World War Z
by Max Brooks
The Interviewer is a bit of an enigma. Scratch that, huge enigma. He's the only character to appear in every chapter of World War Z, but he has the least amount of concrete evidence for our character analysis. (For comparison: the second most prominent character is Todd Wainio who appears in a mere four sections—less than one-tenth those of the Interviewer.)
What's in a Name?
In fact, we don't even have a name to call the man. Some writers have taken to simply labeling him the narrator. The folks over at Wikipedia call him Max Brooks, making the author a character in his own fictional universe. We're giving him the title "Interviewer" because, hey, that's what he does, but even we'll admit the moniker is no better than any other.
Although, since you're making us say it, we're not sure that calling him Max Brooks is such a good idea. No in-text clues point to Brooks and the Interviewer being the same dude or even identical twins separated to alternate dimensions. The only indication that we should do this is that Max Brooks plays the Interviewer in the novel's audiobook. But making them the same goes a little too close to assuming that everything the Interviewer likes or dislikes is identical to what Brooks likes or dislikes—and that's always something to be careful about.
So, what are we suppose to do? Does no name mean we have no character to analyze perform? Nothing we can say beyond saying we can say … nothing? Not necessarily.
The Interviewer starts his journey by writing the United Nation's Postwar Commission Report. To do this task, he travels around the world, speaks to a bunch of World War Z survivors, and then cobbles together his findings into something very report-ish. What does he get for his efforts? A big, fat, red "F" and a "See Me after Class" from the chairperson.
Seems the Interviewer added "too many opinions, too many feelings" for the chairperson's liking. After editing the report down to facts most hard and cold, the Interviewer takes the edited material—what he calls "the human factor"—and writes a book based on it (1.1.3).
He wants to preserve the stories and memories of those who lived, fought, and won the zombies wars, but as he reminds us:
This is their book, not mine, and I have tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible. Those questions included in the text are only there to illustrate those that might have been posed by readers. I have attempted to reserve judgment, or commentary of any kind, and if there is a human factor that should be removed, let it be my own. (1.1.5)
Afterward, the Interviewer mostly disappears from the novel. He sets the stage for every interview, poses the occasional question, and narrates a gesture or two. Beyond that, he remains mostly silent, trying his best to render himself a ghost for the sake of not tainting the interviewee's tale with his own personality.
But that actually gives us a clue. We know that he cares about people. He hasn't let the zombie war destroy his humanity—in fact, he might be one of the best hopes that humanity has left. At the same time, he sees himself as having an important job. He does his duty to the new world.
Smudges of Personality
Plus, it's not like the story is totally devoid of humanity. Check out our examples:
• "By excluding the human factor, aren't we risking the kind of personal detachment from a history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it?" (1.1.3). This quote in the "Introduction" gives us the first clue of the Interviewer's personality. He hopes to help humanity by playing a part in preventing the next great undead tragedy. In other words, he's a caring guy with forethought.
• "[Scott stands, mimes the act of frantic fornication]" (3.3.23). Ask yourself, is this detail really necessary? We don't mean should it be deleted because it's lewd; we mean, why is it even included? The paragraph could have gotten its point across without it. It's probably there because anybody who humps the air is a jerk, a drunk, or both. Since the Interviewer choose to add this detail, we assume he wants us to think Scott is even more of a jerk than his words alone would tell us. A super jerk!
• At the end of his interview with Grover Carlson, the Interviewer sums up the former administration's position on the pre-zombie threats. This section provides one of the only times the Interviewer talks so much, and his goal is to use sarcasm to point out the stupidity of Carlson's point-of-view. Don't those marks around "managed" just scream scare quotes to you (3.4.34)?
• While talking with Father Sergei Ryzhkov, the Interviewer questions him, pressuring the man to admit he turned the priesthood into "death squads" who "assassinat[ed] people under the premise of 'purifying infected victims'" (8.4.23).
• As a counterpoint, check out the interview with Darnell Hackworth. The Interviewer calls the interviewee "shy, soft-spoken" (8.3.1), he details actions showing him to be kind with the animals (8.3.20), and the Interviewer's questions only require Darnell to explain issues in more detail—such as when he asks if "Z flesh [is] toxic" (8.3.27).
So, what do these examples demonstrate for us? For starters, the Interviewer is anything but silent; he's simply a conversationalist jack-in-the-box, choosing when to pop in and out of the conversation. In fact, these examples demonstrate that the Interviewer has massive influence over our understanding of the zombie wars—despite his claims to the contrary.
His voice, though minimal, colors the characters in various ways. Based on his interviewing style, we clearly understand that we are not supposed to like characters like Scott, Carlson, and Father Ryzhkov while we should take a liking to Darnell.
In turn, our understanding of the characters changes how we consider and discuss the themes of the novel. If Scott is a capitalist, and he's clearly a bit of a butt, then can't we assume that the book has some critiques of capitalism to be made? Then can't the same be said with Carlson's relationship to government as well as Father Ryzhkov's to religion? But people who like dogs are a-okay, obviously.
So, there you have it. The Interviewer argues he should be silent and claims to have tried to surgically removed his presences from the novel. But it is his presence that shapes, alters, and enforces our understanding of the zombie war and what it should mean as a piece of literature.The Interviewer's Timeline