After the Blast

The play After the Blast by Zoe Kazan is set in a dystopian world where environmental disasters have caused the earth to become inhabitable. Only the best, brightest, and most diverse of the gene pool were selected over 50 years ago to live underground until the face of the Earth can be re-inhabited. This play follows the couple Anna and Oliver and their attempts to become approved to have a child in this society. To achieve the goal of reaching the surface in less than 100 years the couples in this society are required to go through a series of tests to make sure their child will be genetically superior and be a productive member of society.

The main character Anna has depression and is unable to pass a mental health examination to be approved for a child. To mend this her partner Oliver gets her to “train” a helper robot so it can be given to another family. Through the usage of the robot companion and being shown the surface of the Earth thriving, Anna’s depression begins to get better. They get approved for fertility only to have Anna’s world come crashing down when she learns that Oliver lied, and the robot never needed to be trained and the Earth’s surface is completely frozen solid and far from being re-inhabited. After the Blast showcases the hardships of mental health and relationships in a world with false hope and false promises about getting to the surface.

Geopathology within After the Blast

In After the Blast the characters experience what Una Chaudhuri outlines as geopathology, because the main overarching problem within the play is the dislocation of humans underground after environmental disaster struck, causing the earth to be inhabitable. Geopathology is a term that labels a place as a problem, as defined by Una Chaudhuri. “…the many problems related to place – as a nation, homeland, neighborhood, environment, border – that largely defined the past century of dislocation” (46). This environmental disaster was not specified although it is assumed that the ozone layer was destroyed to such a level that the earth became inhabitable and there was also mention of nuclear fallout (Kazan 46). All these signs point to humans having caused all these environmental disasters. The dislocation of humans due to geopatholgy shows the negative effects that environmental disaster can have on interpersonal relationships, physical, and mental health.

 

 

 

 

 

The Effect of Geopathology on Mental Health

The dislocation due to the environmental disaster that occurred in this play caused mental health problems within the characters’ lives. Playwright Zoe Kazan stated she did not fully intend to center this play around depression, but she was going through a bad time, and it just came out through her writing (Sternbergh). The character Anna struggled with depression and can be assumed heavily because of their living situation. Since they have been relocated underground, they get no sunlight. They do use sunlight lamps, but it cannot replace the real sunlight they are missing out on. Another consequence of the environmental disaster that has caused Anna grief is the inability to have a child without approval from the Council. The character Oliver states, “…She doesn’t pass the Mental Health because she seems depressed, so we don’t receive our fertility which makes her…more depressed” (Kazan 8). Anna and Oliver are unable to have a child because you need to be in perfect shape in this society to make the perfect children who will help fix the situation they have gotten into. This puts more pressure on everyone to be as perfect as they can, which is impossible considering they are worried about the surface and when they can get back to a “normal” life. Anna is not the only person within this world who is dealing with this as we meet a minor character Sam who states that he knew a friend that was dealing with mental health problems (Kazan 8).

The Effect of Geopathology on Physical Health

The dislocation due to environmental disaster has not only caused mental health problems but also physical health problems to the characters and earlier generations that were exposed to the surface before they moved underground. Anna has a vitamin D deficiency which is caused by not having any natural sunlight. She has done everything she can to help this by taking vitamins and using sunlamps, but it cannot replace the actual sunlight they are missing out on (Kazan 18). Anna’s grandparents and parents died to cancer due to being exposed to carcinogens. While her grandparents had been on the surface, her parents were exposed to toxins even while being underground, “But my parents were little, some of the water sources were being contaminated by asbestos, and it took them years to figure it out” (Kazan 32). Even after relocating the problems humans caused were still seeping into their haven. They have had to use resources and money to ensure that this place would be safe, even including levels of gates that rise to the surface to keep the toxins out (Kazan 15). There were also people who were not chosen to move underground who had to deal with the full effects of the ozone layer depleting. Although those who were chosen begin to wonder if life is worth living and it begins to affect their personal relationships.

The Effects of Geopathology on Interpersonal Relationships

The dislocation of people did not stop when humans moved underground, but instead they are monitored and controlled very closely, and it negatively impacts their personal relationships. The main characters Anna and Oliver were born underground and did not meet by happenstance. Anna and Oliver met while they were attending school at a compatibility fair (Kazan 33). While this was not further explored it can be assumed from other practices in this society that a compatibility fair is just what it sounds like. A fair where the most compatible people are paired up to see how well they fit based on their genetics, not necessarily their personalities. People are paired up based on genetics because the Council is looking out for the future of the society in order to have the best babies they can. If the babies have any sort of genetic “problem” they are terminated. Minor character Sam mentioned, “We had to terminate our first attempt. Down’s. Jenny and I fought to keep it. But you know – ‘drain on resources’ and all that” (Kazan 8). Due to the relocation people are unable to have children on their own time and this affects their personal relationships. A main problem within Oliver and Anna’s relationship is the strain of not being approved for fertility which links back to the mental health aspect mentioned earlier.

