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World War Z | Symbols


Symbols in World War Z are closely tied to the work's questions about cultural and individual survival.


The plague strikes a world in which nations gain dominance largely through their technologies. Technology in the book represents a nation's unspoken belief that it has the machines, systems, and processes to handle crises and even prosper by overcoming them. Citizens' assumption that technology will prevail over problems is understandable since technology ensures a nation's wealth and ability to dominate markets and get raw materials on advantageous terms, even to the detriment of nations with less technological competence. Militaries are built on technology, as are communications and entertainment. Citizens rest easy because of their nation's technological prowess, though they may not even realize it. But the nature of the zombie assault disrupts the grids that support technology and reveals its limits. Technology is not the savior people assume it is and fails repeatedly to turn back the plague; its loss is a blow not just to human survival but to human pride.


From the national level to the local level, community is under attack during the plague. Yet communities, if the people in them can stick together, give a decisive advantage to people enduring the plague. Over the course of the war, some communities dissolve and fail while others form and prevail. Each community's saga has symbolic value, and therefore community comes to symbolize the forces that bring and hold people together, the forces that destroy those bonds, and the conditions under which communities deteriorate. As the interviewees recall their experiences, readers learn each community is like a case study for human strengths and flaws, and individuals rarely survive outside of community.


The plague's victims come to be known as zombies because, the investigator says in the Introduction, no other word "conjures up" a culture's ideas and images of devastation and death. The zombies represent a threat not only to human life but to flourishing cultures and civilizations around the globe. Because each nation's culture is different, the symbolic threat the zombies pose varies from culture to culture. In the United States, for example, some survivors see in the zombies the thoughtless consumerism that made Americans soft, while in Russia, some survivors see the zombies as punishment for secularism.

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