Max Brook’s World War Z
Choose any of the study questions to explore, using whatever evidence or research you think appropriate—or compose an original study question and answer it.
***Choose One ONLY!!!***
1. Who is Max Brooks? What can you learn about him and his family that might illuminate the novel in some way? A good starting place: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/23/magazine/max-brooks-is-not-kidding-about-the-zombie-apocalypse.html?_r=1&
2. For a novel that we might initially classify as a pop-culture formula novel (i.e., zombies take over the world!), this text is surprisingly ambitious, literary, and informed by history. After completing the novel, how would you describe the readerly shifts you had to make to get beyond the surface genre? What did the novel make you think about that you weren’t expecting to ponder? If we call this a “novel of ideas,” what ideas is it preoccupied with?
3. The zombie takeover is actively linked to different kinds of real disasters and cataclysms (or our active, realistic fear of them), through explicit analogies, through iconic imagery, through historical similarities, through survivor behavior, through metaphorical language, and in many implicit ways as well. For now, just to put these parallels on the table for further scrutiny, make a list of the various analogues or allusions that occurred to you when reading the novel. Keep in mind that Brooks seems to be using the language and cultural memory of many kinds of disasters in human history—military, medical, cultural, natural, nuclear, and more. List at least five specific analogues you see alluded to in the novel, with brief explanations of what made you see these links. (Examples: pandemics like the bubonic plague that decimated Europe in two waves, or the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918-19 that swept the world; genocides like the Armenian Genocide of 1915.)
4. Choose one of the historical allusions you identified in the previous question. In what ways does the novel develop or imply the parallel between it and the zombie plague? (Or, alternatively, what aspects of the novel make you think of the historical parallel?) Explore the implications of this connection. What might the novel be saying about such events, or about how “familiar” some elements of the zombie plague seem?
5. This is fiction, and about zombies, no less. And yet it is narrated with extreme care and realism; it seems true. Its genius is in its convincingness, elaborately constructed. What techniques did Brooks use to create this verisimilitude? What techniques did he borrow from documentaries and journalism? What other conventions did he borrow from other genres, even other media, for his story-telling purposes? What narrative strategies did he use that make you almost convinced you are reading a highly informed historical account?
6. Among other well-developed subtexts, Brooks uses the language of infection, viruses, and contamination to describe the spread of the zombies. Why? Explore the implications (and symbolism) of this model of transmission. Can you think of other—real—consequences of human contact that spread by a kind of “infection”? Could this be a metaphor for deadly ideas?? What happens when you imagine Nazi ideology, or racism, apartheid, or rationales for ethnic cleansing in a similar light? (Ask: What turns people into metaphorical zombies? What does it mean to be a zombie instead of a person? What is lost? Why are zombies so dangerous? See what happens when you plug “Nazi” into the equation in place of “zombie,” for example.) How does this lens affect the way you read the novel, especially its intimations that the zombie plague is never fully contained and can resurge at any time?
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