The Naomi Brenneman Award is given to an essay that critically examines literature. Inspiration Point is pleased to present the winning essay of this year’s contest!
…… Fear is a tool that has helped to shape both society and individuals from the beginning. It was perhaps the very first emotion ever felt by humanity’s ancestors. Strangely, it has the dual ability not only to scare people away but also to draw them in; “when to this sense of fear and evil the inevitable fascination of wonder and curiosity is superadded, there is born a composite body of keen emotion and imaginative provocation whose vitality must of necessity endure as long as the human race itself” (Lovecraft 14). Thus, people are drawn to sources of fear such as horror fiction. A definition of horror fiction reveals that it is “a story in which the author manipulates the reader’s emotions by introducing situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonists and provoke terror in the reader” (Spratford 13). People are drawn to ways of reproducing the terror that, at one time, was essential for maintaining the wellbeing of them as a species, encouraging people to avoid dangerous and potentially deadly situations. Furthermore, horror has not exactly stayed static. Instead, as culture changes, so do some of the specific events or situations that people find frightening. In order to stay relevant, horror fiction as a genre has adapted to the culture into which the author is writing.
…….Adaptation of this kind can be seen specifically in two surprisingly different novels, Dracula and World War Z. The authors, Bram Stoker and Max Brooks, are clearly using the way that they write horror fiction to respond to two very different cultures, based over one-hundred years apart. Because the two novels are reflections of very different cultures, Dracula is able to effectively frighten the reader using individual threats while World War Z does so with threats to society as a whole. Both are functional horror novels, despite the differences in their presentation and in the way that they attempt to inspire fear. As a reflection of the culture in the nineteenth century, Dracula is a novel that uses vampires as threats against individuals. The characters often show very clearly that they are afraid. This is illustrated very clearly at one point, with Harker saying of vampires, “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear” (Stoker 31). On the other hand, World War Z was created with the twenty-first century in mind. Because of this, its threats are against society as a whole. Still, fear can be seen throughout the novel. One character in this novel calls out hysterically, “They’re not afraid! No matter what we do, no matter how many we kill, they will never, ever be afraid!” (Brooks 104). In this case, because the emphasis of the fear in the novel is on entire groups, the character uses the plural ‘we’ when speaking. How can it be that the two novels, both designed to frighten readers, can go about doing so, and succeed, while using very different types of threats? As culture changes through time, so too do the threats that people find most frightening. For that reason, Dracula was written to scare using individual threats while World War Z does so using threats to the individual. Both novels are effectively frightening because they are reflections of the culture into which they were written.
Before examining reasons for more specific fears, such as threats to the individual or to society, the more general subject of fear must be scrutinized. It is important to understand how fear works and why certain circumstances induce fear. First of all, fear is a motivating force that has helped people to survive throughout history by forcing them to react to perceived threats. When authors attempt to create artificial situations in which their readers experience fear as a result of reading, they must utilize their knowledge of what people find frightening, or perceive as a threat. In short, the authors must know how to invoke horror, “a combination of fear and revulsion … related closely to terror, a feeling of fear and anxiety” (Colavito 13). In order to successfully do this, authors need to understand how various situations evoke horror. Monsters are certainly able to invoke horror; they are frightening because they violate human boundaries. They do not need to follow the same rules as humans do, and so present a problem for how people understand the world. Basically, “the crucial issue here is not the preternatural but the unnatural, the boundaries of the human that the monster seems to lie outside” (Garrett 123). If something violates that which is natural, such as death, people find that monster or experience frightening. The fact that this has been true throughout the existence of humanity can be seen in this example: “Memories of these monsters,” early animals such as the wooly mammoth, “filtered down through the ages, and the bones of these beasts, and even the long-extinct dinosaurs, may well have given rise to mythology’s early monsters” (Colavito 9). Because monsters are unnatural and lie outside of ordinary experience, they are a threat to the natural order of things. Monsters exist in “a form suspended between forms that threatens to smash distinctions” (Cohen 16) that ought to exist unchallenged in the world. The monster can exist in virtually any form. However, what is essential is that “the monster threatens to destroy not just individual members of society, but the very cultural apparatus through which individuality is constituted and allowed” (Cohen 17). Monsters are frightening because they should not exist, because they violate the norms that people rely on to shape their world, and often because of a more mundane threat to physical safety. Some general circumstances that frighten people include making people feel powerless or uncertain of humanity’s dominance, violating the taboo of cannibalism, violating the sanctity of death, or even abusing knowledge and science.
……….It is no far leap to realize that the feeling of being uncertain or powerless is frightening because the unknown or unstoppable has the ability to hurt or kill people in a variety of ways without that person even being aware of the threat. This form of horror “is the gnawing fear that the placid surface of our world can and will be shattered by forces beyond our control” (Colavito 5). When the imagination is left to run wild, it can conjure up images and conclusions that are possibly even more dreadful than reality. In Dracula, the feeling of uncertainly is strong for many of the characters. Often they are left in doubt about the veracity of their own senses and the conclusions that they are forced to draw about Count Dracula. Jonathan Harker sums up this crippling feeling of self-doubt and uncertainty by saying that “it was the doubt as to the reality of the whole thing that knocked me over…But, now that I know, I am not afraid” (Stoker 160). After Harker has outside validation about his strange and wild conclusions, he is no longer overpowered by uncertainty. However, along with the feeling of uncertainty comes the feeling of powerlessness. While uncertainty cripples the mind’s functioning, powerlessness is a more physical version of this fear. It is the sense that someone has no action left for him or her to take. Again, this can be seen by an experience of Jonathan Harker. While trapped at Dracula’s castle Harker claims, “when I found that I was a prisoner a sort of wild feeling came over me….but after a little the conviction of my helplessness overpowered all other feelings” (Stoker 23). In short, the fear that there was no possible way out of his situation at least temporarily paralyzed Harker’s ability to plan productively for his escape. It is clear that these Dracula characters suffer from individual fears. Meanwhile, the characters that Max Brooks writes about in World War Z are also, in many cases, powerless. However, their powerlessness comes from an uncertainty about the survival of their entire race. Their fears are on the societal level. In a speech, Brooks’ fictional president of the United States of America claims that “the living dead had…robbed us of our confidence as the planet’s dominant life-form” (Brooks 267). If humans are no longer the ones in charge of the world, then the comfortable world that civilization has built is for naught. People might as well be thrown back into the days living on the precipice of death and calamity. Basically, “it is terrifying to know that humans are no longer at the top of the food chain” (Munz and Vachon 191).
