Zombie Literature: Analyzing the Fear of the Unknown through Popular Culture

T. Hunter Strickland, PhD.
The University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia, USA


This paper will focus on how the rise in popularity of zombie literature in the 21st century is reflective of a western cultural need to address the fear of the unknown through popular culture. Through the flesh-eating zombie, we enter a parallel world where everything familiar in our communities becomes evil. The genre reflects the fear in Western society of the neighbor who has turned against you, survival in the midst of government collapse and the monster within. Zombie fantasy literature allows society a venue to deconstruct what is known while dealing with these fears and the unbridled hate of the unthinking zombie through a collective experience using popular culture. What this fantasy subgenre allows, the author will explain, is a monster that embodies an individual human’s greatest fears. At times, the zombie reflects the fear of social breakdown; at others, the zombie reflects aging and death. The versatility of this embodiment of fear allows it to be a genre that continues to evolve.

Using the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin on carnival and festive folk humor, the author will discuss how the zombie genre has provided fantasy lovers a desconstructive space to deal with fear, death, and hate in a genre that breaks down what western society has constructed for itself, and also allows readers to rebuild the future without constraint. Zombies, however, always leave room for humanity to hope for life and the future. This popular culture phenomenon goes beyond mere entertainment as it reaches into the heart of viewers and allows them to express their greatest emotions.

Keywords:Bakhtin, Carnivalesque, zombies, deconstruction, laughter, fear, popular culture

Author Bio

T. Hunter Strickland is a Clinical Assistant Professor of English Education in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at The University of Georgia. His research interests are in dialogic pedagogy and the use of young adult literature in both secondary schools and teacher education programs. Additionally, he is interested in using Bakhtin’s concept of the carnivalesque in analyzing certain subgenres of young adult literature in order to engage with the themes of fear and laughter present in young adult texts and the students who read them.

Suggested Citation

Strickland, T. H. (2019). Zombie literature: Analyzing the fear of the unknown through popular culture. Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy. 6(3). www.journaldialogue.org/issues/v6-issue-3/zombie-literature-analyzing-the-fear-of-the-unknown-through-popular-culture/

Strickland, T. Hunter. “Zombie Literature: Analyzing the Fear of the Unknown through Popular Culture” Dialogue: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Popular Culture and Pedagogy, vol. 6, no. 3, 2019 http://journaldialogue.org/issues/v6-issue-3/zombie-literature-analyzing-the-fear-of-the-unknown-through-popular-culture/

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