PJAS 11 Spring-9

Jędrzej Tazbir
From Hopeless Selfhood to Hopeful Otherness: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 11 (Spring 2017), pp. 117-132

Abstract: The article examines the existential perspective and its development of the main character in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. Its protagonist is a man who, having witnessed the near total obliteration of the reality he was born into, struggles to find meaning in a world which continually reminds him of the debasement that the very notion of meaningfulness has undergone. In the apparent absence of any other available goals or social relations, ensuring the survival of his young son remains his sole guiding imperative, informed by the old concepts of filial duty and ethical standards, both interlinked with his faith, now deprived of all its affirmatory aspects. This cluster of moral motivations also compels him to assume an increasingly belligerent stance towards the “godless” outside reality. His radicalism is met with opposition from the son, whose own manner of being envisions empathy and hospitality where the father’s sees only potential confrontation. The man gradually realizes the unbridgeable disparity between his own haunted psyche and the post-apocalyptic new identity of the boy, whose nature inspires defiant hope in the seemingly hopeless circumstances. McCarthy will eventually confront his protagonist with the necessity of making a choice which entails a major shift in his system of beliefs. It is only by electing to act in a manner which is absurd by his standards that the protagonist stands a chance of saving his entire struggle from sinking into meaninglessness. 

Keywords: Cormac McCarthy, The Road, post-apocalypse, meaning-making, God, father-son

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.11/1/2017.09

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