Over Thanksgiving dinner I had a conversation with a friend of mine, Ted Gonder, about Cormac McCarthy’s supremely bleak novel, The Road. I was fortunate enough to read it for one of my Humanities classes, as part of the Core curriculum at UChicago. This, for the record, was the only book I read for a Core class from which I learned something.
Ted claimed that after reading it, he didn’t come out with any “takeaway” points. He, like I, after reading the book, felt a strange compulsion to spend long hours outside basking in the sun, and enjoying the fact that we don’t have to eat people or scrounge around for food. For readers of the Halcyon Days who haven’t read The Road, I personally recommend it as one of my favorite, and most deeply affecting books I’ve ever read. But, regarding Ted’s point about takeaways, I’ve found one.
The world is a harsh, ugly, vicious, horrifying place sometimes. Sometimes. Although most of the time aforesaid meanness is a product of the imagination, it is, on occasion, actually so. However, the man and the boy in McCarthy’s novel survive their ordeal because they will themselves to do so. The source of this strength is “the fire” which they carry. It seems, if only superficially, that the man and the boy created their own religion, embodied through this internal flame, the basis and mien of which are largely Christian, though not explicitly so. I could go on about this for a while, so I won’t; although, I might write a long paper on it and submit it to the English department for evaluation (perhaps as a B.A. thesis).
The bottom line is this: Faith in God or fire or the goodness of people or even the knowledge that this, like any situation, too shall pass inspires, mandates survival. This is but one of my many takeaways from McCarthy’s book.
Included in this post is a paper I wrote for my humanities class arguing that the “fire” mentioned is an outmoded Christian moral system unsuited for the brave new world, post-apocalypse. It was an effort to push the limits of what might be accepted as a socially-acceptable argument. I apologize for more or less rationalizing cannibalism. Please forgive me. Before writing this paper some time ago, I’d just gotten over a serious Nietzsche bender. The evidence of which is present within. Furthermore, the writing is a bit sophomoric, a crime punishable by mincing ridicule… of which I’m wholly deserving.
Below is the paper.