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Critical response to ‘Z for Zachariah’ Essay

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The book I read is ‘Z for Zachariah’ by Robert C. O’Brien. I enjoyed this book because it contained few but excellent characters and is full of mystery and suspense.

‘Z for Zachariah’ is about a sixteen-year-old girl, called Ann Burden who thinks she is the only person to survive a nuclear war. However, as her diary entries progress, you learn of a person in a green suit who is pulling what looks like a trailer covered with the same green material as the suit approaching Ann Burden’s valley. Later in the diary you find out that the person is a man who had been an industrial chemist before the war, working for the Government designing a suit to protect people in the event of a nuclear explosion. His name is Mr Loomis and he is wearing the only one of these suits. When Mr Loomis finally arrives in the valley, he is amazed by the fact that there is water, which appears to be safe but Mr Loomis makes one severe mistake.

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When he checks the water for the level of radiation with his Geiger counter he in fact checks the clean water in the stream but then goes on to venture further down the valley, where he finds Ann Burden’s home where the polluted Burden Creek is nearby. Once Mr Loomis has seen inside Ann’s house (where Ann has cleverly hidden any clues that could show the visitor that there has been people living there recently) he then proceeds towards Burden Creek in the hope of getting his first bath in probably months.

However, not realising that the stream and Creek are not connected and in fact the Creek runs into the valley from over the hill where the pollution is, he jumps right in. Within a very short period of time after Mr Loomis has had his bath he became very ill, as he had been exposed to a lot of radiation. When Mr Loomis becomes sick Ann then realises she will have to help him and that is when she first shows herself. Ann’s diary entries take you through the events that happen when she is and is not in the company of Mr Loomis.

My favourite part of the book is the first three diary entries. In these diary entries Mr Loomis has not yet arrived in the valley however Ann has seen smoke from over the hill for three days, which she presumes is from a human made fire because it is in a thin column that it rises. The smoke comes at the same time everyday, in late afternoon. Each afternoon the smoke is nearer to Ann’s home. I like this part of the book the most because in it you find out what it has been like for Ann being alone for so long because her family left her to look for other people and had never returned. It is interesting to read Ann’s thoughts of being excited and scared that she may in fact not be the only person left in the world. It is obvious why Ann would be excited about someone else coming into the valley but maybe not so clear why she would be scared.

Ann is scared because after the nuclear explosion some radio stations had still broadcasted, but towards the end of them broadcasting the presenters seemed to be going crazy. Here is a quote from the second diary entry which will explain why Ann is scared “Suppose a car came over the hill, and I ran out, and whoever was in it got out – suppose he was crazy? Or suppose it was someone mean, or cruel, and brutal? A murderer? What could I do?”

After this quote, you realise that Ann is a very sensible and careful person because she decides to move her things to a cave nearby her home and make it look as though no one has lived in her house. That way she can watch whoever is coming into her valley and if they are crazy or mean she can stay in the cave unbeknown to the visitor and wait until they leave. At the end of the third diary entry Ann has still not seen anyone but knows that they are camping at the crossroads and exploring North, South, East, West and when they come into the South they will find Ann’s valley.

The most remarkable character in the book I think is Ann Burden. She is careful, mature, kind, helpful, sensible, confused, and strategic/logical. In the following paragraph I will explain why Ann Burden is all of the things I have just said:

The reason I think Ann is careful is because when Mr Loomis is first entering the valley she goes to the cave to live there as she does not know if Mr Loomis is ‘safe.’ During the book ‘Z for Zachariah’ you realise that in fact even though Ann is only sixteen she is more mature than Mr Loomis who is quite a bit older than Ann. The proof that shows this, is all of the words I am using to describe her and she also thinks about having children to begin the human-race again. The words kind, helpful and sensible describe Ann well because when Mr Loomis is ill with radiation poisoning she helps him and is kind to him even though he’s a stranger.

Also Ann still helps Mr Loomis after he tried to rape her – she gives him half of everything i.e. eggs, milk and chicken and lets him have the comforts of her home while she moves into the cave. It is obvious that Ann is confused, as she does not know why Mr Loomis is being so horrible to her especially when she has done everything she can to be nice to him and to help him. The last words to describe Ann are strategic and logical; I think these words describe Ann well because when she does not want Mr Loomis to find her she thinks about what he can and cannot see e.g. when she builds a fire she thinks about where and how to build it so Mr Loomis can’t see it – she also thinks about what time of the day to light it.