……….Another way that monsters serve to unsettle the readers of horror fiction is by violating certain cultural taboos. In the case of both novels, Dracula and World War Z, there is a clear violation of the taboo of cannibalism. Generally, monsters are not human. However, the monsters that are a focus of the novels examined herein, vampires and zombies, were once humans. Moreover, these creatures exist in human form. In the case of vampires, humans turned into vampires can change their shape but use the form of a human while feeding off of their victims. This can be seen through the compassionate and gentle Lucy who is turned into a vampire. After she is turned into a vampire, she also becomes a cannibal. This terrible violation of hers can clearly be seen in the image given of her after she has consumed the blood of another human being, “by the concentrated light that fell on Lucy’s face we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood” (Stoker 180-1). Readers shudder at the thought of a woman with her lips stained red with blood. Vampires are by nature cannibals, and as such induce horror in those who hear of them. Meanwhile, in the case of zombies, infected individuals die and then reanimate into creatures whose sole purpose is to cannibalize those who are still alive. A horrible image is presented of these feeding frenzies, of both the aftermath for the victim and the cannibal, respectively, “their limbs, their bones, shredded and gnawed….We found meat, chewed, pulped flesh bulging from their throats and stomachs” (Brooks 20). People in this scene were apparently eaten alive, and then their bodies were gnawed on until nearly everything was gone. The zombies, once human, had gorged themselves on the flesh of the living. Cannibalism causes the monsters to be frightening, because “as a violation of one of the most powerful and pervasive taboos, cannibalism has traditionally also provided a powerful cultural anathema, with cannibals clearly beyond the pale of civilized human society” (Jones 38). Being a cannibal gives monsters a new level of threat.
One of the most basic facts of life is that people die, and that those who die are gone from this world forever. The body remains, but it is an empty shell whose only purpose is to molder and decay. Anything that violates these tenets is unnatural and therefore inspires fear in people. Vampires and Zombies are big time violators of this law. Both are dead bodies that have reanimated in order to terrorize the living. By representing life after death in such a perverted form, these monsters are also destroying humanity’s dreams of immortality. According to Freud, it is “not possible to imagine one’s own death, and … unconsciously, everyone believes he or she is really immortal” (Hyde and Forsyth 37). Or at least death is so very frightening to people that “through the ages, people have tried to find ways of gaining immortality” (Hyde and Forsyth 37). One way or another, people do think about the possibility of immortality. However, through monsters, the violation of the laws of death are presented in such a horrible way that people cannot help but recoil at the thought of a living corpse, ruining the optimistic ideas that they may have had about immortality. Bram Stoker’s vampires are dead bodies that come to life, or at least to animation, during the night. However, during their waking hours and even during the process of the transformation while the person is still living, vampires hold certain physical characteristics of the dead. After shaking Dracula’s hand, Jonathan Harker declares that it was “more like the hand of a dead than a living man” (Stoker 13). Later, while Lucy is ill and well into the process of being turned into a vampire, she is described thusly: “the gums seemed to have shrunken back from the teeth as we sometimes see in a corpse after a prolonged illness” (Stoker 110). Each of these descriptions compares a seemingly alive person as having characteristics of the dead. Meanwhile, zombies are dead bodies that have reanimated with a single deadly purpose. Although they have characteristics of the living, such as movement and general appearance, the zombies have experienced death, and are arguably dead even in their animate state. In his novel, Max Brooks describes the scene of an initially puzzling incident involving reanimation, “from what we could tell, this man had run, bled, fallen facedown –we still could see his bloody face-mark imprinted in the sand. Somehow, without suffocating, without bleeding to death, he’d lain there for some time, then just gotten up again and started walking” (Brooks 19). The man, in fact, died and then his corpse had continued on, a lifeless shell. In all of these scenarios, the combination of characteristics from both the living and the dead is disturbing and frightening.
