An Empty Room

“Can I be blamed for wanting a real body, to put my arms around? Without it I am too disembodied. […] I too am dry and white, hard, granular; it’s like running my hand over a plateful of dried rice; it’s like snow. There’s something dead about it, something deserted. I am like a room where things once happened and now nothing does, except the pollen of the weeds that grow up outside the window, blowing in as dust across the floor.”(128)

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale explores the consequences of society where fertility is limited and gender roles are exaggerated as a result. This passage occurs later at night of the same day of Offred and the Commander’s routine interaction, and Offred lies in bed thinking and contemplating about her blissful time in the company of Luke. Now, she is overwhelmed with feelings of loneliness and longing for real, genuine human contact. Through the first person point-of-view, continual references to death, and the similes comparing Offred herself to objects, Atwood indicates how Offred’s mind and body are separate entities where only her body is valued, and suggests that this dehumanization is attributed to the detrimental societal constructs of the totalitarian society.

As we discussed in class, the majority of this novel is narrated in first person point-of-view, allowing Offred’s experiences in this society as a handmaid to represent the experiences of all the handmaids. Thus, all the handmaids are likely to feel the same detachment from their bodies, presumably because their value is so often attributed to their uterus, and their body as a baby-making machine—which the totalitarian government dictated for them. This reveals the dehumanizing nature of the society towards handmaids, and also towards other classes in the hierarchy.

While contemplating the concept of real human contact that seems to be nonexistent in this society, Offred poses a rhetorical question, asking if this urge for human contact is something worthy of blame. In today’s society, it is completely normal to have this urge; however, in this future society, handmaids are conditioned to resist these natural urges. By asking this question, the narrator allows the reader to empathize with her and recognize how hard it must be for the narrator to not have any real people “to put [her] arms around”. Furthermore, the use of the word “disembodied” implies that without this lack of human interaction, Offred’s soul and mind are separated from her body. This separation is a result of her physical demands not being met, leaving only her emotions.

Following those phrases, Offred compares herself to a “plateful of dried rice” and “snow” that is “dead” and “deserted”. Rice that has been left out for a while becomes dry, and Offred feels like her body has done that, just been left out without anyone paying attention to it. Furthermore, “rice” is an object, and by comparing herself to an object, she objectifies herself—conditioned by the society to do so. The totalitarian society has stripped her of value of her mind, leaving only a body which dehumanizes her. These words also create

an eerie tone with all the references to desolation and death, relating to the eerie nature of this society. Finally, Offred compares herself to a room where nothing grows and only the “pollen of the weeds” blow “as dust across the floor”. Again, she compares herself to an object, dehumanizing her. It is depressing to see how something once lively now has no signs of life, because what Offred is doing is not living, it is just existing to serve her one purpose. There are only weeds growing because weeds are irrelevant and useless—symbolizing the irrelevant, superficial human interactions Offred has each day.

 

Freedom from Freedom

Moira had power now, she’d been set loose, she’d set herself loose. She was now a loose woman… Moira was like an elevator with open sides. She made us dizzy. Already we were losing the taste for freedom, already we were finding these walls secure. In the upper reaches of the atmosphere you’d’ come apart, you’d vaporize, there would be no pressure holding you together. (Atwood 133)

In this passage, Offred recalls Moira’s escape from the Red Center. The contrasting descriptions of Moira and the other Handmaids at the Red Center, revealed through similes and ambiguous diction, exposes human susceptibility to indoctrination due to the multifaceted, fleeting nature of freedom of thought.

The use of ambiguous diction in the word “loose” reveals that a lack of clear definition creates an environment in which it is easy to succumb to a source of structure and rigidity. The repetition of “loose” emphasizes the freedom that Moira has acquired through her escape, but also illuminates the multiple meanings that the word takes on in Offred’s thoughts. The phrase “set loose” compares Moira to a wild, untamed animal that is released from its captor, dehumanizing her into a creature that acts instinctually and without reason. In Offred’s mind, power has transformed into something uncontrolled and dangerous; by exaggerating the harmful instances of humanity, the society in The Handmaid’s Tale takes advantage of fear to control women.

