The Online Teacher Resource
some comments on technology: Building a generator
Building a water-powered generator to run the fridge and freezer is something that Mr Loomis is seriously considering. This would allow them to store meat. What needs to be considered before undertaking this project? (This scenario assumes that Mr Loomis and Ann share the valley amicably. One person, on his/her own, would have virtually no free time to do anything more than the immediate necessities.)
Before starting, it would be important to check that the fridge and the freezer are operational. (They have been off for 15 months.) Are the seals in good condition? Are the condenser coils copper or steel? (Copper will be fine. Steel may have rusted and allowed the fridge/freezer to degas. If it has degassed, it will not work.)
Check for necessary components: motor, capacitors, electrical cable, insulators, poles, voltmeter, stones, cement, coupling, timber, materials to build weather-proof shelters….
If Mr Loomis does not have enough information or parts for the project, he may need to make a trip to the Ogdentown. (Additional tasks for this excursion are listed next.)
Pack cart with food water and tools for breaking into library and shops. Make a list of items for the project which aren’t available in the valley. Is it reasonable to expect to find them in Ogdentown? (How long would they take to ‘cool’) Are they heavy?
Make list of other necessary or nice-to-have items to bring back and allow to ‘cool’. These would need to be light in weight: matches, candles, soap, one small item each for enjoyment (small book, deck of cards) Things like kerosene would probably not be available in Ogdentown, but liquids are very heavy so they wouldn’t be suitable anyway.
Walk 25 miles/40 kms.
Break into library. (Be careful not to rip/damage suit.)
Check books. Make notes. Put best books into cart. (One wouldn’t want to get back to the valley and discover that an essential piece of information hadn’t been copied down!) Find books on other essential topics (First Aid, others??) Put in cart.
Break into shops and pick up supplies on the list. Put in cart.
Leave goods on edge of valley to ‘cool’. Protect them from the weather.
Design a water wheel and mounting mechanism.
Build it. (materials, tools, time?)
Consider duplication, (ie having a spare already made.) If the wheel fails, the electricity would go off and after a couple of days all the stored meat would spoil.
Raise the dam height. (stones, cement?, labour, time?)
Consider risks of damaging suit and/or falling in the creek.
Build structure to protect motor/generator from the weather. (Materials, time?)
Mount and set up motor. (Materials, time?)
Install water wheel. (time?)
Couple motor/generator to water wheel. (Coupling? time?)
Connector generator to a piece of test apparatus. (A lamp or something similar)
Attach capacitors motor power leads to adjust voltage to desired limits. Test. (A farm would probably have capacitors which could be used to adjust the voltage. The workshop would almost certainly have a voltmeter.)
If it works, disconnect water wheel and store it. (It could be months before the system is ready to use. There is no point in wearing out the wheel in the interim.)
Prepare to run electrical cables to house. (Assume the distance is 100yds/metres.)
Collect electrical cable and insulators from lines to houses in the valley. (time?)
Cut trees to use as poles (4?) to mount the electrical cable. (It can’t be on the ground, or low enough to be run into by animals, people or the tractor.)
Dig post holes. (time?)
Install poles and cement in place. (The store would probably have a pallet of cement but setting the posts in place and raising the dam height would probably use it all up.)
Install insulators. Run electrical cable. (time?)
(Take it directly to the kitchen. It could be run to the fuse box but that would be much more complicated.)
(Is anyone beginning to wonder if this is worth the time, effort and resources?)
Reinstall water wheel. (time?)
Couple the wheel to the generator. (time?)
Plug in fridge.
Check that light comes on.
Turn fridge on.
What happens? In all probability, the light goes out and nothing happens. If the fridge is turned off, the light will come on again.
Why? The generator isn’t big enough.
Mr Loomis commented that fridges and freezers don’t use much current. That is true, but the figures are based on average load. Fridges and freezers don’t draw power most of the time. They get cold and stay that way; the compressor only runs intermittently. There is a difference in running load and average load. Did Mr Loomis take this into account? Maybe, but even if he did, it still won’t work.
Motors draw a start-up load that is an order of magnitude greater than the running load. That means that the motor being converted to a generator needs to be 10 times larger than the fridge/freezer motor. It is extremely unlikely that there would be a motor of this size in the workshop, even on a farm. If the generator isn’t big enough for the load, it just stops. If Mr Loomis knew of this rule-of-thumb, he wouldn’t have started on the project. He may have found it in book from the Ogdentown library. However, most books describe converting a motor to a generator as a matter of experimental novelty rather than operational necessity, and it won’t necessarily be mentioned.