Another type of situation that people fear could possibly be seen as the opposite of uncertainty, and that is knowledge. Although uncertainty plagues people through doubt and imagination, knowledge works with cold hard fact. Either someone knows something or he does not. If he does not, then he is subject to, “the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (Lovecraft 12). This is not the same as uncertainty, which relies on a small amount of information that creates doubt and disbelief in a person’s mind. Instead, ignorance leads to problems in another way. In his novel, Max Brooks claims, “lies and superstitions, misinformation, disinformation. Sometimes no information at all. Ignorance killed billions of people. Ignorance caused the Zombie War” (Brooks 194). In other words, all of the terror leading up to and through the war was created by a lack of knowledge. Even though everyone eventually became aware of the threat, at least initially there was ignorance to its true extent. On the other hand, too much knowledge, especially in morally gray areas, can also lead to fear; “knowledge, whether forbidden or achieved, is a primal source of horror” (Colavito 6). One way of looking at this is to see that people who gain knowledge about the horrors of the world are forced to confront issues in ways that they never had to before. In addition, people will always be afraid of advances in science and technology ruining or corrupting the way of life that they hold dear. Another reason to fear knowledge is because that knowledge might fall into the wrong hands, those people who would use knowledge to do harm to others. Basically, the thought of too much knowledge can exacerbate this effect, “the fear that technology and science were taking over our lives was real, and it manifested in writings about the terrible things science could do in the hands of the wrong people” (Spratford 4). Thus, fear can be created both by a lack of knowledge and also an excess of it. In fact, there are many causes of fear, most of which rely on undermining people’s sense of security, such as violating taboos or the views that people hold as absolute and incontrovertible truth.
If horror is designed to repulse people, why is there a market for horror fiction and films? Becky Siegel Spratford, is interested in this question and makes attempts to investigate it in her book, The Readers’ Advisory Guide To Horror. For one thing, “readers love horror for the way it makes them feel. It is the emotions that these novels elicit –the fear, anxiety, uneasiness, the pure terror –that brings readers back again and again” (Spratford 13). Horror is one of the few genres that are able to elicit a physical response in its readers, making people nervous, paranoid, and jittery. The fact that it does this serves to make the fictional experiences seem more real to the readers. Another reason that horror fiction is read at all is precisely because it addresses the fears that are often ignored. In other words, “it gives a voice to our fears, delivering the dark emotions of panic, chaos, destruction, aversion, and disgust that we horror readers find uncompromisingly intriguing” (Spratford 18). The horror genre exists in part to address those topics and fears that people would not otherwise be willing to examine. Some people genuinely believe in the monsters that horror fiction brings to life. For these people, “horror story lines are appealing … because they validate belief in the supernatural” (Spratford 22). The horror genre provides more proof for people’s beliefs.
……….However, the grand majority of people no longer truly believe in the monster that goes bump in the night. Why, then, do these people appreciate the horror genre? In some cases, the horror is used as a buffer for the reality of the real world. People can immerse themselves in the fiction in order to “[take their] minds away from the fears of the real world into a fantasy world [they] can control, and this is the reason for [horror’s] popularity” (Hyde and Forsyth 61). Put another way, “horror is also a great escape from the real horrors of life” (Spratford 21). When people are immersed in the frightening and terrible things happening to the protagonist that they are reading about, they are not thinking about whatever they consider bad about their own lives. However, that is not to say that the readers would like to swap out their situation for the one that they are reading about, meaning that “horror fans love that they truly believe in the monsters in their books while they are reading, but are happy to leave them on the page and return to the real world when they finish” (Spratford 14). In fact, one of the good things about horror fiction is that it gives the readers the ability to face their fears vicariously. It “[gives] people the opportunity to prove to themselves that they will not really be hurt by these experiences” (Hyde and Forsyth 60). People are able to get their adrenaline rush while remaining in a physically safe environment. Horror fiction allows people to address their fears in a safe place, much like a counseling session with a therapist. Thus, this genre works with repulsive themes while still able to draw people to it. However, it does so in such a way that people are able to address and vanquish their fears. The horror genre can be likened to “a cleansing nightmare that embodied a culture’s fears in order to exorcise them, or at least tuck them safely away between dusty covers” (Colavito 78).
……….Since the beginning of time, fear has been present. And horror fiction has traveled along with it, evolving through time as people’s ideas and societies have also evolved. Because fear is a construct of the society that it is in, what is feared is as subject to change as culture is. Monsters in horror fiction embody this idea. Basically, “the monster is born only at this metaphoric crossroads, as an embodiment of a certain cultural moment –of a time, a feeling, and a place” (Cohen 15). Therefore, the horror genre has changed to reflect what is happening in whatever society the author occupies. As time passes, the fears reflected in the culture and thus the horror fiction changes. For one thing, especially in film, “technique, craftsmanship, experience, and psychological knowledge have advanced tremendously with the passing years, so that much of the older work seems naïve and artificial” (Lovecraft 87). As the media discovers new and interesting ways to portray horror situations, the older versions lose their edge. As for horror in general, “horror has evolved over time into its own best-selling genre by borrowing themes and techniques from the past as well as by forging new territory and expanding its boundaries” (Spratford 10). The only way for horror to continue to frighten people effectively is for it to change to reflect the fears of the current culture. In this way, monsters are “a double narrative, two living stories: one that describes how the monster came to be and another, its testimony, detailing what cultural use the monster serves” (Cohen 17). Along with the advances of the horror genre, other genres have also popped up. Modern times see many fictional novels involving monsters of some sort, characters that are other than human. However, these are not necessarily works of horror. And, in fact, most of them are actually paranormal fiction. Paranormal fiction is not horror fiction because “the paranormal characters are not only sympathetic, they are quite often the heroes of the story themselves” (Spratford 16). In short, these stories do not feed on the fear of their readers, and so cannot be classified as horror fiction. It is here that the reader finds such things as sexy vampires and helpful fairies, but not the bloodthirsty and clearly antagonistic monsters of actual horror, “vampires are everywhere these days, but the vampires of today’s popular culture are not stalking their victims in the horror genre” (Spratford 65). To begin with, the reader should draw his or her attention to gothic fiction, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This type of fiction “is credited with deliberate subversion… its terrors betray cultural anxieties … about whatever threatens the dominant social order or challenges its ideologies” (Garrett 1-2).