Moira is like an animal “set loose” from its chains (steemit.com)

Rather than praising Moira for her freedom, Offred categorizes Moira as a “loose woman,” implying that a woman with freedom must also be promiscuous and unchaste, further revealing the prejudiced attitude toward woman that is adopted by the novel’s dystopian society and instilled on the Handmaids.

The simile comparing Moira to “an elevator with open sides” implies that Moira’s freedom gives her the ability to raise her living standards. However, this becomes twisted in the Handmaid’s mind as they can only focus on the dizzying nature of Moira’s freedom, her “open sides,” because they feel unstable and out of balance. The fact that the Handmaids are losing their “taste” for freedom reveals the idea that they have become numbed to any sensation due to the indoctrination at the Red Center. Without any exposure to freedom, the Handmaids have forgotten its value and thus are satisfied with their new rigid and structured lifestyle.

Riding an “elevator with open sides” can be both exhilarating and terrifying (www.travelpulse.com)

The simile of the elevator contrasts with Offred’s description of the Handmaids when she states “you’d vaporize.” By switching to second person, Offred generalizes her description to an unspecified audience, revealing the pervasiveness of the regime’s brainwashing. While Moira is able to remain whole as one entity, the Handmaids have become so accustomed to their strict lifestyle that they believe they would “vaporize” and disappear if given access to freedom. The women have become reliant on the “pressure” exerted by the society in order to continue functioning as a complete being.

 

Wanting is Weakening

“But to refuse to see him could be worse. There’s no doubt about who holds the real power.

But there must be something he wants, from me. To want is to have a weakness. It’s this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me. It’s like a small crack in a wall, before now impenetrable. If I press my eye to it, this weakness of his, I may be able to see my way clear.

I want to know what he wants.” (Atwood 136)

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the readers are introduced to a society in which individuals are distanced from each other via social stratification. Individuals from different classes are discouraged from associating with one another, Commanders and Handmaids, in particular, by law. So, how did this society come to be? What is the reason why formation of relationships are so discouraged and individuals are so emotionally isolated? This is a question that we have already begun to ponder in class. Through use of parallel structure, imagery and a conversational tone transparent to Offred’s perplexity, the above passage suggests that to expect something from another is a form of weakness. The passage further complicates relationships through attributing its formation to the revealing of such weakness, and thus arguing the vulnerability of human beings when we engage in relationships.

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Wanting leads to weakness. Revealing the weakness or vulnerability leads to the formation of relationships. There is something enticing about the realization of vulnerability. (http://www.thecoachpod.com/2016/03/14/cp55-the-power-of-vulnerability-2/)

The use of parallel structure in this passage functions to establish a universal truth. The phrases that involve parallel structure that we have been exposed to include “Like father, like son” or “Easy come, easy go”. The rhythm and flow created by such parallelism adds a matter-of-factly tone to the phrase. Thus, by stating, “To want is to have a weakness”, the narrator establishes that “wanting” as a form of “weakness” is a universal truth. In other words, the parallelism impresses to the readers that it is an undeniable truth that when one “wants” something out of another, they are “weakened”. Such matter-of-fact phrase, placed right after the first sentence asserting the Commander’s power effectively debunks the seemingly dominant male. It ultimately points the weakening of the Commander to the fact that he “wanted” Offred to come see him; by trying to form a relationship with Offred, he is thence weakened.

In addition to the parallel structure creating an instantaneous assertive tone, the overarching conversational tone places an honest ethos to the narrator. Phrases like “whatever it is” in “It’s this weakness, whatever it is, that entices me” invites the readers into Offred’s internal confusion. The fact that she is being conversational in admitting her confusion in the exact idea of weakness then adds a more authentic voice to the fact that she was enticed by it. In other words, she honestly did not know how one is ‘weakened’ in response to the ‘want’ but was nonetheless lured by the idea of the Commander being vulnerable. The authentic voice created with the conversational tone then serves to reveal to the readers that the narrator herself is beginning to form a relationship with the Commander. The fact that she is enticed by the seemingly vulnerable Commander then implies that she ‘wants’ to figure him out. In effect, the passage establishes a mutual ‘want’ of relationship. This concept is further clarified by Offred’s last sentence in the passage when she says, “I want to know what he wants”. In her authentic voice, the readers are convinced to believe that she too ‘wants’ to get to know him, a seed to the development of a relationship, and is therefore also ‘weakened’. Offred’s engagement in ‘wanting’ acquaintance is leaving her vulnerable.