Mr Loomis could have been abandoned the project before this point because it was a poor use of time and resources. If he didn’t, this would be the likely outcome. The generator will still make electricity. It could power the record player and the lights for as long as the globes/bulbs last. (The Amish don’t use electric lights, so the store won’t have spares.)
Alternatives: (i) Build a smoke house and smoke the meat.
(ii) If the weather gets cold enough, slaughter meat in the winter and store it outside. (Nature’s refrigerator/freezer)
(iii) Again, if it gets cold enough, set out containers and make ice blocks; or cut ice from the frozen (clean) stream. Build an ice house, cover ice blocks in sawdust and store for use in summer.
some responses to steve
Steve points out that Z for Zachariah is a first-person narrative. However, a first person narrator is NOT the same thing as unreliable witness. Our justice system depends on first person narration- a person testifies to what (s)he has seen. There are limitations on what is admissible. Testimony is generally restricted to descriptions of the events and to the content of conversations. A person’s interpretation of the events is relevant only where it speaks to their state of mind. Even so, there are often divergent or contradictory accounts. Juries need to assess whether a witness’ account is credible and consistent with the observed behaviours and events.
In this novel we only have Ann’s view of the situation and need to sort the information accordingly. Much of this account would be inadmissible as evidence, but this is not the same as being unreliable. Most of Ann’s speculation about Mr Loomis’ intentions would be excluded, but so too would all of the passages which detail her dreams, fantasies and doubts. To be fair to Mr Loomis, we should disregard Ann’s speculations about his behaviour and assess only his actions. To be fair to Ann, we also need to disregard her private thoughts and speculations because we would not reasonably be expected to know these. She should also be judged on her observable behaviours.
O’Brien has given the readers unusual insights into Ann’s thinking by using her diary. (People do not normally share their fantasies/daydreams and the details of how they agonised over decisions- even with close friends. A character who spoke of these things would appear quite neurotic.) However, the diary is written as a substitute for someone to talk to and as technique for clarifying Ann’s thinking and making decisions. Ann also sees it as a record of events, but the implication is that the person reading it would be a total stranger and that Ann would be dead (and past caring what they thought.) [Chapters 1 &17]. As a literary device, a diary removes the inhibitions that would normally govern people’s conversations. A diary also has the benefit of being a timely record. The reader knows how long after the events the details were recorded. It gives some handle on how accurately the details have been remembered and to what degree the account may have been ‘editorialised’.
It is important to point out to students that Ann does not know Mr Loomis’ thoughts. Equally, Mr Loomis does not know what Ann is thinking (even though the reader does.) People judge each other on the basis of observed behaviours, conversations and by the norms of the social/cultural framework in which they have lived. Therefore, when Ann speculates about Mr Loomis’ motivation for his actions, it tells us something about her experience and her state of mind. She may even have very reasonable explanations- but that does not mean she is correct. The novel illustrates this point (in reverse) in Chapter 15 when Mr Loomis asks Ann why she has not planted beets.
I had started to say that since I could only plant and cultivate so much, I had not included beets- and quite a few other things, like pumpkins, turnips, squash, and so on. There were seeds for all of those in the store. But it was true, when I made those plans I had not counted on the tractor.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he said. “There’s plenty of sugar in the store. I saw that. And it keeps. But when it’s gone- what then? You see, that’s foolish and shortsighted.”
Steve also notes that conflict is rarely the fault of one party. He objects to the portrayal of ‘Saint Ann’ and the demonising of Mr Loomis.
I agree that the characterisations are extreme. Ann is a very resourceful, caring individual. Mr Loomis has few redeeming features. In real life, the average 14-year-old would not have survived to see her 16th birthday if she were left on her own. She would have died because she used the water in Burden Creek; or she would have died from malnutrition and/or exposure because she could not keep a fire going through the winter. Similarly, an average man would not shoot a 16-year-old girl unless he felt his life was in immediate and serious danger. It is even more unlikely that two such atypical individuals would meet. But this is not is real life, this is a book.
