I am not afraid of death. The way I see it once I am dead and gone and buried I lose the ability to want to live and therefore won’t mind being dead. I am scared of zombies. It’s not the unstoppable illness, the creepy way they walk, or of becoming a Zombie. I approach that inevitability the same way I approach death: once I am a zombie I can no longer care about being a zombie;  I see no reason to suffer through my zombification twice. What scares me about zombies is the roaming. Roaming conjures up an image of wandering aimlessly without reason or thought or purpose. Roaming zombies are the literary manifestation of the collapse of the humanity that none of us knows whether or not exist but chooses to believe in anyway. I do not know if you have a consciousness. To me you are a pile of cells constantly dying and reproducing so frequently that you are no longer completely the you I have just perceived. I don’t know what makes you human other than our shared genom. Zombies share that genom with us too. By any species concept -the way we look, our evolution, and our reproduction- you and me and zombies are the same.

The first appearance of “Zombi” in the western literature was in The Magic Island by William Seabrook in 1935. The book chronicles Mr.Seabrook’s venture into voodoo and experience as a cannibal. The idea of Zombies eating humans, more specifically human brain was not part of the original zombie myth, instead zombi referred to an African deity. Zombies desire to eat flesh and brain, what we call our mind, developed later as our fear that are fellow humans see us as nothing more than meat on bone made its way into our stories. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein an intellectual being created by doctor Frankenstein is denied a name and connection with others despite the fact he can think and learn. When Frankenstein’s monster says “I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.” Mary Shelley is approaching the fear of zombies from the opposite perspective. Rather than viewing zombies as unthinking, unstoppable cannibals the zombie in this story has very human thoughts and emotions that are not acknowledged by his peers or even his creator. The zombie we have created in our writing embodies both our fear that we are the only conscious being and the fear that our consciousness is being ignored.

We fear this idea so much that  have come to think of it as the way the world ends, in apocalyps. In Books like World War Z by Max Brooks and I am Legend by Richard Matheson the zombie apocalypse focuses greatly on the lost of family. The main characters in this novel are alone as the result of the zombies take over. They lose their ability to connect with those they love or anyone else.

The new zombie myth is the utopian genre. Book series like Hunger Games, Match The Fifth Wave, The Giver and Divergent. Books where humans have forced themselves into roaming roles that don’t require real thought or are otherwise viewed almost as animals by others. Divergent, Match, and The Giver all involve a main character who begins like the ignorant and conforming rest and journeys to learn better. Eventually choosing to try and break the cycle causing them to be ostracized from society much like Frankenstein’s monster. In the Hunger Games by Veronica Roth real and feeling humans are viewed as entertainment and in Risk Yancey’s The Fifth Wave near extinction is caused by an invading race that takes over human bodies so that those bent on killing us look identical to those we want to save.

It seems that although the writing addresses this fear none of it seems believe in it. All of these books involve some kind of deeper human connection whether that be friendship or love. All of them seem to believe that there is more to humanity that separates us from the roaming zombie. The Fifth Wave main character Cassie  exemplifies this belief when she says “I am the one not running but facing. Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity. And if this is humanity’s last war, then I am the battlefield.” We all choose to believe that humanity has more to it and is the agreement we all have with one another, even though there is no reason or evidence provided that anybody but me has “multitudes”. That’s what Walt Whitman called it in his poem “Song of Myself”. But for all I know he has no “multitudes”. Perhaps he is just that one lucky monkey among an entire histories’ who happened to write Shakespeare, or in this case you would call it Whitman. Zombies were created in literature to realize the possibility that our friends and family and philosophers and Whitman are just roaming.



CC BY-SA 4.0 Roaming in Literature by Melissa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

1 Comment
  1. Judge Thomas 1 year ago

    I think that your post is very clever. When you talk about the fear that our “…fellow humans see us as nothing more than meat on bone…” is utterly terrifying. I really found your connection to zombies with the collapse of humanity as something relatable especially when there are debates that people—especially younger generations—are becoming a little more disconnected. Of coarse, this theory is something that can be discussed in a more focused approach on a different post, but the connection of disconnection to roaming does show a side of concern. I also agree with you about how scary roaming can be. I believe A Brave New World has aspects of roaming that slowly destroys humanity. The advent of extreme readily information that seems to be the theme throughout the book, makes individuals less human in a way. Finally, I like how you mentioned that many books have an underlying truth about humanity in which we need to save from ourselves.

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