Defining a Zombie

What do I picture when I think of a zombie? In the dark evening everything’s quiet. People drive by a cemetery and when the last driver in that wave of cars is past… RARWH! A hand pops out from below a tombstone. It breaks the ground and climbs out of its coffin. An undead corpse then slowly makes its way to the streets. It stops at a sidewalk and sees a lonely person sitting on a porch. Having an intense desire for human brains or flesh the zombie walks to the person and eats him or her.

Me being a zombie-n00b I have very little experience with the undead. However based on my understanding from pop culture I’d define a zombie as an undead human corpse. It’s only brain functions are to provide mobility to satisfy its need to eat people. It has no consciousness other than needing to feed. I know this is a very basic definition and there are hordes of zombie fans tearing this definition apart.

I am aware of modern zombies being more complicated than this. For example I’ve seen the movie “Warm Bodies” which is based on the book of the same name. I’ve forgotten everything that happens but it’s an example of zombies being more than mindless eaters who have no thoughts or feelings. So perhaps a zombie shouldn’t be defined so specifically and have a broad definition that’s a living breathing (no pun intended) one. A definition that can change with the times. Is there a way to define zombies to include all sorts of zombies under the same definition? Perhaps there’s a broad definition is shared by all kinds of zombies: zombies are formerly people but dead on the inside and possibly outside as well and have physical characteristics to reflect this.

In the readings from “The Penguin Book of the Undead” there seems to be a common theme in old European stories about the undead: being dead on the inside figuratively. For example in the “Blackend Hearts of Stapenhill” the peasants are presumabely disillusioned with their current lifestyle. They probably don’t like living under rules and obligations from organized religion 24/7. They get their wish by being living corpses for a short time. One tale in “Rampaging Revenants” has a man become ill from a disease shortly after he catches his wife in the act of a sexual affair. I think zombies represent people who lose all hope to live and thus are dead inside. If people are inflicted with an illness and can spread it to others, for example diseases from a nuclear fallout, they lose all will to live.

How can modern fiction capture this metaphor? I’ve heard modern zombies can represent consumers in modern capitalism. Society tells them to get an education and work. However their job is simply a way to obtain money. Money is used to buy loads of goods and services. The life of a person in a capitalist society is to work all the time and time off is to be spent purchasing items. Rince and repeat. This cycle of consumerism leaves many people feeling empty in life. That they don’t have a purpose or reason to exist beyond buying things. And perhaps zombies created via infections can represent people who feel disillusioned with life as well. So even though they’re not corpses they’re dead inside as well. Even though modern fiction can make zombies more complex they can share this idea that zombies are dead: literally and/or metaphorically.

So to sum up I can define a zombie as a living corpse; an actual dead corpse or not. It does not have to be brain dead in the sense that it only exists to eat brains but it probably doesn’t see a purpose in functioning like a non-zombie person does.