Jaime Russell claims that the ultimate meaning of the zombie is as “a symbol of mankind’s most primitive anxiety: the fear of death” (8). Well, our primitive fear is our modern fear and the zombie forces the modern self to face death.
Death is persistent and there is nothing we can do to stop it from getting us eventually. One of the strategies of we modern people to deal with this fact, is to just not think about it. The persistence of the zombie personifies the inevitability of death and thus augments our fear of mortality. Simon Pegg, co-writer, director and actor of Shaun of the Dead, explains that the shambling zombies “are death and they will get you in the end. We could all be in a room now with one and quite happily walk round and round the room and he’d never get you because he’d just be stumbling along. But eventually you’d have to go to sleep and when you did, he’d eat you. There’s just something really eerie about that” (Russell 183).
The persistence of the zombie personifies the inevitability of death and thus augments our fear of mortality.
Death’s persistent has always been with us, so this characteristic of the zombie isn’t what makes it a uniquely a modern monster. Almost all monsters kill us, it’s like their thing, but it’s just not the killing bit that is problem these days—it’s the death. Zombies do not just deliver death, but they also embody death as we understand death in the modern world.
Like all monsters in the history of human storytelling, the zombie kills its victims, but the threat of death’s inevitability is more significant when one lives in a reality without the transcendent. In this context, life is equivalent to biological life.
Without any future beyond this world, the zombie horde represents to modern man an “ambulatory mass grave” and as such is “both a reminder of the inevitability of death and an affront to [modern man’s] belief in its finality” (Russell 69). Unlike preceding centuries, in the modern materialist universe, death is final. It is not, as in the past, a transition through which one passes, but a permanent state of non-being.
In the modern materialist universe, death is final–and zombies bring death.
The zombie articulates a profound—and profoundly modern—shift from older cultural attitudes about death: “the process of dying no longer means the conveyance of our eternally unchanging soul to another, more timeless realm; rather, death becomes a state we inhabit within our own earthly vessels, something we become rather than somewhere we go” (Muntean 83). In the zombie narrative, the undead are the agents and the bodily representation of this “becoming.”