……….The vampires in modern literature are not a part of the horror genre and instead are more a part of the romance genre. However, in the not so distant past “these original vampires were hideous, partially decayed creatures that attacked living relatives and neighbors rather than beautiful aristocratic damsels in distress” (Spratford 65). It is partially into both of these molds that Bram Stoker created his monster novel, Dracula. In fact, his vampire is what people often think of when presented with the idea of a vampire: “Bram Stoker created a novel that has now become synonymous with the vampire motif. Dracula is one of the best-selling novels of all time, has never been out of print, and, in fact, has only become more popular over time” (Spratford 4). If not for the fact that legends of vampires existed long before Stoker’s time, one might say that he created the vampire. However, his vampire clearly takes on cultural issues from the time in which it was written, 1897. The eighteen hundreds were a time of growth in the fields of science and medicine while still attempting to hold onto many of the values of previous times. This struggle becomes obvious in the novel when one of the main characters, Jonathan Harker, says “and yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill” (Stoker 30). The struggle becomes still more apparent when the leading scientist on the case says, “all we have to go upon are traditions and superstitions” (Stoker 204). While the characters in the novel are falling back against knowledge from the past, the culture around the book is decidedly moving forward, since “the Enlightenment brought an increased knowledge of the natural world…People began to question what happened after death as well as the existence of God” (Spratford 3). The contradictions of society at this time created an instability that individuals were unable to fall back on. Instead, people looked to the past to find answers in an increasingly strange present. This uncertainty can be seen manifested in science and medicine, evolution, and grave-robbing and burial practices of the time. To escape the uncertainties of the present, Dracula was a popular read for addressing these issues while falling back on ideas and concepts from the relatively comfortable past.
During this time, there was a lot of scientific advancement. While this was potentially going to do good for a lot of people, the new knowledge was also frightening. For one thing, “the scientific endeavour of the Enlightenment had produced a new interest in the possibility of greatly extending the span of human life” (Jones 156). People started wondering about the possibility of immortality, or of living forever and defeating death. This opened up all sorts of moral issues about this point. Where does God’s influence exist in the world of immortals? Is taking away the institution of death violating God’s will and design for humans? It is in the midst of some of these questions that Bram Stoker creates his immortal vampire, Dracula. In the novel, the scientist Van Helsing exclaims, “can you tell me why men believe in all ages and places that there are some few who live on always if they be permit [sic]; that there are some men and women who cannot die?” (Stoker 164). He is speaking, of course, about a race that lives forever, the vampire. Jonathan Harker witnesses this phenomenon, recognizing Count Dracula but saying, “he has got younger, and how?” (Stoker 160). This was addressing an important issue of the time, how far would new developments in medicine and science be able to advance the human race?
Another new idea of the time was the theory of evolution. Darwin had just recently published The Origin of Species in 1859. Ideas therein provoked controversy that goes on to this day. However, it also helped to instigate a nagging doubt about humanity’s place in the grand scheme of things. Bram Stoker’s novel was not the only novel that addressed this issue. And in fact, “Dracula…[is but one] of the most famous of these beast-men…[reflecting] the period’s emerging discomfort with advances in the life sciences and the subsequent displacement of older world-views of divine protection and human exceptionalism” (Colavito 65). In short, people were faced with the very frightening concept that humanity was not the most advanced species on Earth, or at least the idea that there was the potential for an evolutionary pathway that could potentially lead to a more advanced species, and make humans obsolete. The race of vampires in Dracula embodies this fear by presenting a type of being that is in some ways superior to humans. The novel also presents a being that combines characteristics of both animals and humans, “his face was not a good face; it was hard, and cruel, and sensual, and his big white teeth, that looked all the whiter because his lips were so red, were pointed like an animal’s” (Stoker 147-8). The fear of becoming obsolete is furthered by the mental patient Renfield’s attitude towards vampires. To his doctor he declares, “I don’t want to talk to you: you don’t count now; the Master is at hand” (Stoker 87), referring of course to Dracula.
While these concerns about the advancement of science and the displacement of the human race were at play, Stoker also drew in some of people’s older fears of death and dying. Death is an extremely individual fear, despite being commonly held; in the end, everyone faces it alone. Even though there had been serious advances in medicine, or perhaps because these advances were relatively new, people living in “the nineteenth century also had a mortal fear of being buried alive” (Colavito 73).Because the fear of being mistaken for dead, inventions to prevent such a mishap were popular. One such invention was as a bell above the grave with a string descending into the coffin so that someone buried alive could alert those above ground to their mistake. In the case of the novel, the death of Lucy embodies this fear. Before her burial, “all Lucy’s loveliness had come back to her in death, and the hours that had passed, instead of leaving traces of ‘decay’s effacing fingers,’ had but restored the beauty of life, till positively I could not believe my eyes that I was looking at a corpse” (Stoker 141). Here is seen the doubt that Lucy is truly dead. From her deceptively lively looks springs the worry that she has been buried alive. Her fiancé worries, “has there been any mistake; has she been buried alive?” (Stoker 176). An almost equal worry concerning death and burial during this time was grave robbing, which occurred often because, “as the ranks of doctors grew with the advances in medicine, the number of bodies needed for dissection quickly outstripped the available supply” (Colavito 72). Some enterprising individuals would dig up fresh graves in order to meet this demand. Meanwhile, of course “the public was horrified by the whole morbid business, and undoubtedly it contributed to the era’s fascination with graves and graveyards” (Colavito 73). Bram Stoker uses this fascination to aid his novel’s success. When Lucy’s body goes missing, Dr. Seward does not believe that it is the doing of Lucy turning into a vampire. Instead, he provides a much more rational response, saying that it was “perhaps a body-snatcher…Some of the undertaker’s people may have stolen it” (Stoker 169).The novel embodies the culture’s many different fears, and in doing so shows that individual fears are at the heart of this society.