These characterisations are a literary device to create conflict. It is worth pointing out to students that it is the author who determines how the characters behave. A novel doesn’t ‘prove’ anything about the rightness of one position or another. A book could have been written where a calm rational scientist had to cope with a neurotic self-destructive teenager who could not come to terms with the end of the world as she knew it- but that is not this book. The story needs to be analysed based on the incidents in the text, not based on one’s personal view of what is realistic/likely.
I find Steve’s analysis of Z for Zachariah disturbing because he seems to have pre-determined that Mr Loomis actions must be correct. The corollary of this assumption is that when Ann disagrees with Mr Loomis or interprets an action of his unfavourably, she must be wrong. I find Steve does not apply the same standard when he evaluates the behaviour of the two characters. To me, it seems that he is unwilling to accept that text positions a teenage girl as the hero (albeit a doomed one).
Steve has raised a lot of other specific issues and questions. I’ve gone on for long enough- I may post my responses to them some other time.
correction to 'generator' post
I said in an earlier post that getting the fridge and freezer running would allow Ann and Mr Loomis to store meat. My mistake- the text does not say this.[See Chap 8] Mr Loomis just speaks of getting the fridge and freezer running. Ann thinks of freezing fruit and vegetables for the winter. (There would be no need to store meat. Ann and Mr Loomis are eating chicken and fish. These would be caught/killed just prior to cooking them. )
The alternative to freezing fruit and vegetables is bottling them. Bottling is a bit more work than freezing, but all the necessary equipment is available. Ann has noticed that there is a large supply of additional bottles in Klein’s store.
Response to Steve
Steve has asked for a textually supported response to his position. (Post #89) I’ll try to give that here. He has raised a large number of issues, and my response is correspondingly long. In response to Steve’s comment that “The ‘attempted rape’ scene seems to be a particularly touchy aspect of the story…[ and that]…people are too inclined to have a knee-jerk emotional and moral (politically-correct) attitude about it” (Post #48), I have put my discussion of this incident towards the end. What follows are my views; I have broken these up into separate postings by topic.
I agree with Steve’s comment that communication, and the lack thereof, is an important theme in the novel. I also agreed that it is important to realise that this novel is a first-person narrative and that the context is relevant to behaviours of the characters. (And I love Post #99.) However, from this point on, I disagree with most of his interpretations.
Firstly, many of Steve’s postings frame the novel in terms of an epic struggle to save the earth for humanity. I don’t think the text supports this view.
Rather than the heroic, I think the novel deals with the mundane. It is about individuals and their personal interactions. Ann and Mr Loomis are insignificant in the greater scheme of things. Neither of them have unique or irreplaceable talents. Neither of them have dependents. There is no moral or social reason to favour the survival of one over the other. Rescue may come; but if it does, it is likely to be later rather than sooner. In any event, the human race will manage without them. There is no cosmic significance to their actions; however, at the individual level their decisions are critical.
Ann and Mr Loomis need to deal with each other to ensure their personal survival. The valley is small and living off the land will be hard work. A large part of the text deals with the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary for life in this very basic environment. The other theme is ‘dealing with others’:– how individuals manage personal relationships, communicate, make decisions and resolve conflicts when the normal social framework is absent, but some of the attitudes that went with the system remain.
R to S: Not the last survivors
Steve, Post #52
Anyway, as far as Edward and Loomis knew, they were the last survivors and they had the only means of now travelling safely in the radioactive outside world: one prototype of a safe suit.
No, this is not correct. These comments are hyperbole and aren’t supported by the text.
1. They were not the only survivors. The text gives numerous direct and implied references to other survivors.
Mr Loomis had heard the radio stations. Like me, he heard the radio stations go off one by one. He thought there might be other survivors in underground places like his – [Chap 6] The war started in April [Chap 1] and Mr Loomis started his expeditions to find other survivors after waiting in the laboratory for 3 months [Chap 6]. Edward was already dead at this point. This is July at the latest. Ann started her diary in February after the last radio station had been off air for 3 or 4 months.[Chap 1] That means there were definitely radio broadcasts as late as September. Edward and Mr Loomis would have been very certain there were other survivors at the time of their confrontation. The implied timing is that Edward’s death occurred only a few days after the war began. Edward had wanted to use the suit to see if his wife and son had survived in a shelter or a cellar. He wouldn’t be waiting weeks to do this. But after the first few days, when things quietened down, he wanted to go and find them, and that is when the fight began. [Chap 11]
2. The suit needs to be kept in perspective as well. It was a ‘save-myself’ suit, not a ‘save-the-world’ suit.
Mr Loomis and Edward had only one safe suit between the two of them, a prototype for an individual to travel safely, but neither of them would think it was the only method. Mr Loomis was an assistant on a top-secret military research project. This would not give him knowledge of all of the Pentagon’s other equipment and projects. Edward was probably Mr Loomis’ superior-
…., but he was talking to Edward.
