World War Z
by Max Brooks
Appearing in a mind-boggling four sections, more than any other character, Todd Wainio is perhaps the closest World War Z has to a central character (besides the Interviewer). We follow him as an infantryman through multiple battles with the deadhead army, across the wasteland of central and eastern America, and all the way to the war's conclusion.
But why does the novel dedicate so much time to the exploits of Todd Wainio? It's a good question, and the answer will depend greatly on your personal reading of the novel. In fact, you might disagree with us that Todd Wainio is a central character at all. Maybe your love goes out to "the Whacko" or Travis D'Ambrosia. Fair enough.
Either way, here are two potential ideas to get your mental gears a turning:
Details, Details, Details
Max Brooks did a lot of research while writing World War Z. We know, because Todd's story is simply brimming with factoids, detailed details, and world-building blocks. Here's just one of the many, many, many, many examples of Todd laying down those deets:
Dude, we had everything: tanks, Bradley, Humvees armed with everything from fifty cals to these new Vasilek heavy mortars. At least those might have been useful. We had Avenger Humvee mounted Stinger surface-to-air missile sets, we had this AVLB portable bridge layer system, perfect for the three-inch-deep creek that ran by the freeway. We had a bunch of XM5 electronic warfare vehicles all crammed with radar and jamming gear […]. (4.7.11)
Okay. We get it. The army brought things that go boom to a zombie fight. But is he done? Nope. He hasn't even gotten into the BDUs (battle dress uniforms) or the Land Warrior system or even told us what all these fancy death-dealers do. He's just giving us a laundry list of things he'll explain the significance of during the battle proper.
And did we mention he does the same thing while recounting the Battle of Hope? The only difference is that the weapons and support gear have changed thanks to the lessons learned at Yonkers. So instead of explaining why high-tech missiles do jack against the undead, Todd specifies the pros of the military's newly designed SIR or standard infantry rifle in a super long paragraph (8.2.4). And the new BDUs. And the Lobo. And the new battle strategies.
But let's not be too down on Todd's detail-oriented OCD, since these particulars prove very important in the story. The explanation of the modern era weapons makes it very clear that all we used to need soldiers for was pushing buttons. Now? An SIR requires a highly skilled, well-trained, and psychologically sound mind to operate.
From these two examples, we can see that the novel actually does have a Message: personal independence. The way to win the zombie war (and probably life) is be strong and independent, rather than depending on machines or other people to save you. When all the soldiers find this independence, everyone wins.
And Todd's long-winded explanations describe more than just the pros and cons of weaponry. For example, they also help us see what has become of nature due to the zombie invasion and explain the politics behind the liberation of isolated zone. Both of these can likewise be extended beyond just Todd's story and into the novel's larger themes as well.
Brothers (& Sisters) In Arms
Todd's stories also demonstrate the powerful camaraderie formed when facing a disaster or crisis. As Todd notes, "it was a new army, as much the people as anything else" and "the new faces, they could have been from anywhere" (8.2.6-7). Talk about diversity: the group includes Sister Montoya (a nun), "Sergeant Avalon" (a Sioux Native American), an insurance salesman, and a professional wrestler.
As they turn the tide against the zombie hordes, they grow closer together. This becomes evident after the battle of Hope when "everyone [was] jawing, laughing, telling stories" and the vibe of the community changed (8.2.47).
But the camaraderie grows from more than just happy days. These new army members also have to deal with the pitfalls of any prolonged combat scenario, like post-traumatic stress disorder and combat fatigue. And they get "Z-shock," a.k.a. losing it under the strain caused by battling the zombies (8.2.6). But Todd's story suggests that these hardships actually make people grow closer together (8.7.51).
Todd's story provides a small scale example of what the entire world has to do to take defeat the hordes: band together despite the various backgrounds, beliefs, and differences. Writing a novel about every place in the world is too large an undertaking for any novelist (though Brooks sure does come close). So, Todd's story presents a nice micro-tale to represent the macro-tale that is World War Z.Todd Wainio's Timeline