The Macksey Journal


The recent popularity of post-apocalyptic literature has led to the development of two informal schools of thought. The first, supported by scholars and artists such as Anne Washburn and Frank Gaskill, is that post-apocalyptic literature serves as wish fulfillment. Reading impossible stories allows us to explore scenarios that may never happen, which satisfies a basic desire for adventure. The second school of thought, supported by Brian McDonald and Nirmala Nataraj, is that post-apocalyptic literature draws on reality; writing and reading these stories helps us to cope with actual catastrophes, which reveals a relationship between art and fear. McDonald adds that, due to Aristotle’s theory of artistic mimesis, real events are distorted when they are sublimated into fiction.

This study approached the split between wish fulfillment and coping mechanism as a strict binary, but analyzing Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy, Zone One by Colson Whitehead, and The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta shows that this binary does not hold: these four novels bear different aspects of each theory, preventing them from being truly designated as one or the other. A reconciliation between these binary theories is as follows: post-apocalyptic literature is based on reality but taken to new extremes due to artistic mimesis; the extreme distortion of reality allows the writer and reader to explore impossible scenarios, while remaining grounded in actual events. The distortion of reality into art allows that art to serve other purposes, such as being cautionary or instructional. This conclusion relies on the original suggestion that art in novels is a meditation on the role of art in our world; by looking at art in novels, it is possible to derive how the author believes art functions in the present day, thereby determining the purpose they intended their novel to serve.