Ecclesiastes, by Gustave Doré
I wanted to run down the hill through the woods and call, "I'm here." I wanted to cry, and touch his face.
(Z for Zachariah, Ch3, p.23)
I am still afraid. And yet is is--what is the word I mean?--companionable to know there is someone else in the valley. (Ch3, p.26)
For nearly a year I have been here alone. I have hoped and prayed for someone to come, someone to talk to, to work with and plan for the future of the valley. I dreamed that it would be a man, for then, some time in the future--it's a dream, I know--there might be children in the valley. (Ch4, p.36)
According to my calendar...it is Sunday. Ordinarily that would mean I would go to church in the morning....I did not pretend to have any real service, of course, but I would sit and read something from the Bible. Sometimes I chose—I like Psalms and Ecclesiastes—and sometimes I just opened it at random. (Ch 4, p.37)
People need companionship. Living only for oneself is futile.
And something else futile I observe under the sun: a person is quite alone—no child, no brother; and yet there is no end to his efforts, his eyes can never have their fill of riches. For whom, then, do I work so hard and grudge myself pleasure? This too is futile, a sorry business.
Better two than one alone, since thus their work is really rewarding. If one should fall, the other helps him up; but what of the person with no one to help him up when he falls? Again: if two sleep together they keep warm, but how can anyone keep warm alone? Where one alone would be overcome, two will put up resistance; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccles. 4:7-12)
The relevance of this passage to the story Z for Zachariah is obvious. If Ann and Loomis are the last two people on Earth (or at least not likely to meet anyone else), they need each other for companionship, for mutual support, and to give purpose to their lives. As the Preacher of Ecclesiastes observes, it is futile to live alone and labor only for one's own benefit. Ann often feels a yearning for companionship, but she usually suppresses it because of her fear that Loomis could be a selfish man who will use his greater physical strength to control her. Her desire for independence seems stronger than her desire for companionship.
Realistically, the choice Ann faces is to live with Loomis and raise a family with him or to doom both of them to a lonely existence with no possibility of companionship, family, or posterity. In the end, she ignores this reality, choosing to believe her recurring dream that she can find other survivors and be an elementary school teacher. She deludes herself about both Loomis and the chances of finding another place to live.
Refusing to live with Loomis amounts to a choice to care only about herself, and leaving the valley is a choice of death--certainly for herself, probably for humanity as well, and likely also for Loomis. This is no doubt why Loomis says, "It's wrong," sounding scared, incredulous, and close to tears (Z for Zachariah, Ch26, p.247).
There are also other ideas in Ecclesiastes that seem relevant to the story, such as the following.
Humans and animals have the same fate
For the fate of human and the fate of animal is the same: as the one dies, so the other dies; both have the selfsame breath. Human is in no way better off than animal--since all is futile.
Everything goes to the same place,
everything comes from the dust,
everything returns to the dust. (Eccles. 3:19-20)
The idea that humans are the same as animals reminds us that it is as natural for humans as it is for animals to find a mate and raise a family.
In the story, we see the surviving animals in Burden Valley doing what is natural: mating and having children. Ann and Loomis are the only animals that fail to do this, just as they belong to the only species capable of destroying all living things on the planet. Humans differ from animals in these ways because of unique flaws in their character that no other animals appear to share--traits such as egotism, greed, and alienation from nature, which are described in one of Ann's favorite poems, "Epitaph for the Race of Man."
While there is life, there is hope.
But there is hope for someone
still linked to the rest of the living;
better be a live dog than a dead lion.
The living are at least aware that they will die, but the dead know nothing whatever. No more wages for them, since their memory is forgotten. Their love, their hate, their jealousy, have perished long since, and they will never have any further part in what goes on under the sun. (Eccles. 9:4-5)
The point of this passage is that it is better to live an undignified and servile life (i.e., like a submissive dog) than it is to die from lion-like pride and independence. The Preacher's thoughts here are like those of the spirit of Achilles when he is visited by Odysseus in the land of the dead: "I would rather follow the plow as thrall to another / man... / than be a king over all the perished dead" (The Odyssey, 6:489-491).
