Zombie Culture

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Zombie Literature and Its Reflection of Society’s Fears
Throughout the ages, real-world events have had a significant impact on the fictional literature that has developed through time. One type of literature that has been impacted by society is zombie horror. The term zombie first became widely known in literature as a direct result of William Seabrook’s Magic Island, a novel that focuses on voodoo in the Haitian culture. However, the actual word zombie was around long before Seabrook wrote the novel in 1929. “In the West Indies and southern states of America, a soulless corpse said to have been revived by witchcraft; formerly, the name of a snake-deity in voodoo cults of or deriving from West Africa and Haiti” (Oxford English Dictionary). The term carried over into the southern states through slavery and, in the 1870s, referred to a phantom or ghost throughout the nurseries and servants (Oxford English Dictionary). This origin provided a base for Magic Island to introduce the term into popular literature. Since its introduction, the term zombie has developed into a prominent archetype in popular literature. This archetype has not only developed through time but also reflects the feelings and concerns of society. The changes that have occurred in the zombie culture are a reflection of the very real fears society has experienced throughout history. Zombie culture is a reflection of the fears of society because of how relatable the zombies, and zombie tales, are to the human race. The Oxford English dictionary defines culture as, “a way of life or social environment characterized by or associated with the specified quality or thing; a group of people subscribing or belonging to this.” The term zombie is fairly broad and can refer to someone put under a voodoo spell or the undead versions. There are many ways in which people can become undead. A few explanations for zombification have been nuclear war, viruses, and science experiments gone horribly wrong. The previously mentioned, leads the term zombie culture to be defined as a way of life, environment, and anything related to the many different kinds of zombies. This includes movies, literature, music, graphic novels and even t-shirts to be considered part of zombie culture. This zombie empire has made its way into society as a common way to deal with fears. Zombie characters have the ability to connect with their audiences because they and their journeys are relatable. As a result, zombie literature has become much more popular because it allows the reader to “face” these fears in a light-hearted manner. Some of the major fears of society such as voodoo cults, slavery, nuclear warfare, and deadly viruses have surfaced as key themes in the zombie genre. In the very beginning of western zombie literature one of the major themes was voodoo. “In common usage as a noun, adjective or verb, voodoo refers to black magic historically associated with Negros in the West Indies in the Deep South region of the country” (Touchstone 373). Voodoo was a phenomenon that was both unfamiliar and mysterious to colonists. For those reasons alone, voodoo was a generally unwelcomed part of early New Orleans/Haitian culture. In the Western culture, the media began to portray Haiti as being involved in unfavorable rituals, such as black magic and sacrificial ceremonies. “Some of the earliest media coverage of Haiti in the Western world during the nineteenth century emphasized cannibalism” (Lawless quoted in Potter). When zombie literature was introduced to Western culture it was during a time when other cultures, such as Haitian culture, were not widely excepted because they were unfamiliar. “An explanation can be found in the colonial mentality, shared by both the colonist and the alienated colonized people, according to which everything which was not Western was dismissed with the contemptuous label: barbarian; whereas the phenomenon so condemned…” (Pierre 26). William Seabrook’s Magic...
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