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Crack in the wall, representative of the peek into the Commander’s vulnerability (http://eastebuilder.co.uk/articles/view/184/Reasons+for+Cracks+on+Your+Walls)

Finally, the use of visual imagery highlights Offred’s transition from a passive female to one that actively seeks to learn about the Commander’s ‘want’ or ‘weakness’. Creating the image of a wall with a small crack, and illustrating Offred going up against it and pressing her eye to it gives the readers the image that Offred is actively engaging. In contrast to her reluctance to come up to meet the Commander, previously, the image created displays her moving towards the crack, or apparent weakness of the Commander. As a result, the visual imagery further strengthens the fact that Offred is actively taking initiative in forming the personal acquaintance. This image, in particular, is crucial given the circumstances of Offred being a Handmaid. It would be illegal for her to display any sign of visible action to get to know the Commander. Instead, the imagery helps communicate Offred’s below-the-surface level active initiative.

In such ways, the passage helps to underscore the vulnerabilities that branch from the formation of relationships. This is done through drawing a definitive link between ‘want’ or any desires for another, and the subsequent ‘weakness’ as drawn by parallelism, strengthened by an authentic voice and enhanced through imagery.

Returning to a Child

I fold back the sheet, get carefully up, on silent bare feet, in my nightgown, go to the window, like a child, I want to see. The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow. The sky is clear but hard to make out, because of the searchlight; but yes, in the obscured sky a moon does float, a newly, a wishing moon, a silver of ancient rock, a goddess, a wink. The moon is a stone and the sky is full of deadly hardware, but oh God, how beautiful anyway. (Atwood 97)

In The Handmaid’s Tale, women are no more than reproductive machines and only viewed as substitutable properties of the Commander. However, through this passage, the readers can know more about the inner self of Offred and her deep cravings. Through portraying Offred’s actions and the view she sees from her perspective, this passage sheds more light on Offred’s psychological status and the derived desires which are unfortunately suppressed by the society, and it leads to a better understanding of the narration style of the novel and the humanization of the handmaids.

Firstly, the depiction of Offred’s actions suggests her return to a more original, child-like mental stage. In the first sentence, Offred employs short, repetitive structure and simple verbal use which resembles the talking of a young kid. She expresses her thoughts plainly and directly: “I want to see.” Offred thinks like a child and therefore she talks like a child, without cautiousness she presents when talking with Serena or the Marthas. Moreover, the actions “fold back the sheet, get carefully up, on silent bare feet” imply more about Offred’s retrogression. The sheet symbolizes the chain the society of Gilead imposed on her: she is caged and fed in this room, and she even has a bathing schedule like an animal does. Everything in this room is a restraint, and as she goes “bare feet” and looks out of the window, she is casting the superficial limitations way, facing who she really is and what she really wants.

And how Offred sees the view “as a child” reveals more on the two questions above, and the readers can reach the deepest part of her heart through these lines. The image of the moon has been presented to the readers before, as in chapter 13 when Offred describes how she is totally determined by her uterus: “every month there is a moon, gigantic, round, heavy, an omen.” The round moon signifies the failure of conception and the despair following it, and the new moon here must stand for the opposite – it is “a wishing moon,” a moon that brings her hope, which “does float” in spite of the obscured sky; it is the moon that brings the beauty of the world and shows her the bright side even though it is actually lifeless and cold, which she refers to as a “deadly hardware.” More importantly, the metaphor of “a wink” corresponds to the wink that Nicks gave her on the driveway of the Commander’s house. The shape of the moon reminds her of the attention she gets as a real, living being, and it is an indication of the fact that she craves love from others as much as she craves hope and beauty. This explains why Offred always has flashbacks from the past: her mother, her daughter, Luke, and Moira satisfy her needs for love and care, which are nonexistent in her new life. She wants to be a child, and she wants to be loved, nurtured and protected. She wants to escape from all the coldness, the worrying in life and she needs hope as every human being does. Offred has to partially live in the past to meet those human needs, and this is the main reason why these characters are making such frequent appearances even though they are not a part of her new life of being a machine and a property of the Commander.