Ann's choice to reject Loomis and leave the valley is the choice to be "a dead lion," since she prefers to keep her pride and independence by wandering out alone into a radioactive wasteland rather than give up any of her freedom by living with Loomis in the only known habitable valley.
No one is perfectly innocent. Everyone is guilty of wrongdoing.
No one on earth is sufficiently upright to do good without ever sinning. (Eccles.
Another futile thing that happens on earth: upright people being treated as though they were wicked and wicked people being treated as though they were upright. (Eccles.
These lines relate to the self-righteous condemnations of Loomis made by Ann, which are too often accepted by uncritical readers who sympathize with her too much and adopt her biases.
Ann is not sinless or guiltless of serious wrongdoing. In letting Loomis swim in a dead stream, Ann believes that her safety from even a potential threat is more important than his life. It is a highly unethical act. Moreover, it is much more blameworthy than Loomis' killing of Edward. Loomis' presence in the valley did not threaten Ann's ability to live there also, and it even offered the possibility of companionship; but Edward's stealing of the safe-suit posed an immediate threat to Loomis' life because he could not survive without it. He had to act immediately to defend his own life, which Ann even recognizes when she thinks, "In a way, it was self-defense" (126).
When Ann thinks of Edward as a "murderer" and says in criticism, "You didn't even thank me for taking care of you when you were sick," she is being a hypocrite. She is just as capable of killing to serve her own interests, and she is largely responsible for the near-fatal sickness she is referring to. Before letting Faro swim in the dead stream like she allowed Loomis to do, Ann even writes, "I really did decide to kill Faro....It makes me feel as much a murderer as Mr. Loomis" (225). The irony here is that Loomis is not a murderer, since he acted in self-defense; but Ann's killing of Faro lacks any moral justification. Ann could choose to make a new agreement with Loomis so they can live together. When she pretends she wishes to do this in order to trick him, he shows he is willing to meet with her unarmed.
Ann's misjudgment of Loomis is shown in her "stunned" reaction when he lays down his gun to meet her, and again when he does not shoot her as she leaves the valley.
Injustice is inevitable because people are unequal in power.
What has been is already defined—
we know what we are:
They cannot bring to justice
one who is stronger than themselves. (Eccles.
Ann's main fear is that a man who is "bigger and stronger" might be unkind. In that case, she thinks, "He can do whatever he likes, and I will be a slave for the rest of my life" (36).
A fact that Ann fails to recognize is that inequality in power is unavoidable in any relationship or society. There are always differences in physical strength or other kinds of power (e.g., weapons, wealth, social status, cunning, or knowledge). It is impossible for Ann to "bring justice / to one who is stronger" unless the other person is willing to be fair. She can only use the means available to her to try to persuade Loomis to be kind and fair. Moreover, when Ann finally leaves the valley, she never considers that she would be in exactly the same situation if she found another valley where there is a man, a group, or anyone with more power than herself.
This story examines the problem of unequal power in human relationships and also the circumstances in which it is justifiable or not to use force to serve personal interests. A common problem in human relationships is that people resort to force too easily, impatient for a quick resolution of conflict. But the actual result is that conflict never ends; it is deepened and prolonged, extending through endless reprisals or repetitions of the same violent methods--continually increasing suffering and enmity. Moreover, with modern weapons now capable of destroying the planet, the tendency to resort to force puts our whole species and many others in great danger of sudden extinction because of a few individuals acting rashly out of self-interest.
The situation of Ann and Loomis being the last two people in the last habitable place directs readers' attention to the fact that resorting to violence is not a viable option for human survival. No matter what people's grievances are, the only sensible option is for people to talk with each other and cooperate.
Being preoccupied with worries and fears can distract us from practical needs
From too much worrying comes illusion,
from too much talking, the accents of folly. (Eccles. 5:2)
Do not be too easily exasperated, for exasperation dwells in the heart of fools. (7:9)
Keep watching the wind
and you will never sow,
keep staring at the clouds
and you will never reap. (Eccles. 11:4)
Ann's main flaw is that her thoughts are too easily influenced by fear of "the other." This fear causes her to have false imaginings about Loomis, the other person she must share her world with; and her fears distract her from the practical work that is necessary for their survival.
People should accept what they cannot change and make the best of things.