This article explores Colson Whitehead's Zone One and the zombie narrative genre and outlines some of the ways each illuminates structural, generic, and aesthetic qualities in the other. Contrary to popular critical apologies, Zone One is largely a conventional zombie narrative that embraces the formal implications of the genre's tropes: notably the zombie figure itself, the barricade, and what this article calls soft and hard breaches. The zombie is a deconstructive and contagious anticharacter whose destabilizing role necessitates the construction of barricades that (1) protect the characters from infection and living death, (2) delineate a narrative space in which plot and character can develop, and (3) spatialize epistemological and aesthetic modes. Whereas hard breaches involve a narrative-threatening failure of diegetic barricades, the soft breach allows the zombie's destabilizing function to operate in the narrative space without posing a diegetic threat. Zone One's figures function similarly, as demonstrated by a formal and aesthetic analysis with specific regard to the novel's eponymous “survival space” and its constitutive barricade motif. Whitehead innovates in the genre by means of his own zombie contribution, the figure of the straggler, which facilitates more meditative thematic work than zombie narratives generally allow. This formal exploration of Zone One as a zombie narrative is meant to further zombie scholarship and to frame future critical work on the novel by contextualizing it in its genre.
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Carl Joseph Swanson; “The Only Metaphor Left”: Colson Whitehead's Zone One and Zombie Narrative Form. Genre 1 December 2014; 47 (3): 379–405. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-2797225
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