In the novel, Dracula, the type of fear that preys on the characters and the reader is fear for the individual. This can be seen in one of the major themes throughout the novel, the uncertainty that the characters often possess about the truth of the existence of vampires. The characters often do not share information with each other, leading to isolation and doubt. Isolation is a theme that starts at the very beginning, while Jonathan Harker is traveling to Count Dracula’s castle. When people he encounters on his journey discover his destination, they behave oddly and are obviously hiding information from him. Harker provides an example of one of his encounters with a local, “when I asked him if he knew Count Dracula, and could tell me anything of his castle, both he and his wife crossed themselves, and, saying that they knew nothing at all, simply refused to speak further” (Stoker 3). From this interaction, it is evident that Jonathan Harker is being left out of some big secret, of which “no one would give [him] the slightest explanation” (Stoker 8). Even though it is obvious that the people know the danger that Harker is walking into, not one of them tries to explain the situation to Harker. Perhaps their motives are no more sinister than being based off of doubt that Harker will believe them. Still, nobody even makes an attempt to enlighten him to the danger that he is walking into. Harker is forced into a similar position of knowledge and consequent uncertainty at a later time, at which point he falls into self-doubt and says, “I was in doubt, and then everything took a hue of unreality, and I did not know what to trust, even the evidence of my own senses” (Stoker 161). It is then that he perpetuates the silence of the people he encountered earlier, asking his wife to keep his journal detailing the events of his stay at Dracula’s castle safe but unread. He asks, “are you willing, Wilhelmina, to share in my ignorance?” (Stoker 91). Eventually, fearing for her husband’s sanity, she secretly reads the journal. Afterwards, she is alone in her worries, and doubts at times both her husband’s sanity and the existence of vampires. She writes of the journal and thus also of her husband’s experiences, “I wonder if there is any truth in it at all” (Stoker 153). Even later, when a group of people are fighting against Count Dracula, information is still kept segregated. Mina, infected by Dracula, even begs her husband to keep her out of the loop of knowledge, worrying that the Count will use their connection to gain the upper hand. Her husband, agreeing to go along with her wishes, “felt from that instant a door had been shut between us” (Stoker 279). This is by no means an unique experience. In fact, all throughout the novel doors are slammed shut between individuals. Individuals are often being kept separated by either being part of the group that knows information and does not share it or part of the group that is being kept ignorant. The characters flip between these groups constantly, and the group is never entirely united. Even as the group gathers evidence together, they do not plan on providing anyone outside of their little band with the information. They claim, “we could hardly ask anyone, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story” (Stoker 326). Thus, the characters in this novel are working as individuals, selfishly hoarding information. Everyone else they allow to remain forever “in a sort of fever of doubt” (Stoker 159) or even perpetual ignorance of the dangers waiting out there somewhere in the world. They treat the vampire threat as a purely individual one, ignoring any threat that future vampires may have to society as a whole.
Even when the small band of those in the know about vampires are attempting to work as a group, they still end up fighting individual battles. Most often the individuals in the group are off following separate clues and are not working together. They face the vampires, the monster of the book and their fears, alone instead of together. The attacks focus on the individual in psychological attacks, “indeed, the novel as a whole registers these endless vampiric attacks as overwhelming psychic and mental events that not only shatter the victims’ subjectivities, memories, and worldly experience, but also resist seamless integration into consciousness, full knowledge, and representation” (Khader 75). This means that the fear is, of necessity, an attack on the individual. A good example of another group who end up getting attacked individually is the men on the ship that Dracula uses to cross to England. Instead of acting as a group, even the men who are aware of what is happening end up getting killed off one by one. In the end, the ship drifts into harbor and the locals are horror stricken, “for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on deck at all” (Stoker 67-8). However, even the main group that the novel follows tends to separate when they battle the vampires. Actually, their impetus for fighting the vampires, after Lucy has been killed, is also individual. They continue to go after Dracula as he flees back to his castle because of the threat to one individual, Mina Harker. She summarizes this, “I know that all that brave earnest men can do for a poor weak woman, whose soul perhaps is lost –no, no, not yet, but is at any rate at stake –you will do” (Stoker 283). The men continue to pursue Dracula not because he is a threat to numerous people, but because he is a threat to one woman that they all care about, Mina Harker. Even as they narrow in on the threat, the group splits and goes in different directions, taking routes by water, train, and road. Upon reaching Dracula’s castle, Van Helsing goes alone to kill the three vampire women from the castle (Stoker 318-9). He has been alone since before the start, “[his] life is a barren and lonely one, and so full of work that [he had] not had much time for friendships” (Stoker 158). Even in the beginning of the novel Van Helsing is in some ways alone, because all but Van Helsing doubts the existence of the threat, vampires. That is not all; other factions of the group also continue to confront the problem alone. Mina describes the battle that the men have with the gypsies while trying to get to and kill Dracula’s remains, “in the midst of this I could see that Jonathan on one side of the ring of men, and Quincey on the other, were forcing a way to the cart” (Stoker 323) that held Dracula. This brings into doubt the idea that “Dracula makes the forging of social bonds its central action” (Garrett 135). And instead, it actually suggests the exact opposite. At one point, while preparing to split the group, Van Helsing attempts to bless Mina. He says “let me see you armed against personal attack” (Stoker 254). Van Helsing is stressing not preparation for protecting the group, but for a personal attack against Mina. Thus, this novel is not examining threats to a group, even though there is a group central to the fight against vampires, but to individuals, namely one Mina Harker.
