Zombies – Zombie Symbolism

by Zombie Todd on June 21, 2009

in Zombie Research

Zombie Symbolism

   As is the case with the rest of the monsters listed on this site, there are certain symbolic implications tied up in the idea of zombies. In American culture, specifically within the medium of film, the zombie represents severeal different "fears."

   Zombies of the Haitian Voodoo variety represent a loss of cognition/ consciousness and also a loss of free will. What is it except these things, after all, that separates us from animals. By "controlling" another person and eliminating that persons ability to make choices, let alone engage in conscious thought, the "controller" has reduced that person to the level of an animal and has robbed him of his humanity. A distinct parallel might be drawn here between cultures that have promoted the use of slavery (such as our own) and zombie films. To fear the possibility of zombies, then, is to fear enslavement.

   Considering that zombies of the reanimated variety are nothing more than moving corpses, they come to embody the human fear of our own dead tissue. We, as humans, go to great lengths to obscure the remains of our dead, especially our loved ones. If someone we know dies, our mental image of that person stops at the grave.When we build a picture in our mind’s eye of that person, it is not the rotting corpse or skeletal remains that we see–even though that is the person’s current status–but the memory of that persons conscious life. It is no mistake that we bury our corpses "six feet under" so as to eradicate the ugliness of decomposition.
    Therefore, to confront a zombie is to be reminded of our own mortality. It, as is proven in Night of the Living Dead and its ilk, is especially terrifying to encounter, let alone be attacked by, the physical image of one’s deceased beloved. Being that our mortality is something that we try to decorate with tidy rituals and outright denial, zombies serve as a painfully striking reminder that we will all eventually return to the same stinking earthly essence from which we are born.

    Night of the Living Dead and its counterparts also illustrate the fear of widespread apocalyptic destruction. It is not a coincidence that these movies appeared mostly at the height of the Cold War paranoia that was taking place earlier this century. Much like the atomic bomb, zombies are unleashed in a chain reaction, each devoured corpse arising and looking for more human flesh to consume. As the zombie count increases exponentially, they cover more and more distance until they overtake massive amounts of land area. Indeed, by the end of Romero’s Day of the Dead (1985), the final installment of his "Dead" trilogy, only a small militia-esque band of survivors is remaining in the United States. Consequently, they choose to relocate to an uninhabited island in the tropics as the U.S. becomes a barron wasteland, populated only by the walking dead. At the conclusion of Return of the Living Dead (1985), the U.S. government chooses simply to erase the area populated by zombies with a nuclear missile (ironically, the process of human reanimation was enacted by nuclear radiation to begin with and thus, in this reciprocity of events, not only is the fear of holocaust represented, but also the metaphorical enactment of full-on nuclear war).
    Zombies also represent widespread annihilation in the form of plague-like sickness. The implications here are basically the same as they are with nuclear apocalypse, but on a more personal and intimate level. Romanesque zombies multiply by infecting their victims through the mixing of bodily fluids (saliva, etc.). When a person is attacked by a zombie, that person, in a process similar to that enacted by vampires, becomes a member of the "undead." As is the case with the cold war similarities, the fact that the majority of the Night..-style zombie movies arrived during the 80s during the height of the AIDS epidemic is difficult to overlook.


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