Defining the metaphor 'Carrying the Fire' in The Road
Discuss about the Cormac McCarthy Post Pastoral Theory.
Buta Singh Sandhu (086096)
Question Number 9
4 July 2016
Defining the metaphor “Carrying the Fire” in The Road
The novel The Road written by Cormac McCarthy, the metaphor describes a journey of a father and son in a post-apocalyptic world. As they travel to an undetermined and unseen destination. Throughout the journey the father tries to motivate his son, so that he can carry on the journey after his demise. The father and son go through fires, ash and burned crop fields (Gifford, pp- 16). Although they are going through difficult circumstances they still have the will to live and remain intact in the harsh situations, about minimum supply of food and shelter. In the process of motivating his son, the father used the metaphor of “Carrying the fire”. This metaphor is used throughout the novel to encourage the son to continue the journey and metaphor has both positive as well as negative implications in the novel. Throughout the story the father and the son literally carried fire. The fire helped them to cook their food and kept them warm in the cold weather. The metaphor “carrying the fire” has different meanings in different contexts. As the fire is the first invention as well as the foundation of human civilization. On the other hand, fire is also the cause of huge destruction. Therefore it can be said that “Carrying the fire” implies carrying the seeds of human civilization.
To the father and son, the carrying of this fire is not an easy task because the plot on which the story is based is related to the post-apocalyptic world. As described by the author in The Road the world has a little hope for humanity to grow in the future (Lee Clark, pp- 212). This little hope for humanity is defined as the fire by the author.
In The Road the metaphor “Carrying the fire” is used almost 71 times. In some contexts it implies a literal meaning and in others it is used as the metaphor. Sometimes the metaphor implies the natural human desire to keep on going and hoping for something better to happen. When the father was dying he advised his son to carry the fire. Here this implies that the father wants his son, from now on to carry the fire of mankind so that when the effects of the apocalypse are over then the son can represent the 'Good guys' (McCarthy, pp- 65). Indeed, the father realizes on his deathbed that his son has to live a more complex life after him. This is because the son has to carry the fire, and is responsible for taking forward the fire of mankind (Sullivan, 93). The fire signifies the internal goodness and idealism that still remains in the heart of the son. In the midst of the darkness of injustice, death, and doubt, the ability to believe others and trying to help them also signifies the fire inside the boy.
Change of meaning of the metaphor 'Carrying the Fire'
In the novel when the father is dying he advised his son to be a good guy and build relationships with other people so he can help them to create a community. The father always wanted to protect his child from the bad guys even through the son somehow wants to help them. In one scenario, the father confronts the other people to save his son. From this it can be said that the son still has the simplicity to believe other people instantly to try and help them. This ability is lost by the father but he does not want his son to lose it (Susanty, pp- 6). When the boy was confused and asked his father about the fire, saying “Where is it”, the father replied that “It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it” (McCarthy, 234). Moreover it can be said that the father and the son were carrying a sense of justice, mercy, morals, and ethical values. As it is seen in the later parts of the novel, the son who lost his father in the journey lived for the whole mankind and this is represented by the fire.
The story “Hills Like White Elephant” written by Ernest Hemingway is based on the communication between an American and his girlfriend. Ernest Hemingway is famous for his stories that are related to the lives of ordinary people. The couple in "Hills Like White Elephant” were travelling in Spain. They were trying new drinks wherever they went in Spain. After some time, the girl came to know that she is pregnant. The girl wants to keep the baby but the partner does not and wants the girl to have an abortion. In the story, the girl is afraid of losing her partner but the same time she wants to keep the baby. In this story, Hemmingway used “White Elephant” as a metaphor for the unborn child. Here it can be said that although the man is responsible for the pregnancy, he advises the girl to abort the baby due to his selfishness. Here his girlfriend
considers the unborn baby as a blessing even though she was aware of the fact that, taking care of a baby is very hard. About babies he said “I’ve never seen one”, in reply the girl said “No you wouldn’t have” (Hemmingway, pp- 643). This piece of conversation implies that the man does not want the baby and will be happy if it is gone. Therefore it can be said that the American does not want to have baby which is a blessing according to the girl.
As seen in the story “Hills Like White Elephants” the man tried to encourage his girlfriend to do something that is morally wrong (Wright, pp- 517). The girl looked across at the hills and said “They’re lovely hills,’ ‘they don’t really look like white elephants” (Hemmingway, pp- 644). On the contrary the father in The Road tried to encourage his son to be morally correct all the time. In The Road the father always sacrificed his own health to provide nourishment to his son. Compared to this, the man in the “Hills Like White Elephants” is driven by his selfishness. The man does not care about the girl or the baby and therefore continuously pressurizes the girl to have an abortion. The man said anything that can encourage the girl to take the operation, like “It's really not anything. It's just to let the air in" (Hemmingway, pp- 644). Compared to in The Road, the father is trying to protect his child from the different dangers that can harm him in the post-apocalyptic world. By using the metaphor “Carrying the fire” in The Road, McCarthy implies that the son has to carry the fire of humanity to the next generation of the mankind after the apocalypse (Yanyan, pp- 94). From the start of the story it is seen that the son is something the father is worrying about whereas in the “Hill Like White Elephants”, the man will be happy if the baby is killed in the womb of the mother.