He said: “In charge. In charge of what?”
There was a pause.
Then he said: “Not any more, Edward. It doesn’t mean anything now.”[Chap 7]
- and may have had more information. Even then, it is not likely that he would have knowledge of all the Pentagon’s projects. Neither of them would have had good information on the rescue capabilities of other countries.
3. Mr Loomis must have assumed that there were other methods of escape and survival because he was trying to find survivors at large military bases. If he thought he had the only method of outside travel, this would have been any incredibly foolish act. The occupants of the bases would know their environmental systems were time-limited and someone would have challenged Mr Loomis for ownership of the suit!
all of the underground fallout shelters….had built-in time limits, enough air and water to last three months, six months, a year…[ Chap 6]
Steve, Post #88
One might think that a scientist like Loomis would know what he’s talking about when he says that it’s against the odds for a “meteorological enclave” like the valley to exist (56). But we shouldn’t give any credit at all to his opinion.
No. We shouldn’t. He has an advanced degree in Organic Chemistry, not in Meteorology. There is no reason to believe he would have technical expertise in this area. His comment is merely a layman’s observation.
Steve, Post #26
Loomis gets sick, Ann’s paranoid fear suddenly turns into worry, and “the idea that he might die makes [her] feel quite desperate.” She doesn’t write it in her diary, but she probably senses that he might be the last man alive.
Ann believes that Mr Loomis is the only other human being I am ever likely to know [Chap 12]- but this is not the same as being ‘the last man alive’. I think it is more likely that her diary entry doesn’t refer to him as ‘the last man alive’ because she doesn’t have this belief.
R to S: Not the last survivors cont'd
Steve, Post #53
As a scientist, he knows that the self-contained weather system of the valley is a phenomenal rarity and that there is probably nowhere else left on the planet that can support life. He believes that he and Ann are the last two humans and they must get down to the business of making a new life together as well as they can.
Steve, Post #68
Burden Valley is the last chance for humanity’s survival, and the last two humans have to find a way to live together.
They are not the last two humans. Explicitly and implicitly the text indicates that there is life elsewhere. In addition, O’Brien would expect the readers to use their common sense.
1. “Birds,” he said, “I saw birds...west of here…circling. They went away and I couldn’t find the place. I saw them.” [Chap 26]
Mr Loomis tells Ann that he saw birds circling to the west. This is evidence that there is another habitable place somewhere reasonably close.
2. ..the man on the last radio station had said he was having to go off; there wasn’t any more power. He kept repeating his latitude and longitude, though he was not on a ship, he was on land- somewhere near Boston, Massachusetts. [Chap 1]
The radio broadcasts went on until September. They were stopping as the power grid failed. The last man broadcasting was repeating his location. This is the act of someone who wants to be rescued, not the last words of the dying.
3. Combatants in a war bomb each other, not every nation on earth. The drift from the nuclear fall-out would affect areas surrounding the targeted cities (like Ithaca) and, eventually, neighbouring countries. However, if there are survivors in the areas most directly affected by the bombings and nerve gas attacks, then it is reasonable to assume that there will be survivors elsewhere.
4. Ann, and the average student reading this novel, would not have studied applied statistics; however, in the course of his Organic Chemistry degree, character of Mr Loomis would have. Mr Loomis would know that if he found an inhabited valley with his very crude and limited search pattern, then the probability of there being other inhabited pockets is very high. It’s a bit like sticking your hand in a haystack 20 times and finding a needle. It could be good luck, but it’s more likely that it means that there are lots of needles in there. (Some people will find this intuitively obvious; and this is one instance where ‘gut instinct’ has mathematical veracity.)
