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You can focus on either a topic or a theory for your literary essay on The Road.

Topics:

  • Language
  • Form/Style
  • Religion
  • Morals
  • Positivity
  • Your Choice"

Create an argument about the novel based on the importance of one of the topics listed above. How does a reading of the novel change through an examination of one of the topics? What is revealed by focusing on one of these aspects? There could possibly be some overlap with these ("Language" and "Form/Style," for example), but keep your argument as focused as possible.

Theories:

  • Marxist
  • Psychoanalytic
  • Feminist
  • Your Choice"

Create an argument by doing a reading of the novel with one of the above literary theories in mind. What does reading through one of these lenses reveal about the novel? You should be making a critical theory-based argument about the book.

Overview of The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The novel, The Road by Cormac McCarthy tells a story of a man and his son who try to escape the horror of a nuclear catastrophe that left all animals and plans extinct and ashes falls from the sky leaving the ground dry, burned and unproductive.  The duo follows a road hoping that they will reach the coast where they will get a better life. They are however forced to overcome various challenges including sickness, starvation and threat of attacks from thieves and cannibals that seem to dominate the road. In most cases, they find themselves with nothing except some little food and clothes they find from abandoned houses that keep them alive before they get lucky to find some more.  The novel narrates the story of the two characters in the post-apocalyptic America with civilization turning most of the people into cannibals that are willing to do anything so they can continue living and they have not morals to uphold. Notably, there is a lot of immorality though there are characters like the father and son who represent ethics.

Morality is an important aspect of any society since people live a life guided by the principles of ethics which is healthy for cohesiveness and co-existence of people. There is a strong relationship between psychoanalytic theory and morality as defined by Freud. Psychoanalysis aims at examining the interaction of conscious and unconscious elements in the minds of a person by bringing out the repressed fears as well as the conflicts in the mind by understanding “superego”, “ego ideal and “conscience” (Nass 56). In addition to this, the sense of morality is driven by the instinctual and biological forces. Freud note that psychoanalytic theory can help in investigating elements of morality in the society and as it helps in examining the current thoughts, feelings and desires of a person. The concept of morality in the novel, The Road can be well understood through the behaviors of the characters and how they develop throughout the novel.

The term morality is used to refer to the beliefs of what is right and what is wrong behavior or the degree to which something is considered to be good or bad. It can be devastating living in a post-apocalyptic period since one is deprived all the basic necessities and these situations affect the manner in which the person thinks and consequently how he behaves. The novel portrays two themes of the good versus evil and civilization has influenced the ethical standards that anyone should emulate. The survivors of the dying world seem the ones representing the positive life or rather choosing the good path of life. The path chosen by anyone tends to determine morality and it indicate ones senses. The father has been on the limelight of guiding the son through the right path.  He encourages his son never to give up as he tells him that he is the one with fire that will light his entire life by saying “It’s insider you. It was always there, I can see it” (McCarthy 145). This is demonstrated when they two finds a house with humans ready to be eaten and the son asks his father “We wouldn't ever eat anybody, would we? Even If we were starving” (McCarthy 65).  In response to this, the father replies “No. We wouldn’t. No matter what”(McCarthy 65) Psychoanalytic theory notes that the way a person thinks or acts is influenced by external factors especially the surrounding which defines the character and morals of a a person. Despite the father and the son going for days without food, they are not ready to give up their sense of humanity and turn into cannibals.