Total Control is Impossible

“I want Luke here so badly. I want to be held and told my name. I want to be valued, in ways that I am not, I want to be more than valuable. I repeat my former name, remind myself of what I once could do, how others saw me.

I want to steal something.” (Atwood 97)

As Offred looks out her window at night, she thinks about all her wishes, allowing the reader to understand them better because of the stream-of-consciousness. The society that she lives in is heavily controlled, meaning that she has never been able to share her desires with anybody. Through Offred’s expression of her deeply personal, flowing wishes that sometimes seem unrelated, the reader realizes that a society that aims to reduce a person to a single role is misguided.

One of the striking aspects about the passage is that every sentence begins with “I.”If somebody spoke like this, they would seem petty, but because these are Offred’s thoughts,  they are profound in that they reveal her role in society. The Republic of Gilead emphasizes the role of women as child-bearers and nothing more. Therefore, Offred resists her devaluation by offering her wishes over those of society’s. The passage also shows a struggle against the duality of women presented in the novel. Usually, Offred conveys a distinction between herself and her womb. Here, she emphasizes herself as an individual, showing that she doesn’t accept society’s reduction of her. Society can pressure Offred to act as though she isn’t an individual, but her thoughts are her own.

The sentence length increases as the passage progresses to demonstrate that Offred can have complex desires that go beyond just having a baby. She goes from saying “I want to be held” to “I want to be valued, in ways that I am not, I want to be more than valuable.” Not only does the sentence length increase, but also the complexity of her wishes does also. This progression from short and simple to long and complex demonstrates that society has censured Offred so much that she has to rediscover herself. In other words, to get to her main desire of being valued, she has to use a sort of inductive reasoning. She is able to reach this conclusion, however, illustrating that an individual’s suppression can be reversed.

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Offred just wants to be held.

During her gradual rediscovery, Offred seems to jump from one thing to another. For example, she initially wants “to be valued” but then soon after wants “to be more than valued.” In addition, the majority of the passage conveys a desire for a social relationship, but then the last sentence abruptly shifts to a desire for stealing something. This illogical organization of thoughts is important because it shows that people don’t think in a linear manner but are actually complex beings that can’t be completely understood. Consequently, a society that aims to reduce women to a single role fails to understand that this is not human nature. People go from wanting “to be valued” to wanting “to steal something” without reason, and no law or societal custom will be able to control this randomness.

This passage that conveys Offred’s thoughts shows that even a controlling society such as the one in the Republic of Gilead will never be able to maintain total control over individuals. Offred continues to think about herself, continues to explore her feelings and emotions, and displays randomness that is a part of human nature.

 

Life as a Two-legged Womb

“We are for breeding purposes: we aren’t concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. On the contrary: everything possible has been done to remove us from that category. There is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us, no room is to be permitted for the flowering of secret lusts; no special favors are to be wheedled, by them or us, there are to be no toeholds for love. We are two-legged wombs, that’s all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices.” (Atwood 136)

In the society of The Handmaid’s Tale, women, specifically handmaids, are objectified to be merely “two-legged wombs” (136). The women in this society are bound to staying home, doing domestic work as usual. There is no true love and emotion in this society, and these strict guidelines put forth in the women’s lifestyles are apparently for their own benefit. By intermingling words that usually describe animals as well as the repetition of negative words, Atwood emphasizes how unnecessarily restricted and confined women are in order to encourage women to not give into the objectification of themselves by the men in society as well as society itself.

animal-baby

Women have been degraded to be breeders, just like this mom polar bear

In the passage, handmaids are stated to be for breeding purposes. Breeding is typically associated with the reproduction of animals. By using this word, Atwood shows how dehumanized women in this society have become. Women have been degraded to being baby making machines and no more. While stating that the women are for breeding purposes, the narrator also lists what the women aren’t: concubines, geisha girls, courtesans. This is a list of women who perform many sexual favors. However, a lot of those are for the entertainment and pleasure of the men that are receiving these sexual favors. In The Handmaid’s Tale, sex isn’t enjoyable to either the men or the women, for it is only a required monthly activity. Also, by listing everything that the handmaids aren’t, the specificity and simplicity of the role of the handmaids is emphasized. The handmaids have one job and one job only: to make babies.

