and movies. The purpose of this device is not only to build tension in the story, and allow it to gain momentum. Brocken Brown uses this dramatic template when he re-integrates Welbeck into the story after he was thought to have died after falling overboard into the river when disposing of Watson’s body with Mervyn. His return is used almost as a shock tactic and creates a tense mood between Mervyn and Welbeck. Other examples of re-integration of characters who were thought to have died include that of Innogen and Posthumus in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline. Both characters at certain points of the play were thought to have died and the reunion of the two lovers can be seen here in the final scene of the play, when the guises of their deaths are revealed. Many apologies for the lack of videos or visual material!

Another dramatic template that we see used time and time again, especially currently in movies, television shows and songs, is the revelation of a character’s true feelings about another character by a third party. The use of this device can be linked to the fact that it seems to resolve mounting tension, and is somewhat of a cathartic experience for the characters. The use of this template in Arthur Mervyn is used when Dr Steven’s guides Arthur to understand that the woman he is in love with (Achsa), is as in love with him: “It is plain that you love this woman” (p.321).

Arthur fails to see this due to his one-dimensional thinking and lack of observatory ability such as that of Dr Stevens, and thus this truth has to be broken down for him.

Simi Roopra


Throughout both volumes the reader can observe how Arthur sees himself superior to the black slaves. Taking a historical glimpse of slavery in Pennsylvania, we see the law for gradual emancipation in pennsylvania being passed in 1780, thirteen years before the novel takes place. Why, then, were there still slaves in Arthur Mervyn’s times? This is related to the fact that this law actually only made the black slaves free after the black slave reached the age of 28.

1787 the Free African Society was created by Richard Allen and Absalom Jones. The yellow fever serves as an opportunity for the black community to step up and make their way into society, as this short video explains:

To read more on the Free African Society check this link out.

Camila Viera


Last year, I was walking into a store’s parking lot with my friends. A female dog was on its back with its nipples straining, looking very much like she was about to give birth. I motioned to my friends (come look!)  and we are waiting for the dog to create and the next thing I see is Ritu on the ground because a bus narrowly missed her. I remember seeing her expertly dodging the bus with a crouched front roll (some other people also claim this happened) except that I could not possibly have witnessed it because my very first memory saw Ritu already away from the bus, on the ground. Arthur Mervyn is caught in a gust of intense experiences from the moment he enters the city so that it is almost difficult for his senses to accurately soak in everything. So he might be unconsciously filling the gaps with appropriate inferences, which is possibly what I did for the bus incident.

The peculiarity in the narrative intensifies proportional to the grip of the fever on Mervyn. Delusion as a consequence of the fever could also be making his senses more unreliable.

Another thing to consider here is narrative storytelling as opposed to documented memoirs. Narrative story telling generally tends to be intentionally weirder and consequently more memorable, allowing the listener to retell the story to let it have a long life span. If (and when) I tell the bus incident to my kids, I will definitely make it sound more fantastic. Considering that extended rhetoric makes up the entire text, I think it makes sense to view Arthur Mervyn’s story in context of oral storytelling.

PS: I never found out if the dog gave birth.


Sudikchya Shrestha


Searching the internet for information about Arthur Mervyn and the Yellow Fever, I found an interesting description of the plague in this novel, in Arthur Mervyn and the Apocalyptic Politics of Contamination.

Looking through old posts, I discovered some useful information about the Yellow Fever in 1793 on Harvard University’s portal on historical views of diseases and epidemics. Also if you want to take a look at the Arthur Mervyn’s city and hear some interesting facts about the outbreak of 1793 you can watch Philadelphia: the Great Experiment.

Finally, Fever: 1793 – Anatomy of An Epidemic presents the slaves from the Caribbean as responsible for bringing the disease in Philadelphia.

Silviu Marian Udrescu