Even while the individuals separate themselves from the group, the vampires separate their victims from any sort of group before they attack. Separation is seen from the very first, as Jonathan Harker approaches the Count’s castle alone. This seems to be an intrinsic aspect of Dracula’s character. Van Helsing makes this explanation for Dracula’s behavior, “then, as he is criminal he is selfish; and as his intellect is small and his action is based on selfishness, he confines himself to one purpose” (Stoker 294). The monster in this novel works to defeat his victims on an individual level because, despite his supposed advanced state of immortality, he cannot deal with more than one task at a time. This is one factor that causes the victims to face the vampires on their own. After Dracula arrives in England, one of his first victims is Lucy. The reader first starts getting the idea that something is wrong when Lucy begins to mysteriously sleepwalk. Lucy’s friend Mina notes that “twice during the night I was wakened by Lucy trying to get out” (Stoker 81). After Dr. Seward and Van Helsing have taken over Lucy’s care, they watch over her through the night. During these times, nothing can attack her and she seems to recover, indicating that not being alone prevents vampire attack. However, eventually, she is isolated and cries out in despair, “what am I to do? what am I to do? …I am alone…Alone with the dead!” (Stoker 124). Her terror is palpable as she faces her death alone. However, this is not the end for Lucy. In fact, after death she goes from victim to monster, “undergoing vampiric transformation from within, Lucy is no longer considered human” (Khader 85). Now, instead of being isolated and killed, Lucy isolates people and kills them herself. The children that Lucy is feeding off of have “the common story to tell of being lured away by the ‘bloofer lady’” (Stoker 152). They are referring to Lucy, the term ‘bloofer lady’ is their slang or pronunciation for ‘beautiful lady.’ So, Lucy goes from the isolated to the isolator. As a vampire, starts drinking the blood of small children. Something very similar happens to the other female character in the novel, Mina Harker. When she tries to find out what happened to her friend Lucy from Dr. Seward, the doctor tells her, “no! no! no! For all the world, I wouldn’t let you know that terrible story!” (Stoker 189). His attempts at isolation does not last forever, however, and it comes out that Mina is already aware of what is going on. Unfortunately for her, the men later try to once more leave her out of the loop for her own safety. This plan, of course, backfires. Because once she has been isolated in this manner, Dracula moves on to feeding off of Mina. Eventually the men realize what is happening, and Jonathan declares his intention to leave Mina with the others and single-handedly seek out and kill Dracula. At this point, Mina, who is a very intelligent woman, cries out, “no! no! Jonathan you must not leave me….You must stay with me. Stay with these friends who will watch over you!” (Stoker 243). She seems to realize that they are only safe while they stick together. Dracula never attacks them except for when one of the individuals is foolishly left alone. In this way, and more, the novel chronicles a series of threats to individuals. The monsters only kill those who have been isolated, and the people isolate each other from information about the threat as well as during their actual physical fights with the monster. It is evident throughout the novel that the major threat is to the individuals, and this is a reflection of the discomfort and instability of the culture at this time.
Culture has changed drastically since the nineteenth century. This is reflected in the horror genre with the expansion and evolution of zombies as the new monster of choice. However, it should be noted that zombies existed well before their popularity boom in the 1900s. The zombie evolved as a monster as the cultures around them also changed. It is evident, “from the beginning, zombification had provided a ready political metaphor due to its connections with Haitian voodoo and thus with colonialism and particularly slavery” (Jones 161). These zombies equated to slavery because they could be controlled and made to do the bidding of the person who had created them, they had no free will. However, the modern zombie as seen today is obviously much different. The modern versions of these monsters are not in the control of anyone, and instead mindlessly seek out the taste of human flesh. Part of the popularization and transition to this sort of zombie is due to the invention of movies. In fact, “the best-known sightings of zombies by the masses occur in the cinema, where the zombie as it is known today was born” (Munz and Vachon 177). The movies allowed zombies to both evolve and to quickly gain popularity. Also, the rules that govern most modern zombies, such as their ability to infect the living with the zombie virus, came from the George Romero movie Night of the Living Dead, which came out in 1968 (Spratford 75). Furthermore, the very invention of television forever changed the culture of the industrialized world. This invention brought events from all over the world directly into the home. The world was more connected than ever after the news media started broadcasting from all over the world, nearly instantaneously. In addition to the world wars, the problems of the entire world were more evident than ever. It did not help the matter that “television news programs survive on scares” (Glassner xxi). The culture of modern America, from which the novel World War Z is published, values nonconformity. In this, zombies are seen as “a not-so-veiled critique of modern humanity….The dead rise in novels to serve as a cautionary tale for the consequences of blind conformity” (Spratford 76). The zombies are mindless creatures, so they are meant as a critique of living people who, like zombies, do not think before they take action. Additionally, as a culture in general, people are increasingly pessimistic about the future of earth. This sense of pessimism in the culture comes from “scientific conceptions about the mind-and the religious reaction to them-[that] produced a sense of fatalism that found its expression in contemporary horror” (Colavito 349). There are dreadful predictions about global warming and overpopulation which lead people to doubt the very survival of the human race. This is basically considered as a “gradual diminution of the human position in the cosmic scheme at the hands of advances in scientific knowledge and the anxieties this provoked in society at large” (Colavito 354). So, the increasingly pessimistic outlook of the culture as a whole has brought about fear for the survival of not only individuals, but actually humanity as an entire group. The types of fear that this monster generates can be seen in such incarnations as fear for the loss of humanity, world-wide epidemics, and even apocalypse.
