The Local Voice

“The Body Snatchers Are Among Us”

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by Melvin Arrington

It’s been said that a novel can often capture what life was like during a particular historical period better than a work of history can. Examples abound of the power of fiction to convey the spirit and sensibility of an era. For instance, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929) vividly depicts the psychological effects of warfare on German soldiers fighting in the trenches during World War One. Likewise, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) conveys the essence of life during the Jazz Age of the 1920s. And John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939) compels readers to witness in shocking detail the struggles of impoverished Depression-era Americans fleeing the Dust Bowl.

Undoubtedly, some current or future author will write a novel summing up the living nightmare 2020 has been. But is there a book already out there that lays bare the fears, anxieties, and conflicts we’ve all experienced during the age of COVID-19? Yes, I think there is. It’s Jack Finney’s science fiction/horror masterpiece, The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1955), a novel about an alien life form that establishes a beachhead in a small American town and spreads from person to person by taking over the bodies of its unsuspecting victims.

Finney’s alien invasion scenario, seen in the 1950s as a metaphor for Communist infiltration in the U. S., sounds eerily similar to what’s going on today. Once the novel’s protagonist discovers that giant seed pods from outer space are evolving into duplicates of local residents, he realizes that a national emergency must be declared and every man, woman, and child must be examined. Of course, with quarantines, curfews, and mask and social distancing requirements in place throughout the country, and widespread testing now underway to identify those who have contracted the coronavirus, it’s painfully obvious that we also are deeply entangled in a national emergency.

In Finney’s novel, after a person is transformed he then places pods near his family members so they too will undergo the change. When most of the townspeople have been replaced, the alien beings start moving into the surrounding communities, their ultimate goal being to cover the whole world.

In this pandemic we’ve see how one person who has corona can carry it home and transmit it to all his loved ones. COVID is an alien virus, originating outside the U.S. When it first arrived in this country, it was limited to a few locales and a small number of individuals. But then the virus began to spread rapidly, and now it’s literally all over the globe.

In point of fact we know very little about COVID and its consequences. In the novel the local citizens had no prior knowledge of the alien seed pods, and they refused to accept them as a deadly threat until it was too late. Such has been the case with the coronavirus. Some follow the CDC guidelines; others ignore them. Meanwhile this plague continues to snatch so many from us.

Finney’s body snatchers are parasites that duplicate cell-for-cell the host life form. These clones look, talk, and act exactly like the originals, except they display no real emotion—no joy, fear, hope, excitement, or ambition. They simply don’t care about anything anymore, because they lack that divine spark that characterizes the spirit of human beings, who are created in the image and likeness of God.

The aliens don’t just take control of the person; they kill the body and destroy the soul. Think of all the psychological and spiritual damage caused by the spread of corona. Some go about their lives in fear of becoming infected; others have so drastically curtailed their activities that they’re now virtual prisoners in their own homes, like seeds enclosed in pods. And what about the long-term effects of contracting the virus? Are our physical, mental, and spiritual selves altered permanently? We’ve all lost a bit of our humanity by refraining from hugging our friends or shaking hands because of the risks involved. Will we ever be able to undo all the harm that COVID has done to body and soul?

Because the pod people appear on the surface to be perfect clones, it’s practically impossible to distinguish a real person from a soulless duplicate. Likewise, we don’t know who among us is contagious and who’s not because so many are asymptomatic. And so we keep our distance, especially from the unmasked, because we just don’t know.

But we do now know that this virus will not kill every person who gets it. And yet, as the numbers continue to soar during this second wave of infection, I wonder if we will all eventually contract it. Will this modern-day plague, like the body snatchers, spread to everyone in our area? Or will we, like the hero of the novel, do everything in our power to fight it? We have to decide. The choice is ours.

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