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The Zombie Apocalypse Plot in Literature Essay


The zombie apocalypse is a common plot in science fiction and fantasy. This idea was elaborated by authors of both short stories and novels. Different people view it in a differing manner and, at the same time, deploy a zombie image for sharing a different message. Although there are dozens of related stories, only three of them will be investigated in this essay – Sparks Fly Upward by Lisa Morton (2006), The Dead by Michael Swanwick (1998), and Home Delivery by Stephen King (1989). A focus will be made on the portrayal of zombies and the way it influences survivors. Nevertheless, even though all three writings are zombie stories and depict survival after a zombie apocalypse, they address various aspects of human life, emotions, fears, and aspirations of protagonists and make a reader wonder what a true reason for being is.

Sparks Fly Upward

Sparks Fly Upward by Lisa Morton is an outstanding story, which is written as a diary of a new colonist – a woman trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. In this work of literature, the problem is seen in the connection to the holes in the ozone layer and global warming, i.e. it is human-caused (Adams, 2013). Morton portrays zombies in a common manner – they are the living dead feeding upon people. Nevertheless, the primary focus of the story is made not on zombie apocalypse but on a young woman who got pregnant. Due to the very specificities of the portrayed world, it is better to get rid of the fetus because health care services and adequate nourishment are included in the premium segment. So, it is her way to one of the facilities that is depicted in the story and zombies she meets during the journey (Adams, 2013).

From this perspective, in work under consideration, the central idea is women’s rights, especially the right to abortions. The author views life through the prism of death, as zombies always return to the place they used to live in and lead the same lifestyles. That is why the protagonist witnesses anti-abortion protests because some of the living dead were involved in protest campaigns and came back to that very period. So, by using this trick, Lisa Morton points to the constant pro-life and pro-choice conflict. The protagonist even recalls her experience of helping a friend to have a pregnancy terminated and facing the necessity to snake through the crowd of protesters (Adams, 2013).

To sum up, Sparks Fly Upward is dedicated to the role of women in society. In fact, it focuses on the changes in women’s rights, as abortions became illegal again after the beginning of a zombie apocalypse, even though they were a legal practice before. Nevertheless, the author portrays the atrocities of the struggle for equality and the protection of one’s rights. More than that, the focus is made on the inner power of a woman and making effort for achieving one’s goal regardless of all hardships and barriers, although the mentioned goal was getting rid of an unborn child.

Home Delivery

King’s Home Delivery is a story of people inhabiting Little Toll Island and their struggle for survival during a zombie attack. In the story, the zombie apocalypse was a result of an alien influence and failing to destroy the construct by authorities of the most influential states, thus spreading the epidemic across the globe. Zombies are as well portrayed in a traditional manner – as corpses resurrecting from their graves and hunting people.

In this work of literature, specific attention is paid to collaboration because it is a strategy chosen to fight zombies and put them back to rest, thus eliminating any further danger and guarantee the future safety of the human community. The men of the city brought their efforts together to protect the city they live in and their families (Jones, 2010). In this way, it is the role of a man in society that is paid specific attention to because these are men that have enough power and strength to decide on the future.

Nevertheless, this plotline is the secondary one, as the primary focus of the writing is Maddie Pace. This young woman is a pregnant widow who has recently lost her husband during the storm. In all her hardships, Maddie is supported by her mother, who is a widow as well (Adams, 2013). From this perspective, the short story written by King points not only to the role of men in the community but also to interactions between men and women. For instance, both Maddie and her mother are forced to protect themselves because they are widows. It is true about their life both before and during the rising from the dead. Still, the story point to the change, as Maddie regardless of her natural indecisiveness does not hesitate when it comes to a struggle with her dead husband, who arose together with other zombies. Being pregnant, Maggie faces the vital choice – kill the one who used to be her husband or save the life of her unborn child (Jones, 2010).