One worry that society holds is that people are losing the humanity that separates them from the heartless monsters that are found in the horror genre. A reason for this fear is due to the advancement of science, for “science and philosophy now agreed that the soul is an illusion, and that the brain is all that is” (Colavito 355). If there is no soul, then what prevents people from acting out the same evil for which monsters are famous? The narrator from the novel, perhaps Brooks himself, ponders that “in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?” (Brooks 2). He goes on to make further comparisons between the living and the living dead, saying, “but why wouldn’t destruction of the brain be the only way to annihilate these creatures? Isn’t it the only way to annihilate us as well?” (Brooks 35). These comparisons are frightening because people want to establish distance between themselves and the monsters in the world, not comparisons of similarity. However, there is one distinct advantage that people have over the multitudinous monsters surrounding them. That would be the fact that the living people are able to think, to use their brains to outwit their enemy. The novel gives the reader this thought, “it’s ironic that the only way to kill a zombie is to destroy its brain, because, as a group, they have to collective brain to speak of” (Brooks 272). While people may worry about losing their humanity and becoming akin to the zombies that threaten them, at least they may take comfort in their intelligence separating them from their enemy.
People of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries also fear world-wide epidemics. This fear comes understandably from the increasing connection that the world shares due to such innovations as airlines and international business ventures. Despite the fact that something like a zombie virus could never exist, “the scope of our health fears seems limitless. Besides worrying disproportionately about legitimate ailments and prematurely about would-be diseases, we continue to fret over already refuted dangers” (Glassner xii). People continue to be suspicious of knowledge even as science has continued to advance in these most recent centuries. However, the novel also contains this element of initial disbelief in the general populous and governments, furthering the notion of the possibility of a zombie epidemic. One character in the novel states that “most Americans were still praying for the God of science to save them” (Brooks 166). Those in charge, government and scientists, did not have a solution. “I’m a doctor, a scientist. I believe only what I can see and touch,” (Brooks 10) one man states about his apparent disbelief, even in the face of so much evidence. The many characters in the novel accurately portray the reactions that many people would likely have to the outbreak of the zombie apocalypse. This just shows that, “increasingly, horror authors are using scientific elements (such as a zombie virus) as the spark behind their threat” (Spratford 14). The threat of world-wide epidemic is a real possibility in this culture, adding validity to the fear of a zombie virus that would sweep throughout the world.
The pessimistic outlook of today’s culture, which comes from the real threats of possible annihilation, makes reading about apocalypse a frighteningly real possibility. The zombie has evolved so that “later portrayals have suggested that zombies are the harbingers of the fall of civilization as we know it and are often related to the apocalypse (an excellent recounting can be found in World War Z [Brooks 2006])” (Munz and Vachon 177). The novel is a prime example of the horror genre’s new obsession with zombies as causing the end of the world. Furthering this portrayal, it is evident that zombies are mindless creatures that stop at nothing in their quest to eat every last living person, never ceasing in pursuit of their goal. They continue to add to their ranks even as the living fight them, because “every dead soldier was now a live zombie” (Brooks 235). This means that the remains of humanity “could only get weaker, while they actually even get stronger” (Brooks 272). The possibility of humanity losing the war against zombies is shown as having a very good chance. However, this novel still provides hope, as it presents itself as being written as a history of the war after it has been, basically, won.
Conversely, while Dracula’s focus was on threats to individuals, World War Z is all about threats to humanity as an entire group. One of the many ways in which this discrepancy is apparent is the sharing of knowledge about the monsters that threaten people in the novel. In the case of World War Z, “the truth was everywhere, shambling down their streets, crashing through their doors, clawing at their throats” (Brooks 166). The quote shows that the threat was not to just a few people, but invading the entire world. However, instead of hoarding information, the information was shared between people everywhere. During some of the first outbreaks, naturally, there was serious disbelief. One character who initially had doubts about the truth of the threat says, “suddenly I understood…what the Israelis had been trying to warn the rest of the world about! What I couldn’t understand was why the rest of the world wasn’t listening” (Brooks 44).However, as the threat grew so did the number of people who were aware of the truth about the situation. Characters in this novel often found themselves together in large groups of people attempting to flee the approaching threat. At one point, there were “dozens of people…all shouting ‘Run! Get out of there! They’re coming!’” (Brooks 29). They were speaking, of course, of the approaching zombies, telling their fellow survivors about the threat. As large groups of people flee, they “stretched to the horizon: sedans, trucks, buses, RVs, anything that could drive” (Brooks 68). Everyone around the world was experiencing about the same sort of problem. In the later days, following the decline of the rule of the zombie hordes, “anywhere around the world, anyone you talk to, all of us have this powerful shared experience” (Brooks 336). As he collects his information around the world, the narrator remarks that “zombie remains a devastating word, unrivaled in its power to conjure up so many memories or emotions, and it is these memories, and emotions, that are the subject of this book” (Brooks 1). Even though all of people’s experiences were slightly different, they share the same basic one of zombie attack and survival.
