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Are zombies dead or alive? What does it mean to be living or be dead? Dead and alive seem to have clear definitions at first glance, and they appear to be binary. The definition can be biological (no heartbeat), ethical, and even practical. But is it possible that there is a spectrum between what it means to be alive and be dead? The lack of distinction is similar to the concept of the disintegration of the self and other in the abject. Abject is “the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other”.
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The idea of the Abject is a state of being in-between subject and object which mirrors the state of being between being alive and dead every time. This is also consistent with the novel Zone One by Colson Whitehead, which is about the skels, stragglers which are the living dead, and survivors like Mark Spitz in the apocalyptic world of New York city by plague, and their lives in there, specifically Zone one, which is a small area in Manhattan, with the living. Whitehead questions what it means to be dead because there are always exceptions, such as the living dead (zombies), and illustrates that there are no real definitive set of standards to say whether one is dead or alive.
The novel represents life in a way that being alive and dead are the same, not different. Even though death could be considered as a final and negative, Whitehead’s characters “the stragglers” hint that there may be a way to survive in the apocalyptic world with hope, and suggest that there is always a reason to keep going, even in a space between life and death. Through the novel Zone One, Whitehead uses stragglers to show that life and death are not binary, and is it possible to occupy a space between to the two. Two types of zombie, unlike the traditional definition of a zombie, were introduced by Whitehead and they are for realizing the lack of distinction between life and death with the stragglers, and shows that the stragglers themselves show how people are in-between of life and death even though they seem to be dead.
The book Zone One presents the reader with two types of zombies. First, there are the skels and these are the ones who meet the traditional definition of a zombie- hungry for human flesh and very mobile. The second type, however, are markedly different from the type of undead that are traditionally presented in the zombie novel. They are called stragglers and they are less violent than skels, basically harmless and take a repetitive action. Whitehead terms these undead “stragglers” and remarks that “He was the first live human being the dead had seen since the start…”.
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Stragglers are introduced as a new type of ‘first live human being dead’ through the book and stragglers are shown in the gray zone of life and death, which implies that the idea of the stragglers itself shows how life and death are not that distinct. The existence of stragglers shows that there is hope, which is important because hope is a way to survive in the apocalyptic world and it tells that there is a reason to be alive, which signifies worth to be alive. Not only the existence of the stragglers but also the fact that they are symbol of hope through the novel represents positivity in death. In general, many people think that death is the end of hope or where no hope is; however, there is some positivity in death unlike people’s usual thoughts. Stragglers seem to be dead which is considered as a final originally, but they are actually alive and be able to move, so they are living. It tells that death might not be a final step and it is the same as living by keep going without stopping at one point.
However, people still might choose to be dead rather than being straggler, but by being stragglers you could find and be a hope in the overwhelming apocalyptic world. Stragglers’ past is mentioned through the novel, “The stragglers posed for a picture and never moved again, trapped in a snapshot of their lives”. They’re tied to key moments in their lives and they stayed or walked around the places that remind them or those moments. In addition to that, “Mark Spitz had noticed on numerous occasions that while the regular skels got referred to as it, the stragglers were awarded male and female pronouns…”. Skels are called ‘it’ which is a hopeless pronoun, but stragglers are called by female or male pronouns, which means that stragglers are more considered as human beings.
It reveals that seemingly dead one is considered as living one, human, and it means that there is no difference between dead and living. Unlike skels’ violent behavior, stragglers’ behaviors were less violent and harmless. Not only their behavior, their characteristic of spirits was so close to the human spirit. Stragglers also stay in one of the meaningful places to them, which seems like they are holding on to something whether it is the past or moment in the past. Skels seems to hold a hope in their deep inside of mind and this hope is considered as positivity rather than negativity.
According to the novel, Mark consistently reveals how stragglers are an important part in the apocalyptic world by showing the hope and their hope that is inside of stragglers is positive. In spite of the positive effect of hope, between human and stragglers show different aspect about the hope and Colson contrasts the humans and the stragglers to show that the being that can live in the space between life and death are more hopeful then the humans, who know they are alive and are just waiting to die without a little hope. Humans are afraid of being dead and do not have hope about death; however, stragglers have more hope than humans do. Humans always just try to keep going to the future, only push forward without looking back the past, but based on stragglers’ behaviors, they are stuck in one of the places where it was meaningful to them with their deep soul. Early in the novel, Mark Spitz, Gary and Kaitlyn often partake of a game they call Solve the Straggler. The game in the world of the novel is an attempt to figure out what the stragglers’ previous life may have been based on where it is found or what it is doing. According to novel, “Solve the Straggler, and you took a nibble out of the pure chaos the world had become”.
The whole notion of trying to figure out what to do with the stragglers past seems to be the key to survival in the reality of the present. As the game implies, the reason why stragglers’ past could be the solution to be survive in mess is that they have a hope deep inside of their mind by remembering the past, unlike humans who are called “survivals.” To use past with the hope of stragglers to figure out world’s future or even to make better environments in that situations emphasizes how stragglers are more optimistic compared to human.
Additionally, Lieutenant said That’s a why I like stragglers. They know what they’re doing Verve and a sense of purpose. What do we have? Fear and danger. The memories of all the ones you’ve lost. The regular skels, they’re all messed up. But your stragglers, your straggler doesn’t have any of that. It’s always inhabiting its perfect moment. They’ve found it – where they belong. Even though situation of the world is messed up and awful, it tells how stragglers do not have any of fear or danger, which are what humans have in their mind and how they are also different to the regular definition of zombie, skels. Because of fear or danger of death, humans who know they are alive are just desperate and waiting to die even without any little hope.
This contrasts to the humans, skels and the stragglers to show that the being that can live in the space between life and death is more hopeful then the humans, and stragglers are the most optimistic creatures in the hopeless situation. People’s desperate scenes are portrayed in the novel with “No one used the word ‘cure’ anymore. The plague so transformed the human body that no one still believed they could be restored”. People even don’t used the word ‘cure,’ which shows the last hope from death; however, they believe that they will not be able to restore from the infection of plague which means that they do not try to have a hope or think positively at all about death. It displays how people are just waiting to die and what it means to be dead to them.
Through the novel Zone One, the definition of being alive and dead are blurred. Humans can occupy a space between life and death; thus, it is hard to say completely what is mean to be dead and living. People all over the world are exposed to zombies through the media, such as movies, dramas and even various games. Use of zombies in the movies, drama, and games prompt people to think about a space between living and death. However, people just think over to be survive in somehow and start to be afraid of becoming zombie or straggler when the apocalyptic world comes to real life, ultimately getting the point where their own fear of death makes people die. On this point, do you think that there is a binary state between living or dead, not the death comes from your fear in your mind and not actually life is ended?
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