It is understandable that Mr Loomis stopped searching once he found Burden Valley. Knowing the mathematics won’t make ‘finding’ those other pockets any easier or any faster. It took 9+ months to find the first pocket- and a great deal of physical effort. Mr Loomis travelled on foot. He hauled all his supplies in a cart fitted with bicycle wheels. As a result, he needed to stick to roads. His search pattern had to fan out from Ithaca because he needed to return there to restock his freeze-dried food supply. Ithaca took a direct hit in the bombing, which means that the areas that he covered at the start (and end) of each trip are amongst the regions least likely to be habitable. The radial outward distance he could travel would be limited by the weight of food he could haul (and the freeze-dried food packets in Ithaca will run out at some point). Mr Loomis stops, not because the likelihood of there being other habitable places is low, but because he knows that the likelihood of him being able to find another one is low.
5. Mr Loomis never claims that he and Ann are the last two people on earth. When he speaks about their situation his assessments are bleak, but the statements are ‘qualified’.
“Except for this valley the rest of the world, as far as we know, is dangerous and uninhabitable. I don’t know how long it is going to be that way- maybe forever.” [Chap 15]
“And I’ve realized that we’ve got to plan as if this valley is the whole world, and we are a colony, one that will last permanently.” [Chap 15]
These statements are a good summary of their position. They need to plan as if they are completely alone, and not count on rescue. They are not saving humanity; they are planning for their own survival.
R to S: Background
As background for the rest of my arguments, I have summarised the history of, and my assumptions about, each character. I haven’t cited the chapter references; I think these details are easy to find.
Ann is a 15/16 year-old girl from a farming background. Her formal education ended when she was 14 years old (and the war began). She is living in the family home in an isolated valley. The valley has only one other dwelling, a store with a residence upstairs. Ann has taken care of herself (and the farm) for a year.
Ann’s food supply has been foodstuffs from the store and supplemented with eggs, chickens, milk and produce from the home garden, and with fish from the creek. She can identify edible wild fruits and vegetables and she collects these as well. Ann estimates that the foodstuffs in the store will not be useable after more than five years; and so, she will need to be self-sufficient within that time frame. To this end, she has increased the flock of chickens, replanted the garden for the up-coming year, and has plans to increase both the herd size and the area under cultivation.
Ann has a good grasp of basic farming. She knows how to raise crops- when to plant, which plants to put together, when to fertilize and when to harvest. She can use a tractor to plough, to harrow, to cultivate, to fertilize and to mow. Ann also knows how to care for chickens and cattle.
There are gaps in Ann’s knowledge. She does not know the maturation period for the bull calf. Ann is also unsure of when the soy bean should have been planted, although the text implies she knows why it is planted.
Ann has basic ‘farm handyman’ skills. She can crank start the tractor. She has disassembled and reassembled the woodstove, including installing a flue. Ann can deal with the ‘usual’, or previously experienced, types of problems.
It is unlikely that Ann knows much about general mechanical repairs. The petrol pump was a ‘new’ problem to her. She had the skills to make the pump operational but did not know it could be done until Mr Loomis explained it.
Ann has demonstrated the ability to plan ahead. In spring, she recognised that the lack of electricity would mean no heating in winter (6+ months away). She started increasing the wood supply immediately- not only to spread the work out, but also to ensure the wood would have dried enough to burn well. Ann also realised that when the bottled gas was used up, she would need to cook with wood as well. In preparation for this, she oiled the bolts on the wood-coal stove in the barn to make it easier to disassembling when needed. (She also stretched the bottled gas supply so that it lasted most of the winter- the last refill would have been sometime the previous spring or earlier.)
There is no electricity in the valley also means that the well pump does not work. Ann was observant. She noticed that the closest stream had no fish in it and decided that it was unsafe to drink. As a result, she carries water from the farther stream (~¼ mile away). She uses candles and/or kerosene lamps for light.
Mr Loomis is an organic chemist. He was doing graduate work at Cornell and Professor Kylmer, a Nobel Prize winner, personally asked him to be on his staff on a top secret research project. This implies that Mr Loomis is a very intelligent man. His particular expertise would be in chemistry, but his education would probably have covered a reasonably high level of physics, biology and mathematics.
Mr Loomis has also lived on his own for most of the last year. (Edward was with him for some part of the time.) They were living in an underground laboratory/residence complex. The complex was well stocked with freeze- dried military rations and Mr Loomis has been using these as his food supply. The complex also had independent air, water, heating and electricity supply systems which would maintain living conditions for a time-limited period (3 months- 1 year) in the event of a war. In addition, Mr Loomis had the prototype of a suit, tent, water filter and air filter being developed for the military. This would protect him radiation, and allow him to travel outside, when the environmental systems ceased functioning. Mr Loomis doesn’t specify how long the environmental systems operated in his complex; however, he started his outside excursions after 3 months.
