Z for Zachariah
Robert C. O’Brien

by

Sharon Fleming

Symbols
Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.
Burden Valley

Burden Valley symbolizes a place of life and continuity, a haven that has taken on the sole responsibility for the survival of life on Earth. 

“I have climbed the hills on all sides of this valley, and at the top, I have climbed a tree. When I look beyond, I see that all the trees are dead, and there is no sign of anything moving. I don't go out there…" (O’Brien, 1975).

The name “burden” symbolizes the responsibility that the valley has in creating new life. It is considered as the only known place on Earth that can support life in the aftermath of a global nuclear war, and it is that discovery that excites Mr. Loomis, who has been searching for signs of life while protected by the safe-suit he wears. 

“He shouts excitement after running tests and discovering that the environment was left untouched by the effects of the nuclear attack. Then he took off the mask and shouted. It startled me so that I jumped back. I started to run—then I stopped. He was not shouting at me. He was cheering—along “Haaay” sound, the kind they make at football games…” (O’Brien, 1975).

There is also only one radiation suit that exists, and people have gone to great lengths to get it. Mr. Loomis even kills his colleague, Edward, to take it back, and also tries to do the same to Ann despite all her help. The only time individuals can go out of the valley is when they are protected by wearing the safe-suit.

The Cave

The cave symbolizes a place of security. Besides how Ann feels safe in there because she is all alone, it provides a good vantage point where she can maintain a visual on the valley with the help of her binoculars. Her only fear of being discovered is whenever Faro picks up her scent, and possibly revealing her hideout. It also represents a sanctuary that is comforting, albeit not the ideal place to stay during the winter months.

In relation to Ann, the cave symbolizes egotism through physical isolation; while the egotism itself psychologically isolates her, and the fear for her safety suppresses the desire, sympathy, and longing for friendship. We see this in the early chapters when the then-stranger Mr. Loomis calls out, and how she does not respond and suppresses the instinct of running out to meet him. The same happened when he was about to jump into Barren Creek, where she chose not to stop him. It is this wall that blocks her from acting on her human instincts. The cave, therefore, represents the futility of egotism, which prevents companionship and provides a temporary illusion and sense of comfort — as opposed to complete and, at the same time, real happiness. Ann’s ultimate escape to the cave is a metaphor of her psychological withdrawal into a fearful mindset.

Burden Creek

Burden Creek is a dead stream flowing through Burden Valley that brings in contaminants. This is, perhaps, a daily reminder of the death looming outside the confines of the valley. We witness the effect of the creek when Mr. Loomis arrives, and where he is not warned of the danger that lies within. The creek also symbolizes fatal egotism, where Ann uses it to block any intruders and strangers; it also keeps Faro away from discovering her hideout.

“He went swimming and took a bath in the dead stream, Burden Creek… I can see how he did it. He thought, not knowing the geography of the valley very well, that it was all the same stream. He did not know that there were two streams…” (O’Brien, 1975).

“Faro was swimming in Burden Creek.  He had found my scent but, instead of following my trail on the rocks, he had plunged into the water…” (O’Brien, 1975).

“He slept beside me all night and was sick in the morning. I expected he would be sick for several days—I remembered the course of illness in Mr. Loomis—but I suppose dogs react differently from human beings, for by nightfall he was dead…” (O’Brien, 1975).

The creek is associated with Ann’s fears, which are both irrational and sometimes selfish. “Burden”, the initial tag, is used to symbolically portray the burden that people endure from their natural habitat. Again, how Ann allows the creek to poison both Mr. Loomis and Faro can be interpreted as her only opportunity for companionship being poisoned.

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