In the zombie war both sides of the conflict, the monsters and the people or governments fighting against them, work together in their separate groups in order to succeed. Alone the zombies are dangerous, but only in large groups are they truly formidable. While the zombies do not exactly have working brains, they do have the advantage of possessing numbers large enough to overwhelm the defenses of the living. As another advantage, zombies do not have the ability to feel pain or fear or any of the other emotions that work to cripple humans while in battle; “with few exceptions, the undead are invariably grim. Their power derives directly from humourless clarity of purpose, which, depending on their class, provides either unlimited endurance…or explosive power” (Smith 28). All of this together makes them a truly formidable enemy. When they gather together in large groups, the zombies are pretty much undefeatable, “[moving] in herds without individual personalities” (Smith 22). On the other side of the coin, when the living humans worked together they also stood a much better chance of survival. Thus, horror fiction about zombies, is “as much a study of group dynamics as they are of flesh-eating zombies” (Jones 162). In order for protagonists to survive long enough for a story to develop, survivors must band together. Later, this relationship is subject to collapse. And so, “the collapsing family is here figured as a locus of horror. The home becomes a fortress, a site of hostility, claustrophobia and paranoia, boarded up against the unstoppable threats outside, and finally a prison which affords the survivors scant protection and no escape” (Jones 162). Even with the threat of collapse, the best bet for survival was for the living to band together against the threat of the zombies. After the resettlement of society and after much of the threat is over, one man comments, “I’m not going to say the war was a good thing…but you’ve got to admit that it did bring people together” (Brooks 336). Because of all of this, the idea that zombies attack en masse and the fact that humanity’s only hope for survival was banding together, the zombie portrays a threat to the group more than just to individuals.
Throughout the novel, it is clear that the threat is to humanity as a whole. In fact, this is a common theme in zombie focused horror fiction. One reason for this is that “even a cursory survey of the literature reveals that diabolical plots are nearly always unraveled, whereas zombie attacks have an alarmingly high rate of success” (Smith 21). When one human schemes against another, both sides are pitting their intelligence against fairly equal competencies. They both have goals that they are attempting to achieve, and the person who is subverting authority is most likely to fail based on the sheer weight of the challenges facing that individual. However, zombies do not form plots. They have one simple goal, and that is to feast on the living, thus spreading the infection and adding that much more fuel to the fire. The propensity for zombie success over humans can be seen “in all of the more than sixty zombie attacks listed by Max Brooks (2009) in the definitive Zombie Survival Guide, humans always lose” (Smith 22). Furthermore, in his novel World War Z, the initial defeat of the living can be seen in the fact that “industry was in shambles, transportation and trade had evaporated, and all of this was compounded by the living dead” (Brooks 137). The dead have succeeded in destroying mankind’s trappings of advanced civilization. From space, astronauts left in orbit saw that all electricity had gone out and all that could be seen was the campfires constructed by groups of survivors, “what had to be at least a billion of them, tiny orange specks covering the Earth where electric lights had once been. Every day, every night, it seemed like the whole planet was burning” (Brooks 260). At the very least, the entire world was left stranded in the same boat; they were walled in by the living dead trapped and stripped of the accomplishments of thousands of years development. However, an even bigger threat had to do with the digression of human behavior. Perhaps the most frightening thing to humanity is envisioning a scenario in which the loss of humanity is a normal, maybe even acceptable, fact of being. This degeneracy can be seen in survival plans instituted by governments around the world. Particularly, one step in the Redeker Plan “argued that these isolated, uninfected refugees must be kept alive…Keeping people as prisoners because ‘every zombie besieging those survivors will be one less zombie throwing itself against our defenses’” (Brooks 109). Pockets of survivors were kept alive in infected areas, keeping the zombies distracted and their attention off of the bulk of survivors existing elsewhere. All in all, this plan is not a crime against individuals, even though it does work to the disadvantage of a specific few of them, but instead shows a societal breakdown that allows this to be an acceptable solution. Thus, World War Z shows that zombies are a threat to the group, the entire civilization of humanity, as a whole.
From the very beginning fear has ruled humanity’s every move. In fact, perhaps even now, “fear is the most valuable commodity in the universe” (Brooks 55). It is an emotion that can force action and responses that people would not normally take. And now it is marketable, responsible for novels and movies in the horror genre. Additionally, fear can take many different forms, from fear of the unknown and/or uncertainty to knowledge and advances in science. Moreover, it often comes from a violation of norms and truth, such as cannibalism and the finality of death being overturned. So, why does the horror genre exist if its function is purely to frighten people, which is generally considered to be an unpleasant feeling? Well, “horror in movies, on television, or in stories brings the observer or reader to the scene in such a way that s/he is a participant in a dangerous act while in a safe place” (Hyde and Forsyth 62). Horror fiction allows people to experience the adrenaline rush that comes from being afraid and face their fears while not actually being in any danger. It is easy to see why the fears that are expressed in horror fiction are heavily influenced by the fears that are being expressed in the culture of the society from which it originates. For one thing, it makes the horror even more real for the readers. Basically, “the monstrous body is pure culture” (Cohen 16). Horror fiction over goes change because the culture into which it is being published is changing. This phenomenon can be seen in the comparison of two horror novels, Dracula and World War Z. Reflecting the fears of the nineteenth century, Dracula addresses threats to the individual. On the other hand World War Z, written in the twenty-first century, focusses on threats to the group, or humanity, as a whole. Thus, the novels, written over a hundred years apart, reflect a change in what the culture has come to fear over that time. On the whole, fears are subject to change, which is seen in this transition from fear for the individual to fear for society as a whole. From this it can be gathered that what people fear has grown to a larger scale over time. The fact that fears change over time, and from looking at how fears have already evolved in the culture, brings about the question of how future changes in culture will someday be expressed in novels and literature.
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