Mr Loomis has also demonstrated planning skills. His first excursions were short ones. This would have allowed him to estimate the daily distances he could cover, and what his food usage would be. He then planned trips to locations mostly likely to have survivors. He always carried enough food supplies for a roundtrip.
Mr Loomis has ‘handyman’ skills. He constructed his supply cart, and it has stood up to a great deal of use. Mr Loomis is familiar with mechanical systems. He knew the petrol pump would have a mechanical back-up function. Mr Loomis also knows that motors can be converted to generators (and has probably done it since he knows that the power generated will be flickery). It is reasonable to assume that he is familiar with parts plans and engineering drawings.
He does not know how to fish and had not previously driven a tractor. It is unlikely that Mr Loomis has any hands-on knowledge of farming or country life.
R to S: Who should lead?
So, who should be the leader, Ann or Mr Loomis?
Post #27 from Steve gives his assessment of the situation:
As Loomis gets better, he gives more and more practical advice to her about things they need to do to plan for the future. All of his advice is wise and beneficial for both of them, but Ann grows increasingly uncomfortable just because she’s paranoid that he is trying to take control—something that she resists even though, in fact, he is older and a lot more practical, experienced and knowledgeable. [my emphasis]
Is he a lot more practical, experienced and knowledgeable?
Why? Because he is male? (and she is female?) Because he is 30? (and she is 15?) Because he has a graduate degree in organic chemistry? (and she has a grade 10 education and farming experience?)
Ann is the one with the practical knowledge of how to run a farm. Mr Loomis’ technical knowledge will complement this. In time Mr Loomis would learn how to farm but at the moment Ann has the expertise.
We don’t normally think of a 15-year-old as an adult; but this is not a normal situation. This is the aftermath of a nuclear war. Ann lived on her own for more than a year in circumstances which most adults would find difficult. She did not sit on her hands waiting to be rescued; she took steps to ensure her own survival. Is it surprising that Ann is not willing to ‘get back in the box’ and be treated like a child?
Mr Loomis starts giving Ann instructions on running a farm when he has no experience at farming. If he had found a 30-year-old man running the farm would he be behaving in this way? What about a 19 year-old boy? A 14-year-old boy? A 50-year-old woman?
Our perceptions of what is reasonable affect our reactions to the characters as well. At what point in this spectrum would we start to feel that Mr Loomis would be overstepping the bounds in attempting to assume control? At what point would we feel it would be more appropriate if he asked ‘How can I help?’ ? How many of our perceptions of ability are based on age and sex? How many are based on observed behaviours? (Would we react any differently to the situation if Mr Loomis were ‘Miss’ Loomis?)
I think it is important to read the story carefully and concentrate on the observed behaviours in order to get a clear picture of Ann and Mr Loomis. It is from their actions, we should make our decision about which of them had the correct attitude.
R to S: First Person Narration
Z for Zachariah is a first-person narrative; nevertheless, the story has two narrators- Ann and Mr Loomis. Ann writes in her diary, but descriptions of Mr Loomis’ experiences are his narration, as recorded by her. In both instances the narrator has the opportunity to edit or embellish their account, and the accounts are necessarily coloured by the narrator’s view of the events.
I prefer not to use the term ‘unreliable’ with reference to first-person narratives because the word has the pejorative connotation of being deliberately misleading. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I think it would be better to have students approach the narrative considering which information would be ‘admissible’ or ‘inadmissible’ as legal testimony.
The information contained in a first-person narration needs to be carefully considered. A first-person narrative is one person’s point of view. It is always coloured by the social and cultural norms that the narrator has experienced. (Ann comes from a farming background, Mr Loomis from an urban one, so these background norms are not the same. There will be differences in what they assume ‘everybody knows’, or ‘everybody does’.) As well as being an account of people’s actions this type of narrative often includes speculation about other people motives, state of mind, intentions etc. And in some instances, the account includes only what the narrator wants us to know.
To add a further complication, Ann’s account is a diary. The advantage of a diary is that it is a ‘timely’ account and therefore less subject to revisionism than other types of narration. The disadvantage is that the narration is laden with speculation, dreams, doubts and fantasies that are typically expressed in this private medium.
