“The swarm continued among the cars, literally eating its way up the stalled lines, all those poor bastards just trying to get away. And that’s what haunts me most about it, they weren’t headed anywhere. This was the I-80, a strip of highway between Lincoln and North Platte. Both places were heavily infested as well as all those little towns in between. What did they think they were doing? Who organized this exodus? Did anyone? Did people see a line of cars and join them without asking? I tried to imagine what it must have been like, stuck bumper to bumper, crying kids, barking dog, knowing what was coming just a few miles back, and hoping, praying that someone up ahead knows where he’s going.” (Brooks 69).
Pilot Gavin Blaire provides this vivid description of the chaos he sees occurring on the ground when zombies overwhelm a large group of people. Though the imagery conveys the sense of hopelessness present throughout the book, the structure, syntax, and group-related diction emphasize the stifling power of the Zombie War.
Syntactically, the passage flows quickly at the beginning but soon slows down considerably. The rhetorical questions in the middle of the passage force the reader to pause, and the consecutive phrases in the last sentence function like speed bumps, reducing the flow to “bumper to bumper” (Brooks 69) traffic. This form not only mimics the events taking place in this scene, but it also allows the reader to experience the choking effects of a zombie infestation. As more and more zombies appear, fewer havens remain. Physical constraint is only one of the consequences of the War.
The juxtaposition of simple facts and rhetorical questions illustrates the effects of terror on group decision-making. For example, by stating “[b]oth places were heavily infested” (69) and then immediately asking “[d]id people see a line of cars and join them without asking,” (69), Blaire highlights the fact that fear has prevented people from even considering basic outcomes of their decision. One may assume that in a life or death situation, communities would work together and have a structure to deal with the problem; in reality, the individuals seem to rely too heavily on society, which is unorganized and crumbling. This shirking of responsibility is similar to what the governments have done and is why the virus has been capable of such destruction. In short, the outbreak also limits humanity by nullifying the strength that is usually derived from a group.
The true threat is the possibility of the virus stripping away the qualities that make people human. The speaker uses the word “swarm” (69) to describe the zombies that are engulfing the people in cars, but the constant use of “they” in the following sentences seems to blur the line between zombie and human. Blaire questions people’s intentions about using the I-80 to escape, insinuating that people are thoughtless. This description is eerily close to that of the zombies who are simply “eating [their] way up” (69). Moreover, as the survivors are forced to bunch closer and closer, the people become their own swarm. The passage’s subtle usage of an ambiguous “they” pressures the reader to question the distinction between zombie and human, a crucial idea present throughout the book.
This passage questions how people and humanity in general may respond to the virus. Clearly, people aren’t strong enough as individuals to fight the infestation. The ominous truth is that even groups of humans can’t seem to combat the virus because no one is willing to take command. As the zombies relentlessly move closer, the characteristics of humans and zombies seem to merge, as well.
Traffic Picture: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/72/Bangkok_traffic_by_g-hat.jpg
Swarm Picture: http://imgur.com/OSL6Tba
Brooks, Max. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Broadway Books, 2006.