With the use of a negative word “nothing” and the repetition of the word “no” three times in the middle part of the passage, readers are shown how strict and numerous the rules governing what handmaids can do are. Also, the sentence that starts with “there is supposed to be nothing entertaining about us…” (136) isn’t divided at all. All the rules are continuously stated, either separated by a comma or a semicolon. Since this sentence isn’t separated between the different rules, it visually makes it seem as if the list of rules is endless.

Goblet.PNG

Handmaids are “chalices”

Also, there are to be “no toeholds for love” (Atwood 136). The word toehold is described as “a relative insignificant position from which further progress may be made.” The fact that there can’t even be a toehold for love shows how cautious the commanders and rules are so that the emotion of love doesn’t get involved in the process of reproduction at all. Handmaids are also described as “chalices” (136). This means “a large cup or goblet.” The handmaids are degraded to being only a cup that gets filled metaphorically with a baby. Once that baby is out, the cup is then used again for the same purpose until the cup, metaphorically the handmaids, is no longer usable. With all these mechanisms, Atwood emphasizes how strictly the process of reproduction in this society is monitored in order to encourage women reading her book to not conform to society’s ideas of what a women’s role should be.

Sources:

  1. Definition of toehold: Google
  2. Polar bear picture: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/236x/26/f8/01/26f8014c31959b59e4739cb6e1b75c93.jpg
  3. Definition of chalice: Google
  4. Goblet: http://vignette1.wikia.nocookie.net/clubpenguin/images/7/73/Goblet_Pin.PNG/revision/latest?cb=20150314205740

Blog Prompt for Week 10

The purpose of this week’s blog post is to start warming you up for your thesis development paper and critical essay. In order to do that, I’m asking you to choose a short passage (4–6 lines) from the reading for Thursday, close read it, and try to make an argument about it.

Go over the close reading handout if you need a review as to what elements you can focus on for a close reading. Remember that you should focus on how the passage is saying what it is saying–no plot summaries, please! You can never be too close with your analysis.

Power of Memories

[Sharon’s voice suddenly simulates the sound of something large braking, 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.’ [Sharon suddenly looks away, over my shoulder to something that isn’t there.] ‘The children! Don’t let them get the children!’ That was Mrs. Cormode. ‘Save the children! Save the children!’ [Sharon makes more gunshots. She balls her hands into a large double fist, bringing it down hard on an invisible form.] Now the kids started crying. (75).

In the passage, Sharon, a woman who now lives in a rehabilitation center for “feral children,” recalls the story of her encounter with the living dead. Initially described as a person of rudimentary language and thinking, Sharon recounts her story with great ease.

The passage is marked by a dichotomy of tone between Sharon’s recounting of dialogue and the narrator’s clinical, explanatory tone. This juxtaposition further emphasizes Sharon’s frantic dialogue as she recalls the horrific events she has witnessed. Both methods of storytelling are connected in their use of simple syntax. Sharon’s simple syntax is also coupled with her repetition of phrases (“Shoot ‘em! Shoot ‘em!… Save the children! Save the children!”) as well as simpler, colloquial diction. There is no definitive reason why Sharon’s recalling of dialogue utilizes these – it could be a reflection of her limited cognitive ability, an accurate recalling of dialogue in a terrifying time, or a mixture of the two.

Sharon’s limited cognitive abilities bring into question a variety of other issues, such as: How reliable is she as a narrator? What brought about these injuries to her language and thought processes? Did she sustain such injuries before the Zombie War or because of her experiences during that time?

ptsd_trauma

Sharon’s possible trauma from past events haunts her to this day, trapping her in the mind of a 4-year old.