To sum up, Home Delivery is not only a zombie story. Instead, it is a reminder of hope and a symbol of collaboration. Through the lens of fantasy, King teaches a reader that no matter what barriers are faced in life, there is always hope for the better tomorrow. The only challenge is to find a powerful driver to fight for it and cope with all the hardships. More than that, the story points to the significant inner power of a woman and mother, as there are as well references to pregnancy such as, “The ground heaved like the belly of a pregnant woman getting ready to drop her load” (Jones, 2010, p. 556). From this perspective, there is a way to interpret the title of the short story, as Maggie states that her baby will be given birth to at home – “It will be a home delivery … and it will be fine” (Jones, 2010, p. 580). So, just like Maggie provided her child with a safe place to be born at by getting rid of her husband, who turned into a zombie, there is the hope for the better future of the whole community after returning the dead back to rest.

The Dead

The plot of Swanwick’s story is developing in the world where people learned to generate the living dead artificially and use them as the cheap workforce. The central idea of the story is the fear of a protagonist, Donald, that the very notion of exploiting zombies is not a sensible idea due to the potential catastrophe connected to an increasing number of these creatures across the country. In this way, zombies are not perceived as a threat. Instead, they are created to benefit people. Still, Daniel is afraid that the apocalypse is close, as big businesses might choose to use the beings for other than economic purposes or the creatures themselves might break out in revolt – “if they were to rise at once, they would be like tsunami, irresistible” (Thomas, 2013, p. 82).

There are several plotlines in the story. The first one is evident. It is the indifference of bid businesses and corporations when it comes to gaining economic benefits. They are not afraid to replace ordinary people with the living dead and introduce them to the mass market. However, companies ignore the potential negative consequences connected to both riots of those who became unemployed and the dead. At the same time, there is a slight hint at the role of men in society as well as the functions played by women. It is seen in gender equality, as there were equal opportunities for both men and women to bring their career aspirations to life. Courtney, Daniel’s friend and lower, outperformed him in career, which means that social discrimination is the only kind of bias remaining in the modern society (Adams, 2013; Dozois & Dann, 2014).

That said, The Dead is different from the other two stories in terms of portraying zombies and the way they affect people’s lives. Nevertheless, it still points to relations between men and women as well as makes a reader question what is the purpose of living and whether the zombies portrayed in the story are indeed created or they are what people turned into under the influence of big businesses and their strive for money.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, it is essential to focus on similarities and differences between the three short stories. To begin with, there are some significant contrasts between the manners of portraying zombies. That said, even though in all three stories, they were depicted as the corpses, in the first two, zombies are a threat to mankind because they feed upon people, while in the last story, they are artificially created to benefit the economy and big businesses, More than that, there is a difference in the interrelations between ordinary people and zombie due to the fact that in the third story, people and zombies coexist, while in the first two, there is a constant battle for survival between them. Furthermore, the causes of a zombie apocalypse are differing: in the first story, it is the result of the global warming; in the second work, it is connected to the alien invasion; in the third story, there is only the risk of the potential apocalypse. Finally, the works of literature share different messages. From this perspective, the first story focuses on women rights, the second one addresses gender roles, while the third piece of writing questions the current world order and the influence of economy on human life.

Still, it is critical to point to some significant similarities between the three stories. First and foremost, gender roles are highlighted. At the same time, all of the literature works point to the inner strength of women and the criticality of collaboration. Finally, in case of viewing and investigating them altogether, the very essence of life and the sense of being are questioned, which stimulates a reader to think and search for a profound meaning of the written words.


Adams, J. J. (2013). The living dead. London: Orbit Books.

Dozois, G., & Dann, J. (2013). Future sports. Wake Forest, NC: Baen Books.

Jones, S. (2010). The dead that walk: Zombie stories. Berkeley, CA: ReadHowYouWant.

Thomas, G. (2013). Science fiction and speculative fiction: Challenging genres. Greenville, SC: Springer.

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IvyPanda. "The Zombie Apocalypse Plot in Literature." September 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-zombie-apocalypse-plot-in-literature/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "The Zombie Apocalypse Plot in Literature." September 3, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-zombie-apocalypse-plot-in-literature/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Zombie Apocalypse Plot in Literature'. 3 September.

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