“Shhh…baby. I won’t let them get you.”

The windows broke, the windows in the front next to the door. The lights got black. Grown-ups got scared. They screamed.

[Her voice returns to her mother’s.] ‘Shhhh . . . baby. I won’t let them get you.’ [Her hands go from her hair to her face, gently stroking her forehead and cheeks. Sharon gives Kelner a questioning look. Kelner nods. Sharon’s voice suddenly simulates the sound of something large breaking, a deep phlegm-filled rumble from the bottom of her throat.]’They’re coming in! Shoot ’em, shoot ’em!’ [She makes the sound of gunfire then…] ‘I won’t let them get you, I won’t let them get you.’ (Brooks 75)

As an audience that has never been in a war, the war scene is perhaps difficult to “experience”, second-hand. Sure, there are plenty of images and videos to supplement our surface-level visualization of war. However, the emotional engagement, or lack thereof, in war is difficult to sympathize with, much less a zombie war.

The psychological effect that Max Brooks paints through Sharon is pivotal in the readers’ understanding of the threatening situation. Brooks effectively conveys the stupefied state of Sharon as she encounters the zombies, and absorbs the scene. Further, the juxtaposition between the hectic and dire zombie war ground and the emotional composure of Sharon’s mother helps to highlight the perseverance of love and human connection. In effect, Brooks presents an overarching theme of disease outbreak simultaneously breaking and strengthening human-to-human bonds (as mentioned in class while discussing Wald’s Contagious).

afghan-girl

Oil Painting by Milano titled Afghan Girl. Though not Afghani, Sharon had red hair and green eyes. The artwork accurately reflects Sharon’s petrified eyes, absorbing the scene of the zombie attack.

To characterize Sharon in her stupefied state, Brooks uses word choice that underscores Sharon’s perceptiveness, but with detached tone. For example, instead of saying, “The lights turned off”, Sharon says, “The lights got black” (Brooks 75). This suggests that Sharon was perceiving the situations, and that all her senses were apt, but that she was too disoriented to process her observations. A similar way of communication is seen in the paragraph preceding the passage in which Sharon says, “They [, the zombies] came bigger” instead of “They came nearer” (75). Not only that, throughout the passage, Sharon excludes her own feelings and emotions about the zombie attack. She mentions that the “Grown-ups got scared. They screamed” but does not once say that she was scared or worried. Perhaps the entire situation was too overwhelming for Sharon to process her own emotions towards the situation. Humans, at high levels of stress, tend to shut off our emotive responses. Through the seemingly apathetic recollection of the attack, however, the readers nonetheless see Sharon’s emotional vulnerability. She constantly strokes herself, as her mother had, displaying her desperate seek for consolation. Such repeated motions throughout the passage highlight Sharon’s lasting trauma from the zombie attack. Through Sharon’s stupefied and distraught characterization, Brooks ultimately places the readers in the victims’ shoes—helping the readers to empathize with the psychological effect of the zombie attack.

While the spoken dialogue of Sharon functions to display the psychological effects of war, her animate retelling of the attack helps to build tension in the experience. In particular, Brook’s use of syntax in the beginning of the passage underscores this fact. The sentences get shorter and shorter as the zombie attack climaxes. The shorter sentences have an effect of ‘short-breathed-ness’ while reading, highlighting the urgency and fear embedded in the scene. Alarming and repeated phrases of “Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em!” add such sense of urgency (75). Another phrase numerously repeated throughout passage, however, is “I won’t let ‘em get you”. The contrasting phrases of the panicky “Shoot ‘em!” and the determined “I won’t let ‘em get you” serve to highlight the perseverance of love, even in the face of a zombie war (75). The juxtaposition between the threat and the composure underlying “I won’t let ‘em get you” enhances the idea of tenacity in a mother.

While discussing Wald’s Contagious, it was interesting to note that disease outbreak can separate people, wanting to avoid contact with the infected, but also conjoin people, a communion created by the desire to escape the illness, together. This passage is an example of how, in the face of fear and threat, such sense of communion and common desire to flee can spring from a disease outbreak. In other parts of the book however, Brooks also presents the selfishness of individuals at the face of disease. Because of disease, people would flee to desolate lands such as Alaska or Antarctica. Because of the disease outbreak, people would take advantage of the widespread fear and reap financial benefits. In such ways, disease propagates both human connections and betrayal and isolation.

Artwork:

Milano. Afghan Girl. N.d. Web Gallery. N.p.

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2 thoughts on ““Shhh…baby. I won’t let them get you.”

  1. The connection you make between World War Z and Contagion really made me ponder – when disasters tear us apart, we can see the beauty and love in our hearts. The repetition of “shoot ’em” and the exclamation marks push the recount to extreme tension, but the following promise from the mom calms everything down. “I won’t let ’em get you.” It’s unhurried, simple and straight, without any trace of panic. When I read this line, I was so convinced that both of them will leave the building unscathed at this end of this passage.

    And your discussion of love and motherhood reminds me of a 2016 Korean movie “Train to Busan”. More than a zombie apocalypse thriller, it has its own focus on the relationship between the main characters, a neglectful father and his daughter. He tries to make amends by taking his daughter to his ex-wife, and a zombie outbreak happens when they’re on the train. Trust and betrayal, love and hatred between humans are all completely uncovered by this sudden, brutal war they are having with zombies – the theme is very similar to what you’ve talked about in this post. It’s a great movie. It resonates with me better when I read more about the World War Z and I strongly recommend it to you.

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  2. Hi Deborah,

    I really enjoyed your discussion of how war can bring about the extremes of human emotions from love to betrayal. Love can persist, for example, through the bond of the daughter and mother, and create community, but it can also lead some to escape for self-preservation and leave others behind. It seems that we love with the best intentions and betray, in this case, not to hurt anyone else, but instead to save ourselves. I think this attests to our vulnerability, which, at the end of the day, as humans, we all are. You mention this in the interaction between the daughter and mother, and I certainly think vulnerability is harder for us to display as we grow older. Reading your post, I also began to wonder if Max Brooks seems to be making a larger statement about humans not being the supreme beings in the universe. We are vulnerable, but we are also destructible. We may actually have less control over our surroundings than we think we do, and as we realize this, our vulnerability becomes apparent.

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