The style of ‘Z for Zachariah’ is in diary form. Throughout the book there were not many figures of speech, however, there were a few similes, here is a quote from the book that describes Ann’s dog Faro when he has returned from the dead lands where there is radiation, in it there is a simile “as thin as a skeleton.” The structure of ‘Z for Zachariah’ is in chronological order, each event happening in an order that makes sense and makes the story more intense and interesting. During the book, there is not much direct speech as the genre of the book is in diary form so it contains more of the thoughts and feelings of Ann Burden.

The themes in the book are effects of modern technology, survival, dominance, bullying, age against youth, optimism/realism, breeding, art v science and religion v atheism. In the following sentences, I will discuss the themes that occur in ‘Z for Zachariah.’ The first theme ‘effects of modern technology’ is the theme that allowed the story to occur because nothing in the book would have happened had there not been a nuclear explosion. The themes of survival, dominance and age against youth are all linked together and are in a way very similar to each other. These three themes are perhaps the strongest and most occurring ones throughout the book, I will explain why: survival of course is going to be a major issue, Ann is the one who thinks about this the most having thought of growing her own crops, so when the supplies run out in the shop she will still have food to survive, and that is just one example.

Throughout the book Mr Loomis tries to be the stereotypical ‘Alpha male,’ he wants everything to be done his own way and to be done by him. For example when Ann said she would go into the town with the safe suit to collect books, even though Mr Loomis is still ill he refuses to let her go, perhaps thinking she is incapable or he could have been worried she wouldn’t come back with the safe suit, although I think the first scenario is more likely. The only time Mr Loomis seemed to let Ann do things her way is when he could not do things for himself, however, he never admitted it. ‘Age against youth’ is another strong theme as throughout the book you realise that Mr Loomis even though he is older he is not always wiser and more mature, in fact Ann is definitely the more mature of the two characters.

Optimism and realism are two words that can explain Ann and Mr Loomis’ completely different personalities. Ann being the optimist who thinks that the results of an action will always be good and Mr Loomis being the realist he makes decisions based on facts and not on false hope. Throughout the book breeding is a theme, but more with Ann – she thinks towards the future and beginning the human-race again. The theme of art v science is one that occurs throughout the book. As Ann is interested in art and Mr Loomis is interested in science, a few quarrels occur between them. However, ‘quarrels’ is perhaps the wrong word because Mr Loomis always seemed to get his own way. Again, I will use the example of when Ann wanted to use the safe suit to collect some engineering and physics books for Mr Loomis; she also suggested that she get some for herself.

Such as poetry. Yet Mr Loomis refused and said, “You could not go. Understand that. Keep away from the suit. Never touch it.” After Mr Loomis had given Ann his lecture, she could not understand why he had become so angry. It was alright if he wanted something but as soon as Ann wanted something to do with her interests, it was too much of a risk. Religion v atheism is a theme in the book. Ann being the religious one and Mr Loomis the atheist. I don’t think Ann is strongly religious, I just think she finds going to the church and praying a ‘comforting factor.’ Earlier I said Mr Loomis is an atheist. This means that he doesn’t believe that any god or gods exist, therefore he does not understand why Ann would want to go to the church and ‘waste her time’ praying.

I enjoyed this book because there were few characters, which allowed you to get to know them better. I also liked the style of the book being in diary form because you didn’t have to read the minute by minute accounts of what is happening in the book you only get to read the exciting and more intense parts which would be written in a diary. The thing that made the book a little boring was the fact that there weren’t many different figures of speech.

The length I though was too long, some parts of the book seemed to be dragged out to give it a longer length, for example when Mr Loomis is sick the book got a little boring because in the diary entries you really were only told what Ann had did that day, there wasn’t enough character interaction. One thing that I thought ruined the book was the ending, I thought it was exciting when you were told that there was hope that there could be other people still living and you wanted to keep reading and know if there was anyone else out there, but it just stopped. Taking the entire book into account my opinion is that it is quite good as I think it gives a good insight into what could happen if there is a nuclear explosion – it is realistic.

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