Initially introduced in a dismissive manner, Sharon recalls her experience with seemingly impressive ability. She describes the episode in an almost possessed sense, taken out of the moment. The narrator notes that she looks, “over [his] shoulder to something that isn’t there.” Sharon has a remarkable narrative talent to bring the reader back to the past as she retells her story. Furthermore, she has an almost unsettling ability to imitate a variety of voices with supposedly impressive accuracy, and create noises based on the setting she describes, with “a deep, phlegm-filled rumble from the bottom of her throat.”

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Similar to the use of the pensieve in Harry Potter, Sharon allows the reader to be transported back in time as she vividly recalls events.

Her talents do not make sense in light of her supposed cognitive deficiencies. Sharon is supposed to have a rudimentary sense of language, yet she is able to weave a detailed image of her experience. What she is not able to communicate through language, she is able to shrewdly supplement with imitations of accents and sounds. Such noises give off the impression to the reader that the event itself has possessed her.

Sharon’s purpose as a whole is to allow for the narrator to break his/her typical structure of the book, which has been thus far to have those he/she interviews recall and reflect on past events. Sharon’s vivid descriptions, however accurate, are the closest that the narrator can get in his/her oral history structure to a more “typical” narration of events, wherein the reader is transported back to the time of the scene.

Red “Surprise”

“The sky was red that day. All the smoke, the crap that’d been filling the air all summer. It put everything in an amber red light, like looking at the world through hell-colored glasses. That’s how I first saw Yonkers, this little, depressed, rust-collar burb just north of New York City. I don’t think anybody ever heard of it. I sure as hell hadn’t, and now it’s up there with, like, Pearl Harbor…no, not Pearl…that was a surprise attack. This was more like Little Bighorn, where we…well…at least the people in charge, they knew what was up, or they should have. The point is, it wasn’t a surprise, the war…or emergency, or whatever you want to call it…it was already on. It had been, what, three months since everyone jumped on the panic train.” (93)

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In this passage, Todd Wainio illustrates the initial setting and thoughts in regards to the “Great Panic.” In particular, this passage begins to illustrate and foreshadow the horrors that are about to come before the soldiers in the war. Brooks does this through the use of diction, imagery, and figurative language.

For example, through diction and imagery, Brooks is able to highlight the beginnings of the battle with the undead. For example, Todd paints an image of red in many of the initial sentences in phrases such as “amber red light” and “hell-colored glasses”. As red is reminiscent of blood and violence, Todd is further setting the scene of that war that is upon them. The color red could also be emphasizing the aggression and anger that the soldiers are feeling which is further described later on in the interview (ie. not being able to go up on the roof tops even though tactically it would be a better choice).

In addition to the use of red, Todd also refers to the war as a “panic train.” There have been so many mistakes in regards to this zombie war made by so many to the point that people are simply there for the ride whether they like it or not. Also, by using the “panic” to describe the train creates an atmosphere of uncertainty. When people are not very sure of their situation, they may go into a state of panic as they feel that they are inadequately prepared. Similarly, when the soldiers are being sent into the middle of this war, there are many unknowns that they aren’t able to properly prepare for although it has already been three months from the beginning of the panic. Even with a quarter of the year passing by, there is still much that needs to be done.

old-train-7025836-vintage-free

Furthermore, Brooks’s use of repetition and syntax demonstrates the horrors of the war. For example, in the second sentence of the excerpt, Todd repeats “hell”. With this emphasis on hell, Todd places the soldiers in an environment in which there is no escape. Whether or not the soldiers die of natural causes or become reanimated, there is no true escape. They are going to be thrown into a battlefield full of reanimated zombies which only produce chaos and death. In addition, the use of ellipses creates breaks in the storytelling which further creates a sense of doubt and uncertainty. Todd needs to take a break in between his statements to make adjustments and clarifications upon his previous statements. This illustrates the inadequacy to do what needs to be done.

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Thus, through the use of literary devices and figurative language, Brooks demonstrates the upcoming and ongoing battles of the war of the undead versus the living.

“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.