During our discussion in which we were to place the blame of the microbe epidemic on a specific character in Clay’s Ark, many of us pointed out Eli’s disastrous plan to keep the disease contained within a small settlement; every now and then infecting and adding new people into the fold. But it was Kayla’s comparison of the Clay’s Ark disease to AIDS that truly piqued my interest. In fact, I was quite upset that I had never made the parallel whilst I was reading the novel. As many of you know, AIDS when not combated with the proper therapy and medicine can kill rather quickly. Looking back, I can’t help but think of Eli as he attempted to help newcomers with proper treatment and training. His insightful knowledge of the microbe disease helped him keep his people alive and even proved to keep Keira alive when her survival was doubtful.
In 2013, the movie Dallas Buyers Club, briefly detailing Ron Woodroof’s fight against AIDS and prejudice through an underground medicinal market for individuals with HIV/AIDS,
premiered at theaters across the country and garnered commercial and critical success. For the most part Woodroof’s biopic was historically accurate (of course Woodroof
constantly stated, up until his death, that the buyer’s club he established was not created for profits which contrasts with the film’s depictions). Eli, much like Woodroof supplied his people and newcomers with positive direction and leadership in the face of adversity: solitude and sickness. However, it is also understood that the so-called newcomers that are welcomed into Eli’s flock, are infected by the same people who promised them safety and a decent livelihood. Eli might be a Ron Woodroof in some aspects, but he is also guilty of unethically spreading the contagion.
In the same year (2013), Missourian David Mangum was arrested and charged with spreading HIV. Mangum claimed to have had unprotected sex with over 300 partners even after receiving news that he was HIV positive a decade before. A CBS News article reports, “Many of his trysts stemmed from Craigslist ads, he told investigators, and he would meet up with men at parks, truck stops and other remote locations. Police believe many were truckers or others passing through the region, and because Mangum had little information about many of the men, investigators are concerned about finding potential victims…” Thus, it can also be said that Eli, much like David Mangum, enables the spread of the disease on his own terms, taking away the autonomy of unknowing victims.
What does this say about Eli? What does this say about Butler? We’ve stated multiple times that Butler doesn’t create heroes and villains. Hell, Butler said it herself in a recorded interview! But is she being true to herself? Eli is a leader and a custodian to those who love him and those who fight alongside him. But he can be categorized as an immoral tyrant, spreading the disease to ignorant passerby, kidnapping them, and essentially forcing them out of their normal lives to live as recluses carrying a scientifically undiscovered disease that can bring the world to its knees. Many argue that the world is not black and white—that people aren’t necessarily practical by nature—humans cannot be singular in categorization or resolve. And this is true. But does this mean that Eli’s flawed actions and mentality are not synonymous with an unintentionally villainous agenda?