The narrator doesn’t have access to other people’s thoughts, so the speculation on motives, states of mind should be disregarded, and the characters assessed only on their actions. This is the case both for Ann’s comments on Mr Loomis’ state of mind and for Mr Loomis’ assessment of Edward’s (ir)rationality.
Ann’s daydreams and dithering over decisions are not the type of things that would have been shared in conversation, or seen in outward behaviours. They are peculiar to the literary device of a diary. The text also needs to be read carefully to ensure that Ann assessed based on her outward actions, not her inward thoughts.
In considering the reliability/credibility of the narrative, the reader should assess whether or not the account is internally and externally consistent. Does it match up with the other things that person has said? Does it match up with the information from other sources- from the story? from personal knowledge ? It is a reasonable explanation of the observed behaviours? (Of course, this introduces a new bias- because each reader brings his/her own background, experience and attitudes to the issue.)
When the accounts are studied this way, sometimes things don’t up. This leads to doubts about the accuracy of the other statements the character has made, as well as, speculation about the character’s motivation for editing/embellishing the account. In Z for Zachariah the two most obvious instances of inconsistencies in the narration come from Mr Loomis- one is his account of being alone in the laboratory and the other is about the absence of signs of life. In each case, Mr Loomis contradicts his own story.
1. Mr Loomis’ initial account of what happened in the laboratory was heavily edited; he said that he had been alone in the laboratory when the war started. The memories, as they appear in his delusions, give a very different picture. When Ann asked Mr Loomis about Edward the first time, he gave a vague response. “Edward was a man who worked in the laboratory with Dr Kylmer and me….” [Chap 6] It was only when Ann confronted him “you can kill me….the way you killed Edward.”[Chap 26] that he altered his story. “He tried to steal the suit….the way you are stealing it now.” [Chap 26] Even here, the account is coloured by Mr Loomis’ perspective:- the claim the Edward ‘stole it’ implies that Mr Loomis ‘owned it’.
2. Why does Mr Loomis tell Ann that:
It had taken him ten weeks to get from Ithaca to the valley, and all that way, all that time, he had seen no living thing- no people, no animals, no birds, no trees, not even insects only grey wastelands, empty highways, dead cities and towns. He had been ready to give up and turn back when he finally came over the ridge and saw, in the late evening, the haze of blue-green. [Chap 6] (my emphasis)
when he later says:
“Birds,” he said, “I saw birds...west of here…circling. They went away and I couldn’t find the place. I saw them.” [Chap 26]
Why did he encourage a bleak picture of the world outside when he knew there was cause for hope?
This brings us back to Steve’s point about the ‘unreliable narrator’:- sometimes a narrator has his/her own reasons for not telling everything.
R to S: Speculation about motives/intentions
The problem with judging Loomis is that all the information about him is provided to us by Ann and is colored by her point of view. (Steve, Post #26)
If students are allowed to read the story….uncritically, the authoritative voice of the narrator will very likely influence them to accept her view of everything without question….(Steve, Post #54)
I agree. Ann’s diary entries about Mr Loomis’ motives, intentions, reasoning etc are pure speculation. They may tell us something about Ann’s experience and/or her potential behaviours in that type of situation- but she cannot know what Mr Loomis is thinking. These entries should be disregarded. Mr Loomis should be evaluated based on his actions, not on Ann’s interpretation of them.
It is equally important to us to address Ann based on her actions- and to remember that Mr Loomis does not have the same information as the reader. Ann does not know Mr Loomis’ thoughts AND Mr Loomis does not know Ann’s thoughts. The reader’s knowledge of what Ann is thinking should not overshadow the assessment of her actions, and it should not be used to introduce a speculative bias against her.
…we readers are only getting a bare glimpse of [Ann’s] foolish ideas through her diary. Loomis probably sees a lot more evidence of her irrational thinking and behaviour. (Steve, Post #53)
I disagree. The reverse is true. Most people are far more restrained in their actions than in their thinking- and Ann’s diary reflects her thoughts. Steve’s other postings point out this restraint. In Sarcasm 2 (Post #88) Steve notes: When he starts recovering from his fever and says he heard her play the piano, she wants to hug him; but she represses the temptation and just sits down by his bed instead (137). When she hears Loomis taking his first steps again, she feels like running into his room and applauding; but she restrains her impulse… Both the textual evidence, and the common sense approach, would say that Mr Loomis has less evidence of what Ann is thinking than the reader does.
