Humanity vs Fear

“The little girl was now close enough so we could see her face. Her eyes were wide, locked on Rat Face. Her arms were raised, and I could just make out this high-pitched, rasping moan… In one smooth motion, Rat Face pulled a pistol from underneath his coat, shot her right between the eyes, then turned around and sauntered back toward us. A woman, probably the little girl’s mother, exploded into sobs. She fell to her knees, spitting and cursing at us…I knew I should have felt bad for the child…and maybe even a little bit guilty because I didn’t lift a finger to stop it…at that point the only thing I could feel was fear” (79).

Maria Zhuganova recounts her first experience with the undead; however, she does not approach the zombie with the same rhetoric that is seen throughout the rest of this novel. One of the ways she humanizes the zombie is by the repetition of “her” instead of the usual “it.” This simple change in pronoun has a significant effect on the reader: it creates a mood of empathy rather than aversion. This tone is bolstered by the use of key phrases, such as “rasping moan,”  that further serve to show how the little girl is a victim of a disease rather than the perpetrator of it. Elements of pathos are intertwined with this description when Zhuganova describes “the little girl’s mother [who] exploded into sobs [and] fell to her knees, spitting and cursing at us.” This emotional description can move even the toughest listener as they are faced with the reality that everyone, even the living dead, have people who love them.

 

This love and care is what causes Zhuganova to feel “bad for the child” and encounter “guilt” while others remain desensitized. She faces inner turmoil as her instinct of wanting to save others clashes with her desire to save herself. The author separates her turmoil from her final conclusion by using a semicolon after Zhuganova discusses what she “should have been feeling.” This separation reveals the conclusion that Zhuganova arrived at: the emotion that trumps everything else is “fear.” This signals an interesting shift from pitying the victim to wanting its destruction. The hatred is not created by a sense of rage but rather by a simple, yet primal instinct: fear.

The author uses syntax, imagery, and pathos to create a sense of escalation for the reader. In the beginning of the paragraph the sentences are short and abrupt, seeming to resemble the cold and calculated murder of the little girl. However, by the end of the paragraph the sentences become more complex, resembling the complexity of emotions battling over each other before “fear” is declared the winner. In this passage, the author uses a lens of pathos to show that treating a zombie as a perpetrator instead of a victim is not a doing of the zombie, but rather it is a change in the emotional construct of the living, who begin to fear what they do not know. In this sense, the author seems to imply that our view of the world, and our actions towards it, largely depend on our perception of it, rather than the actual reality.

Citation: Brooks, Max. “The Great Panic.” World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. New York: Crown, 2006. 79. Print.

 

“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.