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“We Are the Walking Dead” by Gerry Canavan


Reading is a process that is, in its nature, more complicated and multifaceted than it is usually perceived. In many cases, authors do not just write plan facts in order to inform their readers about something but wrap the delivered information in multiple layers of presentational techniques and strategies. As a result, reading a certain piece of writing, one experiences the influence of such techniques. This may be done by authors for the purpose of strengthening the effect of their writing, reaching out to a specific type of audience, persuading, and evoking a particular kind of emotional reaction. Rhetorical reading focuses on a critical approach to the text, the way it is shaped, and the language and techniques used by the author so that the reader could unravel the author’s ideas and intentions that underlie the text (Haas and Flower 167-168). For this assignment, the article by Gerry Canavan entitled ““We Are the Walking Dead”: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative” was selected. This choice was dictated by the desire to explore a seemingly one-dimensional concept of a zombie from the social, political, and cultural points of view. Canavan has a truly unique approach to this concept connecting it to racial inequality, the expansion of capitalism, the brainwashing propaganda, and even ecological problems. Consequently, the purpose of this paper is to explore and analyze the article critically in order to identify the author’s approach to information delivery methods and his preferred persuasion strategies.

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Canavan’s Style, Approach, Audience, and Purpose

In his article, Canavan uses an engaging and simple language making his writing easy to understand and follow for all kinds of audiences. He includes many references to well-known TV series, books, and movies and keeps the audience’s attention by exploring a broadly recognized theme of the undead. However, he demonstrates a thoughtful and explorative approach to this topic and digs deep into what zombies symbolize and represent from a variety of angles. By focusing on a seemingly superficial topic of imaginary folklore monsters, Canavan pursues the purpose of dissecting the very meaning of zombies as a social and political concept. His target audience includes people familiar with the phenomenon of the zombie and its prevalence in popular culture. This audience is willing to explore the issues that underlie the terrifying nature of this monster as something ultimately opposed to any kind of reader or viewer from any perspective.

Rhetorical Situation Discussion

The selected article was published in 2010, the time when the concept and image of a zombie were still widely used throughout the field of entertainment. This article was published in Extrapolation, the journal that focuses on speculative fiction. The latter is a broad genre that incorporates various types of fiction such as fantasy, horror, science fiction, alternative history, and reality, to name a few. One of the major prominent features of speculative fiction is that it focuses on problems related to human experience rather than technological issues (Oziewicz 2). Non-realism of this genre is what makes its narratives and stories stand out as explorations of atypical and abnormal conditions, unrealistic situations, and scenarios that would not be possible in the habitual reality.

The author, Gerry Canavan, is a professor who specializes in modern literature. This way, it is possible to make a conclusion that the article was written by an expert knowledgeable about the topic and its context in the contemporary culture. In his work, Canavan attempts to deconstruct the deeper meaning of this image making connections between the popularity of this image in culture and the current social trends. First of all, as an engagement strategy, Canavan emphasizes the ubiquity of zombies in various kinds of horror and comedy movies, TV series, literary works, and computer games. This way, he demonstrates the modern society’s obsession with this image and hints that this overwhelming popularity must stand for a deeper meaning that the contemporary people associate with zombies.

Secondly, Canavan discusses the resemblance of zombies as a concept to versatile social trends. For instance, he links zombies to such modern issues of global nature as the spreading capitalism, brainwashing propaganda, racial relations, colonialism, and the exhaustion of this planet’s resources (Canavan 432-436). Making these connections, the author is able to point out to his readers that, to a modern person, zombies stand for much more than a fictional monster that kills the living. Delivering his point of view, Canavan uses multiple examples. This is done in order to strengthen his argument and persuade the readers that it is not based on a single similarity or an irrelevant observation. By piling up the examples, the author surrounds his readers with the idea that the image of a zombie relates to a vast number of events and tendencies that are topics in the modern society.

Another persuasion technique employed by Canavan is the use of expert opinion. In order to support his argument, he uses quotes from famous creators of zombie franchises – Robert Kirkman and George Romero, and a well-known cultural critic y Vivian Sobchack (Canavan 433-436). This strategy is quite effective because it helps the author demonstrate that many renowned experts agree with his point of view. Further, in an attempt to link the concept of zombies with colonialism and racial relations, Canavan quotes philosophers and writers who never explored the topic of zombies directly but focused on the themes and issues the author links to the image of zombies. This approach does not seem very reliable and makes the author’s ideas and conclusions look like speculations.

Thesis, Major Claims, and Structure of the Work

In the thesis of his work, Canavan focuses on the exploration of the biopolitical context of the concept of zombies and links it to the modern consequences of colonial violence with which modern people need to come to terms before “becoming zombies” (433). The first major claim made by the author is about the ubiquity of zombies in the contemporary world and the relevance of this image to a variety of modern issues and challenges. The second claim is that the zombie narrative needs to be explored from the perspective of the colonial gaze that stands for racial inequality. In this claim, he likens colonialism to the plot of War of the Worlds by Wells where “the Others” appear who are a major threat and need to be isolated and eradicated at any cost, which annihilates ethics and morale. The essay is structured in a standard manner and includes the introductory and concluding paragraphs, as well as several body paragraphs with creative and captivating subheadings. Also, in his body paragraphs, the author uses illustrations from the book entitled The Walking Dead and block quotes from the works of various experts in the fields of politics, philosophy, ethics, sociology, history, entertainment, and literature.

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Critical Response

In his essay, Canavan links the concept of zombies to a variety of social and political trends that are relevant in the modern world. Specifically, the author focuses on the connection between the perception of zombies as “the Others” and the ultimate threat to the existing order and the ideas that powered colonialism in the past and that enable racial inequality today. This is a unique point of view and an interesting perspective on the imperialism and colonialism. The dynamics that, as the author pointed out, resembled the plot of War of the Worlds is relevant to the attitudes dominant in the colonial times when the colonized civilizations were regarded as threats that needed to be fought. However, attempting to find proofs that the same dynamics relate to the modern world, Canavan does not find much factual support. He presents a couple of situations that were perceived as security challenges as a general and universal phenomenon. In that way, the link between the survivors in The Walking Dead barricading themselves in the abandoned jail and the modern racial inequality falls short due to a far stretched connection and weak symbolism.


As a reader, I approached the selected essay from the perspective of the clarity of the author’s arguments and the relation between them and evidence he employed as supporting materials. Consequently, as a writer, I should consider these aspects as some of the most important features that could strengthen my future essays and improve my argument skills. Also, reading the article by Canavan, I appreciated the use of multilayered examples for the purpose of demonstration that his claim was relevant and important.

Works Cited

Canavan, Gerry. “We Are the Walking Dead: Race, Time, and Survival in Zombie Narrative.” Extrapolation, vol. 51, no. 3, 2010, pp. 431-453.

Haas, Christina, and Linda Flower. “Rhetorical Reading Strategies and the Construction of Meaning.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 39, no. 2 1988, pp. 167-183.

Oziewicz, Marek. Speculative Fiction. 2017. Web.

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