Twisted Freedom

Maria Zhuganova: “Conventional executions might have reinforced discipline, might have restored order from the top down, but by making us all accomplices, they held us together not just by fear, but by guilt as well. We could have said no, could have refused and had been shot ourselves, but we didn’t […] We relinquished our freedom that day, and we were more than happy to see it go. From that moment on we lived in true freedom, the freedom to point to someone else and say ‘They told me to do it! It’s their fault, not mine.’ The freedom, God help us, to say “I was only following orders’” (Brooks 83).

In this passage, Zhuganova details the impact of the Great Panic—more specifically, the arrival of military personnel the Panic brought—on people of Khuzhir, Olkhon Island. Zhuganova’s use of parallel structure in the first sentence (“might have”) conjures images of an unpredictable military personnel, who come to the island searching for zombies. The military is aware that standard executions mark a distinct line between who is the victim and who is the perpetuator, and so they deliberately deviate from this. Instead, they offer the people a choice: kill, or be killed. Zhuganova notes that they were “all accomplices” (83), which suggests that most of the people there chose to kill. Trapped in an inextricable web of fear and guilt, people like Zhuganova feel responsible for the deaths they inflict, but are unable to stop; in this way, the military maintains control without exerting much effort.


Not unlike an insect caught in a spider’s web, the people on the island believe they will only make things worse for themselves if they struggle or show resistance

The parallel structure of “could have” in the second sentence creates an almost wistful tone as Zhuganova thinks of the alternatives she had—ones that she could have chosen. However, the “but we didn’t” (83) cuts Zhuganova’s musings short; this simple syntax is abrupt and definitive, reflecting not only the end of Zhuganova making any more choices, but also her resigned acceptance of the situation. She uses this brief sentence to summarize the inner turmoil expected of her (whether she should say no and be shot, or dole out the punishments and killings herself) but does not dwell any longer on this moral dilemma. The situational irony that making a choice leads to a loss of freedom also marks humanity’s downfall: humans are characterized by having intention, but because they are unable to reconcile their conscience with this one choice, they relinquish any control they once had.

Zhuganova continues on to describe the paradoxical situation people now find themselves in, where they are able to achieve “true freedom” by letting go of their previous freedom. The dialogue she provides—“They told me to! It’s their fault, not mine” (83)—demonstrates the ongoing cycle of blame that facilitates this new kind of freedom. Because there is always a scapegoat, people are no longer responsible for their own choices. And with the phrase “God help us” (83), Zhuganova acknowledges not only her twisted reasoning, but also humanity’s inability to solve their own immorality.


The never-ending blame game

Zhuganova’s use of “we” throughout most of the passage emphasizes that everyone is responsible: the military is manipulative, but the people ultimately made the choice to sacrifice others to save themselves. In the context of the zombie outbreak, the theme that the passage presents—that people must combat their selfish nature to preserve human morality—expands to the text as a whole: playing the blame game only delayed response to the zombie outbreak, diverting attention and resources away from the true crisis.




One thought on “Twisted Freedom

  1. Hi Evelyn,
    I found the point you made about the paradoxical nature of achieving “true freedom” as presented by Zhuganova particularly though-provoking. These words draw attention to what characters in the novel viewed as freedom, which was freedom from decision making and freedom from being held responsible for their choices, and makes readers ponder about how free they themselves actually are. It’s also interesting how you acknowledged how this ultimatum posed to civilians blurred the lines between victims and perpetrators. Through this passage, readers are able to empathize with Zhuganova’s hard choice to participate in the decimation and execute brutal acts, and it makes it more difficult to classify her as a perpetrator or a victim.


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