Defining the metaphor 'White Elephant' in the story 'Hills Like White Elephant'
In The Road the central characters are a father and his son. On the other hand in “Hills Like White Elephants” the central characters are a couple. In both the stories, it is about the conversation between the characters. In The Road the metaphor “Carrying the fire” is related to the beginning of a new journey for the whole of mankind whereas the “White elephant” is totally related with something that is not desired. In the “Hills Like White Elephants” the story ends with the end of the relationship between the man and the girl (Wu and Shong Hong, pp- 209). This is symbolized by the statement of the man, “I’d better take the bags over to the other side of the station" (Hemmingway, pp- 646). He realized that she had made a decision and the conversation on the topic of abortion will lead the pair to the other side; the side with trees, grain and life demonstrate of the choice to keep the child. It ought to be noticed that it is not until the end that, "She was sitting at the table and smiled at him" (Hemmingway, 646). The smile can notes a positive result. It also signifies the fulfillment felt for affirming herself, settling on her own choice. On the contrary in The Road, story ends with the acceptance of the boy into a family. In that family he talks about the existence of God. After his father’s death the boy stayed with the body for three days and then started his journey again with a man who said that he is one of the 'Good guys' (McCarthy, pp- 65) and also “Carrying the fire” of humanity.
To add to it, "Hills Like White Elephants" is about a conversation between an American couples; neither of the speakers is speaking with each other, highlighting the crack between the two. Both speak, yet neither listen nor comprehend other's point of view (Morgenstern, pp- 59). The American man tried to say just about anything to convince his girlfriend to have an abortion. He said her, he cherishes her, for instance, and that everything between them will backpedal to the usual way. At one point, she agreed to have the abortion to shut him up. At the point when the man still endures, she at last requested him to "please, please, please, please, please, please stop talking" (Hemmingway, pp- 645), considering the purposelessness of the conversation. Truth is told, the girls epithet, "Dance" quietly shows that the two characters only move around each other and on the current issue while never saying anything significant.
In both the stories one of the central characters is the father or the person who may be become father. In The Road, father tried to save his child to carry the fire of the humanity. To do this the father tried every possible thing that can be done. Compared to this the man in the “Hills Like White Elephants” the man does not want to be a father and asked the girl to abort the unborn child. Therefore it can be said that both the stories provides the description of two different fathers in the two different situations, One of which tries to save his son and another one trying to kill his unborn baby. As an example the father killed the person who tried to harm his son in The Road, on the contrary the man who would be a father in “Hills Like White Elephants” tries to kill his unborn baby. The man does this only because he does not want to take the responsibility of the baby. In both the stories the metaphors are used as the symbol of the human emotion, specifically the emotion of a father for his son. Also in both the stories the intense emotion of the father and the girl for their son and unborn baby won. As the consequence the son in The Road gets a new family at the end of the story and started his new life. Contrarily
in “Hills Like White Elephants”, the girl broke up the relation with the American man and saves her unborn child.
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Hemingway, Ernest. “Hills Like White Elephants”, The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. Ed. Richard Bausch and R.V. Cassill. Eight Edition. New York: W.W Norton, 2015. 642-646.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage, 2006. Print.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. "Make It Like Talk That You Imagine”: The Mystery of Language in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road." Literary Imagination 17.2 (2015): 204-27. Web.
Morgenstern, N. "Post apocalyptic Responsibility: Patriarchy at the End of the World in Cormac McCarthy's The Road." Differences 25.2 (2014): 33-61. Web.
Smiley, Pamela. "Gender-Linked Miscommunication in “Hills Like White Elephants”." New Critical Approaches to the Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (1990): 288-99. Web.
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Susanty, Susanty. "The meaning of relationship in Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephant" Journal on English as a foreign language. 2.2 (2015). 1-10. Web.
Wright, Laura. "Vegans, Zombies, and Eco-Apocalypse: McCarthy's The Road and Atwood's Year of the Flood." Interdiscip Stud Lit Environ Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 22.3 (2014). 507-24. Web.
Wu, Mei-Hung and Boe Shong Hong. "Construction of Mind Story: A Case Study of Ernest Miller Hemingway's " Hills Like White Elephants."" International Journal of Learning (2012). Vol.18. 207-219.
Yanyan, LIAO. "The Absence and Urge for Love-An Ecofeminist Study of Hills like White Elephants." Journal of Nanjing University of Science and Technology. Social Sciences Edition 2 (2012). 92-95.
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