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Patterns of the Post-Apocalyptic Novel

Updated on October 11, 2011
Book cover to One Second After
Book cover to One Second After | Source

The bombs were dropped, the new plague has surfaced and our easy technology filled life of the present is gone forever! At least that is how most post apocalyptic novels begin. The disaster is always global, sometimes not even known to the survivors, but what is for sure is the lifeline of cell phones, computers and globalization is severed. This sudden separation viciously begins flipping society upside down and spinning it like a drunken guy dancing in the street. Reading a number of these stories, by far not all them, I have noticed a number of reoccurring themes and issues that deserve to be mentioned.

The scenarios of post apocalyptic stories have always fascinated me, even from a young age. Maybe it’s the science fiction, or the disasters, or just the fact that they are good stories. However as I get older I realize there are some common patterns in these books. I have noticed that some of the stories can be express, very inconspicuously, with a political agenda. Even with politics ingrained between the lines I find these stories to be great, fun reads and would not discourage anyone from rejecting based on politics. Some of the themes I have noticed with these novels include a Conservative slant, a rural verses urban dualism, pro gun rights and anti globalization perspective.

My first introduction to the post apocalyptic novel came at a young age while in middle school. We were assigned the read the novel ‘Z for Zachariah’ written by Robert C. O’Brien. This young adult novel was about a girl who lives in this small enclosed valley that seems to have been protected from a disaster outside the valley which resulted in radiation. The girl is left behind by her family, who go in search of answers. When they do no return she continues to live off the valley, which happens to consist of her family’s farm land and house, a small general store and a number of wooded areas as well as water sources that are not contaminated. This unique set up is perfect for her continued existence. I will not get into more detail about the plot therefore not ruining it for any perspective readers; however I would like to mention some underlying patterns. This novel examines the story of an individual struggling to survive on her own; this individualistic nature combined with the rural setting away from the now collapsed government has some conservative undertones. Place is important in this novel because it illustrates that rural areas are the safest and paints more urban areas as dangerous, if only sublimely. Once again not to ruin the story, but there is one more character that shows up from the outside, he was from an urban area and ends up being portrayed in a negative light. This negativity translates to the fact that he is not from the rural area. Although very quiet in this novel this is a dualism that will be explored in the other novels I discuss.

The next novel I read is one that I have recently finished. This novel is called ‘The world Ends in Hickory Hollow’ by Ardath Mayhar. It centers on a small community in Texas along a river where one day the electricity goes out and there is no explanation of what really has happened. It is up to a young family and some older generation neighbors to ban together to not only surviving physically but bring some semblance of society with it. Throughout the book there are a number of lines in which characters make comments about the importance of living in a rural area and how it’s a place where people still depend on themselves as well as their neighbors, unlike the big cities. In fact the main characters family had moved from Houston to their old family farm after years of bad experiences in the city. Once again this book emphasizes the importance of individualism and the preference of rural over urban. The fact that the setting of the novel in Texas, which many can consider one of the most conservative states in the United States can also illustrate some conservative undertones.

Finally the last novel I would like to discuss, which was very entertaining but had the most obvious undertones is called ‘One Second After’ by William R. Forstechen with a foreword by Newt Gingrich. Before I get into the plot, the fact that a foreword is given by Newt Gingrich, the face of the right wing of the 90’s and a contender in present day politics, already gives the book a conservative slant. In this book a rural quaint North Carolina mountain town finds themselves one day suddenly without any electrical devices due to the use of a EMP (an electromagnetic Pulse), which fries all circuits. The story follows this town and its inhabitants over the next two years of survival. In the story it illustrates larger cities as corrupted and filled with gangs, crazed hungry people, as well as hippies who won’t make it due to their peace loving ways. Maybe it is the time that has gone by since this book was written but I find many who are labeled as “hippie” actually know how to live off the land a lot better than many other people, especially small towns that have given up on farming. So when I came across this hippie comment I had to laugh to myself, knowing that many of those hippies now a day grow their own food off their back steps. Besides the insults thrown at city intellectuals, who once again brought up the dualism of rural verses urban, gun use is very present. The push for protection in this book shoves the idea that everyone needs to know how to use a gun, even having a battle with a roaming gang in which college students take up arms to defend the town. As many know gun rights are of huge importance to conservative in America and this book fully expresses the importance of those rights. This novel had the most conservative patterns and was the most blatant about them out of the novels I mentioned.

In all of these novels the survival of the main characters depends on the transition from a global way of life to the local. This transition is very anti globalization and although not overtly clear in all the novels, it does exist. It stresses the need to reject technology and go back to depending on yourself, be individualist, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps”. Wait a minute that last one sounds awfully like a famous conservative mantra...
These patterns I mentioned are not all out to brainwash the reader into thinking politically one way or the other because they do have some relevance in a post apocalyptic world. However when reading about the post apocalyptic world before it happens we have to consider that some undertones will be translated by the reader into present day life. As long as there is awareness there will be no need to stop reading these books. For part of this great communication we have formed in writing and reading is entertainment and what better way to escape into pages then into a different world, a post apocalyptic world!


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    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 6 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks for the comment and suggestions! Yeah the urban/rural dynamic although faint at times is very interesting. As for "the walking dead" I meant to watch it and did see the first few episodes but nothing after that I'll have to give it another try!

    • Megan Kathleen profile image

      Megan Kathleen 6 years ago from Los Gatos, CA

      Given that post-apocalyptic novels focus on a world where government has essentially failed to protect the people from said apocalypse means it is not surprising that such novels have a conservative slant. But you are right that some novels take that even further. I have not read any of these books, but given your analysis, I find it interesting that there is a distinction between the safety of rural and urban areas.

      That reminds me of the television show "Walking Dead." If you have not seen it, please catch up on it when the second season starts in October. In that world, an infection has creation zombies, which makes urban areas the most dangerous because of the high population density. Without that threat, however, there seems no reason to avoid urban areas.

      If you don't mind reading young adult fiction, I think you might find John Marsden's "Tomorrow, When the War Began" an interesting read. It is about a group of teenagers who come back from camping in the Australian bush to find that the country has been invaded. A more local kind of apocalypse if you will.

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 6 years ago from Connecticut

      Thanks! i appreciate the comment!

    • Anaya M. Baker profile image

      Anaya M. Baker 6 years ago from North Carolina

      Welcome to hubpages. Excellent hub, voted up!