What Would You Do?

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In most post-apocalyptic stories, there comes a time when one or more of the characters — usually minor ones — opt to take the “easy way out.” Suicide, in other words. This seems only natural. When faced with an uncertain future filled with terror, hunger and the constant possibility of a violent, painful death, suicide seems like a viable option. Except in the stories, it’s not intended to be one. The characters who opt for suicide are not the ones we’re supposed to identify with.

But I do. When I read The Road, the character I most identified with was the wife, who took a gun and walked off into the woods rather than continue to live in the charred cinder that was once her world. In The Passage, a couple waits until their children are old enough to take care of themselves before opting out of their brutal lives spent worrying about vampire invasions every second. And on the season 1 finale of The Walking Dead television series, the characters are given a choice: quick, painless death by explosion or go back into the zombie-infested wasteland with only the things they are carrying. I know what I’d pick.

But then again, I am not a survivalist. I don’t stock up on toilet paper or spend my weekends practicing my crossbow skills. I freely admit that I enjoy the creature comforts of the 21st century. Who knows what any of us would choose to do when thrust into extreme circumstances like that? We haven’t really had to test our ingrained survival instinct.

Or our sense of hope. For that’s what the characters who choose to go on represent: hope. What was left in Pandora’s box after the ills of the world escape. Hope that there is something better ahead — if not for us, then at least for those who come after us — is what motivates us to keep on struggling even in the most extraordinary situations. Hope is what inspires us that no matter how bad things get, we can find a way. Hope is our humanity.

And hope is the essence of what many of these post-apocalyptic stories we tell ourselves are really all about.

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About Shannon

Writer, copyeditor, reviewer, and web content developer. View all posts by Shannon

3 responses to “What Would You Do?

  • Matt Warren

    I actually think a fair amount about this sort of thing. I’m sure it’s not completely healthy, but it’s also a reflection of our current mood, which is rife with anxiety about the future.

    I like to think that I wouldn’t opt for the easy way, but I doubt my expectations would reflect reality. I wonder about the generational divide that would emerge. Parents that remember a relative golden age. Children that know no better. The latter would have a much easier time as they lack any directly knowledge of what was lost, though the indirect impressions would lay all around us.

    • Shannon

      I think that thinking about this kind of thing is healthy, if only to justify my own obsessive return to the subject. But when we think about and talk about and write about these subjects, we are expressing what’s already inside, letting it out in a thoughtful, subjective way, rather than letting anxiety work its claws into us. If that makes sense.

      Children always seem to have an easier time coping in apocalyptic stories but may lack a moral or ethical center. And of course, there is another point — that as a parent, it would be pretty much impossible to commit suicide as long as my child remained alive and needed protection. Oy, that hits a little too close to home, though.

  • What Would You Do? « An Empty Earth | Blog, by Shannon

    […] an insomnia-fueled post from this morning: What Would You Do [in the event of the apocalypse]? « An Empty Earth. EmailPrintMoreFacebookDiggRedditStumbleUponTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

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