Zombies, the Uncanny and the City: Colson Whitehead’s Zone One


Wilhite, K. (Ed.)

Document Type

Book Section

Publication Date



Farleigh Dickinson University Press

Book Title

The City Since 9/11: Literature, Film, Television

First page number:


Last page number:



In Trauma and the Memory of Politics (2003), Jenny Edkins suggests that catastrophe often serves to amplify already known (though often repressed) truths about the metropolis and its inhabitants:“Events of the sort we call traumatic are overwhelming but they are also a revelation. They strip away the diverse commonly accepted meanings by which we lead our lives in our various communities. They reveal the contingency of the social order and in some cases how it conceals its own impossibility.” 1 It is precisely the dynamics of such a scenario that Colson Whitehead sets out to explore in his zombie-apocalypse novel, Zone One (2011). Early in the text, for instance, the protagonist recalls how he sometimes felt about the pre-apocalypse city:“It was a gorgeous and intricate delusion, Manhattan, and from crooked angles on overcast days you saw it disintegrate, were forced to consider this tenuous creature in its true nature.” 2 Disasters such as 9/11 only highlight that which we already know—that these “permanent” symbols of our culture and civilization are really the most fragile of structures, and that absence can all too easily replace presence. The events of September 11 momentarily tore away the veil, revealing the unfamiliar in the familiar. This was quickly corrected, however, by the official engines of representation. In presenting a world with an ongoing catastrophe, Zone One allows for a more protracted and sustained contemplation of the unfamiliar. For just as the zombie exists as an uncanny other for humanity, so too does the zombified city offer an uncanny reflection of the contemporary metropolis. Whitehead creates a disaster scenario in which Manhattan is itself a zombie--a husk of its former self, emptied of all vitality or kinetic energy, that continues to exist, to lumber aimlessly on. This essay proposes that the exercise in defamiliarization allows the reader to look at the metropolois anew.


Literary criticism, American, general; Performing Arts, television, general; Social science, sociology, general


American Literature




IN COPYRIGHT. For more information about this rights statement, please visit http://rightsstatements.org/vocab/InC/1.0/