Importance of Morality in Society and Psychoanalytic Theory

Notably, the environment is forcing people to choose the kind of life that they want to live. The boy seems to be so good and he is ready to retain this behavior no matter the challenge. In fact, he has equipped himself with instruments that will scare anybody with ill mind. This is demonstrated when the boy acknowledges that “And we’re carrying the fire” (McCarthy 66) which shows that the two have weapons to fight any enemy that may come their way. Clearly, the boy is the ambassador of good moral behavior as he has unwavering principles and it is clear that he is not willing to entertain anyone who will lead him to become bad boy. The boy has a helping hand as he is sympathetic with the man who was struck by lightning. He says “He’s been struck by lightning. Can’t we help him? Papa?”(McCarthy 25). This shows that the boy understands the essence of helping others. The boy tries to avoid as much as possible anything that may make him a bad boy and he is see rejecting the gun that is offered to him by his father in several instances throughout the novel. For instance, he would say “I don’t want the gun” (McCarthy 36), this is despite his father asking him to take the gun. The son is aware that the gun has the potential of killing. There are characteristics that have been used in the novel to distinguish between the good and the bad boys. Some of the rules that define good morals as listed by Wielenberg are; “Don’t eat people, don’t steal, don’t lie, Keep your promises, Help others and Never give up” (Wielenberg 4). These are some of the principles that the man tries to teach his son by doing what is right despite other people having abandoned morality.

As stated earlier, the novel does not only present the good part of life, but there are some people who have chosen the bad things which constitute immorality. While the world changes, a person is left to make up his mind and choose the path the best fits in. This is where the psychoanalytical theory comes in as a person, through his conscious mind chooses the path that his feelings, thoughts and desires lead him. The aspect of bad morals have been portrayed through the concept of cannibalism which is associated with ultimate evil and the emergency of post-humanism and how people no longer value humanity. Cannibalism has been the root cause of all evils that are depicted in the novel. For the fear of being eaten by their fellow human beings, some people opt to commit suicide so that they do not witness the barbaric practice. For instance, after the destruction of the country, the man and his wife and son remain homeless and hopeless but since the woman is fearful to protect her child she says “Sooner or later they will catch us and the will kill us. They will rape me. They will rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it” (McCarthy 27). It is evident that cannibalism is a culture that should be abolished and it should be forgotten long time ago. While the gun is given to the boy so that he can protect himself from the cannibals, it is however used in other immoral activities such as “suicide, self-defense as well as killing for food” (Wielenberg 7). The novel also portrays the people who are striving to have moral values but they are terribly failing and due to this, they do not care for the morality of other people. For instance, Sanchez notes that the “dystopian immorality is first introduced in the translucent monster than haunts the fathers dream” (n.p). There are invisible demons who are constantly attacking the man and with the aim of driving him to the world of immorality.

It seems that immorality outweighs morality though the father and his boy are tirelessly fighting for morals. We are all faced with situations whereby you are required to make good decisions but the decision you are about to make is influenced by external factors and you end up doing the wrong thing. While we strive to uphold morality in our lives, we are faced by many unavoidable circumstances that see us making bad decisions. From the novel, there is a very thin line that separates good from evil and the majority seems to be on the evil side as depicted by the many cannibals attacking the few good people, represented by the father and son. The goodness of many people have been lost into the majority of bad people thus creating an immoral society.

Sanchez, Carla. M. “Survival and Morality in Cormac McCarthy's The Road: Exploring Aquinian Grace and the Boy as Messiah”.2015.  Accessed from https://www.inquiriesjournal.com/articles/1031/survival-and-morality-in-cormac-mccarthys-the-road-exploring-aquinian-grace-and-the-boy-as-messiah

Wielenberg, Erik J. "God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy's" The Road"." The Cormac McCarthy Journal 8.1 (2010): 1-19. Accessed from https://kmckean.myteachersite.com/teacher/files/documents/god,%20morality,%20and%20meaning.pdf

McCarthy, Cormac. The road. Pan Macmillan, 2009. Accesed from https://epdf.tips/cormac-mccarthy-the-road0f57fa64e6e4f343e75afc8b080c76ec35970.html

Nass, Martin L. "The superego and moral development in the theories of Freud and Piaget." The psychoanalytic study of the child 21.1 (1966): 51-68. Accessed from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/00797308.1966.11823252?scroll=top&needAccess=true

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[Accessed 29 February 2024].

My Assignment Help. 'Morality In The Road: A Psychoanalytic Perspective' (My Assignment Help, 2021) <https://myassignmenthelp.com/free-samples/engl1129-modern-novel-poetry-and-drama/morality-in-the-road-by-cormac-mccarthy.html> accessed 29 February 2024.

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