Post Apocalyptic Fiction: World War Z And I Am Legend

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“The monsters that rose from the dead, they are nothing compared to the ones we carry in our hearts”- Max Brooks, World War Z

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In Max Brooks’ novel, World War Z, an assortment of apocalyptic survivors speak on behalf of the events they had experienced with the infected “zombies.” While in I Am Legend, written by Richard Matheson, Robert Neville is the last man on Earth and does all he can do fend off the “vampires” affected by a deadly plague that swept the planet. Both of these post apocalyptic novels portray the dynamics of surviving the end of the world under several different circumstances, in which causes the character(s) to act in ways they normally wouldn’t. The author uses a series of easily missed details in both books to portray a sense of “the enemy within” the characters of these incredible stories.

In World War Z, the latest outbreak of the plague reveals corruption, passivity, and greed in the nations, governments, and individuals, unlike previous outbreaks in their history. Shortly after “The Dark Years” came upon these people, the idea of unity and coming together for the goodness of the world was quickly dismissed, and a vast sense of corruption filled the government systems. In one person’s statement, after an infected boy was brought into a hospital, we are told, “[The cops] helped explain to my other patients that a homicidal maniac had broken into the clinic and killed both Herr Muller and Doctor Silva. They also made sure that none of the staff said anything to contradict that story.” Already, we can see that the plague had flawed their political system, frightening the people into aiding the diseased. With this happening so early in the novel, one can easily infer that the issues only become worse, leading to bigger problems than the undead.

I Am Legend does not necessarily portray a view of corruption, but more of an aspect of “otherness”. Otherness meaning that Neville is just as “other” to the vampires as they are to him. The damned world that Neville lives in is clearly taken over by a deceased race, who have little reminisce of human left inside. Even a few of the vampires were once considered close friends, partners, and neighbors to the man. Neville views the vampires in a wicked way and sees no sympathy for the blood hungry reincarnated. This lonely man spends his days killing off the “species,” while contemplating ways to stop the monsters. Little does he realize, he is just as much a monster to them as they are to him. Just as they do, Neville finds ways to harm the creatures and to the vampires, he is a foreign body that must be eliminated before he kills again. This alludes to the idea that Neville is the real monster.

Secondly, in WWZ, the enemy within can take the shape of secretive authorities seeking to disguise the information and willing to exploit the fears of human beings. As time moves on and the governments around the world become more crooked than ever imagined, officials find ways to manipulate the population through fear and other emotions, because after all, if the government felt threatened, they could disregard its people and create chaos in a matter of minutes, considering their circumstances with a mass zombie disease. One man who spoke of events from Virginia after affairs with the United Nations were discussed mentioned, “The UN is a bureaucratic masterpiece, so many nuggets of valuable data buried in mountains of unread reports. I found incidents all over the world, all of them dismissed with ‘plausible’ explanations.” This piece of context shows us the solid evidence of how the government took advantage of its people, keeping secrets and disguising the truth by hiding valuable information.

As for I Am Legend, the ideas of a government are absent, due to the lack of people to govern, of course. Although Neville is the last man on Earth, which would seem fairly peaceful on the surface, he faces several types of internal conflict on many occasions. Neville drowns in self pity each night, racking his brain for the rhyme and reason to all of this madness. After a long day of vampire hunting, Matheson describes to us a typical night in Neville’s life: “He thought of the eleven — no, the twelve children that afternoon, and he finished his drink in two swallows.” The poor, lonely man spends his evenings as a drunk, drowning in self-pity, while contemplating how his life had turned into such madness. As Neville thinks of ways to overcome the most challenging obstacle man has ever faced, he also considers the idea of suicide, which eventually dominates him. Although the monsters on the outside are portrayed to us as the villian, Neville himself is the villain because in the end, (spoiler alert), it is not the vampires that end Neville’s legacy, it is himself. 

10 Jun 2021

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