There are entries in the diary where Ann records things she has done which might suggest romantic interest- (or they may just be her romantic impressions of the events she records). Steve notes these as well and asks whether it is possible, or even probable, that Mr Loomis would have picked-up on the behaviours.
Isn’t it possible (even probable) that her behaviour with him would SUGGEST her feelings…she prepares a nice dinner and tries to create a romantic setting…(Steve, Post #26) She [Ann] dresses up for him …(Steve, Post #87)
Is it possible? probable?- well that would depend on how observant Mr Loomis is. This is what the events look like:- (1) At the beginning of Chapter 6, Ann dresses up a bit for Mr Loomis because he is “company”. What does she look like? Her normal appearance is “I have on blue jeans, but they are men’s jeans…so they don’t fit too well, but are rather baggy. And a man’s work shirt, cotton flannel, and boys’ tennis shoes. Not exactly elegant, and my hair isn’t exactly stylish- I just cut it off square around my neck.” [Chap 2] What does she do to dress up? “I put on my good slacks.” [Chap 6] These are over a year old and “the one real pair of slacks left. The others wore out.” [Chap 2]
(2) The dinner that Ann refers to as ‘romantic’ is described at the end of Chapter 8. (Or rather, it might have been ‘romantic’ if there had been candles, but instead they used the kerosene lamp.) The set-up was the same as the dinner on the previous evening except she used the ‘good’ set of dishes. (3) Ann’s diary entries didn’t refer her birthday dinner as ‘romantic’ but she did make a special effort to have it look nice. [see Chap 14] She put a tablecloth on the card table. She removed the tarnish from the cutlery. She used the different set of dishes again. They used candles for light instead of a kerosene lamp. (Candles for a birthday- imagine that!)
Would these things suggest romantic interest to Mr Loomis?- make your own decision.
Steve, you seem particularly caught up with Ann’s romantic fantasy about marrying Mr Loomis and her changing opinion of him.
When she starts to care for Loomis in her house, within 4 days she is fantasizing about marrying him the following year—with a church wedding, no less! ….a few days earlier, she was hiding in the hills in fear….Doesn’t that seem a little unbalanced and out of touch with reality? (Steve, Post #26)
Is this unbalanced? No. It’s a DAYDREAM. Ann hasn’t seen another human being in 15 months. She hasn’t heard another human voice in over 6 months. She hasn’t allowed herself to think of normal life.
…what I had long since banned myself from doing- that is, imagining my parents were coming back, with David and Joseph…[Chap 17]
After she meets Mr Loomis, Ann starts to daydream and fantasize about things associated with ‘normalcy’. Mr Loomis is not the last man on earth, but he’s the first one she has seen in a long time. There’s also a very good chance that he’s the last man she will see for quite a few years, if not for her whole life. It’s not surprising that she thinks of him; but the daydream is just that- a daydream. Like most people, Ann can distinguish between fantasy and reality; and so, she doesn’t talk to Mr Loomis about it.
(Is this so different from normal life? If a man sees an attractive woman at a party, or a bar, is he unbalanced if he has an erotic fantasy? Is he out of touch with reality if he doesn’t share these thoughts with her- a comparative stranger? Is he unbalanced if he later decides that he wouldn’t be interested in her after all? …. Well, I’m not a man, so I can’t say for sure- but it sounds pretty normal to me. Steve, you may be unfamiliar with teenage girls’ daydreams, but I’d say Ann sounds normal.)
The cycling between fear and fantasy is also overstated. Ann was afraid of the unknown person approaching- not Mr Loomis in particular. Her daydream was NOT about a man she was afraid of. When she had a specific reason for fearing Mr Loomis, as she did later, Ann did not engage in romantic fantasies about him.
Ann does change her opinion of Mr Loomis.
Steve, Post #26
..Ann’s thoughts about Loomis swing so quickly from one extreme to another that (if we try to evaluate her ideas objectively instead of just accepting them) she seems pretty irrational and childish.
Most of us have gone through emotional highs and lows in relationships. Is this childish or irrational? More importantly, is it relevant? Isn’t it Ann’s ability to run the farm that’s important? I think we should be evaluating Ann’s actions, not her thought processes.