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Allegorically Confusing

Jess Walter’s The Zero is a well-crafted book that explores the devastation of 9/11. Upon waking up days after 9/11 and discovering that he has shot himself in the head, Remy proceeds in an altered state of mind. He then takes an upsetting walk through the city’s own devastation, while at the same time the country is rippling through the aftershocks of the terrorist attacks. As the dust settles, Remy discovers that his memory is skipping and forming “gaps,”  leaving him feeling as though he is living a life that is not his own. With each memory lapse Remy discovers disturbing details about his life. Remy first learns that he has a son named Edgar who pretends that his father Remy was killed in 9/11, simply because Edgar wants to be able to channel his grief. Remy also discovers he has a girlfriend who he does not know due to the “gaps”, and whom he cheats on for her boss. At the same time as the boss is trying to hype up the spoils of a real-estate market mourning tragedy. Remy also uncovers he has an unsettling job, chasing around trails of scrap paper for a questionable governmental intelligence agency. This ultimately leads him to an exclusive terrorist cell, while at the same time doubling back on himself with incriminating information.

Connecting The Zero with other novels shows there are several allegorical similarities, most of which reflect the idea of falling in relation to America’s recent decline as a world leader. The idea of falling can symbolize a loss of patriarchal dominance for the United States. America can be seen as representative of a father figure in the world — not only due to its unequivocal, hegemonic power since the end of WWII but also due to its foreign policies that guide and protect the world’s economic and political stability. The World Trade Center attack could be seen as a direct attack on America’s power and its overall dominance. In the novels, whether it is a character having a falling-out with his father or the father stumbling and failing in the eyes of the child, the result is a decline in the father’s dominance. In The Zero Edgar has a falling-out with his father over his enlistment in the military. The glimpse of memory that we see is Edgar and Remy arguing over Edgar’s decision to enter the military, which ultimately ends up with Edgar running from his father into the recruitment office. Also, during a chess game Edgar learns that his father does not know everything and that he can outsmart his father.

But that one might, I saw fear in his face, fear because he knew that I’d beaten him fair and square. That he had lost to his nine-year-old son… And after I beat him at chess, when I looked at him, that’s all I could see for a long time—the unfinished half of his life… I never told my dad this, but after I turned nine, I could’ve beaten him at chess any time I wanted. I let him let me win. (108-109)



This is devastating for Edgar because the man whom he looked up to with the utmost respect is now questionable. All of which can coincide with the global community having a “falling out” with the United States on how we responded to 9/11 and the two wars that resulted as well as how the United States seems to have been taken off guard, causing the global community to question our actions. When President Bush called Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an axis of evil, it triggered many European countries into an alarmed sense because they were not unaware of if the US would act unilaterally in its war on terror. Like a child who discovers their father really does not know everything and begins to question his authority, America’s traditional patriarchal dominance is now being questioned in the global community.



One Response to “Allegorically Confusing”

  1. Olivia says:

    I’m glad that you evaluated The Zero on an allegorical level, Sarah, because I’ve been thinking about this as well since I read the book. It’s interesting that you point out the father-son relationship and its disillusionment in terms of the global community as it relates to the United States; I had been considering more the relationship between the American people and their government. Remy’s blindness and confusion, and the fact that he is acting violently on behalf of authority he does not trust, seems to be representative of the American establishment and its people’s disturbing realization that they are not being guided with honesty and justice in the wake of 9/11.