Wrapping up Geopathology

Geopathology also appears within the underground society as they have specific places they must live. Anna and Oliver live within the couples’ sanction of the community with their other friends Patrick and Carrie. There is another section within the community that is specifically for singles, and it is called the Singles Compound (Kazan 19). Anna and Oliver break up within the play and Anna must move to the Singles Compound since she now gets a different amount of energy and rations set aside for her specifically. The characters are not only told what they can do with their bodies but also where they must live after already being dislocated from the surface.

The environmental disaster that was caused by humans in After the Blast caused part of the population to relocate underground to survive. This play can be examined from the lens of geopathology, which is a theory that labels the place as a problem and causes the need to relocate as a result. The characters of After the Blast suffered due to this dislocation including physical, mental, and interrelationship problems. After the Blast is a great play to showcase the consequences of an extreme environmental disaster that causes any size population to relocate, whether underground or not.

Environmental Context; The Ozone Layer

The Earth’s ozone layer is a protective layer in the stratosphere that absorbs radiation from the sun. The ozone absorbs a portion of UV light called UVB which can cause skin cancer, cataracts, and can harm crops and marine life. It effects the food chain, specifically the basis for the food chain as it heavily effects marine life directly below the water’s surface (“Protection”). The ozone layer naturally has reduced throughout the years but was always followed by a comeback. The problem is that in the 1970s scientists noticed that the ozone layer was depleting far more than how it would naturally (“Basic”).

The way the ozone layer breaks down is when chlorine and bromine atoms enter the stratosphere and destroys the ozone molecules. A common compound that was used throughout the years in products are chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and they were subsequently banned in the 1970s by several countries in aerosol propellants, like hairspray, chemicals used in refrigeration, foam insulation, and other products. However not all chlorine and bromine sources are detrimental to the ozone layer. For example, the chlorine used in pools does not reach the stratosphere and therefore has no effect on the ozone layer (“Basic”).

The term “hole in the ozone layer” is a common phrase that has been thrown around, however there isn’t actually a hole but rather a low concentration of ozone molecules in that space. The largest “hole” in the ozone layer to date is above the Antarctic, which is why the arctic is warming at a considerably quicker rate than the rest of the planet. There are other spots in which the ozone layer is depleting, and they include North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and much of Africa (“Basic”). Considering this is all the continents on Earth the common denominator with ozone depletion would appear to be humans. Although there is action being taken in order to slow the depletion of the ozone layer.

What Are We Doing to Help the Ozone Layer?

The Montreal Protocol in 1987 was the first international treaty in which all countries signed and is considered to be, “…the greatest environmental success story in the history of the United Nations” (“Protection”). This treaty outlined ways in which the countries could cut down the production of substances that deplete the ozone layer. Thankfully the global consumption of ozone depleting substances has been reduced by 98% since 1987 and the ozone layer is showing signs of recovery but is not expected to fully recover until the second half of this century. Ozone depleting substances stay in the atmosphere for many years, they do not cause damage once and leave but rather cause recurring damage.

What can the common person do to protect the ozone layer? For starters people can do research, because learning about the environment always helps to make educated decisions and life changes moving forward. When your refrigerator or air conditioner dies, make sure to bring it to the proper recycling yard instead of throwing it in the garage or into a dump. When these appliances need repairs make sure to call the proper technician who will then recycle the old ozone depleting substances correctly. If your house needs renovating, make sure old insulation that contains ozone depleting substances are disposed of correctly, as they are environmental hazardous waste (“Protection”).

Works Cited

“Basic Ozone Layer Science.” United Stated Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ozone-layer-protection/basic-ozone-layer-science

Chaudhuri, Una. “The Silence of the Polar Bears: Performing (Climate) Change in the Theater of Species.” Readings in Performance and Ecology, edited by Wendy Arons and Theresa J. May, Palgrave, 2012.

Kazan, Zoe. After the Blast. Dramatist Play Service, 2019.

“Protection of the Ozone Layer.” European Commission, https://ec.europa.eu/clima/eu-action/protection-ozone-layer_en