Death and Rebirth: God, Can You Hear Me?
In the novel The Road, Cormac McCarthy depicts a noir journey of a father and his son and their survival in a society descended into barbaric chaos. By examining their expedition with religious motifs and allusions, McCarthy unveils the cyclical nature of humanity and the ambiguities of God; he thus suggests a cycle of destruction that paves way for regeneration and perhaps delineates the empowerment of humanity through connection, with or without God.
McCarthy uses religious allusions to explore the meditation on the human condition’s cyclic death and rebirth. Walking behind the boy, the man, “sunken haggard,” senses “some new distance between them”(McCarthy 191). With the young boy in front and the “sunken haggard” man behind, McCarthy creates “new distance” between the two to portray both their physical and emblematic divergences. From their dichotomous features, youthfulness against “haggard[ness],”to their positions, front against back, the boy’s forward altruism and the man’s suspicions draw diverging religious parallels to the New and Old Testament, compassion and “sunken” degradation, respectively. Because the Old Testament brings forth the New Testament, these religious resonances suggest that the “new distance” is an emblematic continuum from the man to the boy, rather than a polarized disconnection. Likewise, McCarthy portrays a cyclical nature between the father and son; the man’s foreshadowed death brings forth the boy’s emblematic Jesus-like rebirth to connect with other ‘good guys’ and ultimately continue to carry the fire of future civilization.
This cyclical nature of deterioration engendering renewal continues with Ely, an old road traveler, who asserts that “things will be easier when everybody’s gone” (172). Ely is an allusion to the biblical Elijah, the prophet announcing the revival of Messiah, mankind’s savior. However, he asserts the “gone” absence of God and “everybody,” contrasting from the original biblical reference. By reversing the religious allusion and only naming Ely in the novel, McCarthy highlights the unorthodox significance of his words, echoing the recurrent idea of destruction, “gone,” that leads to future and “easier” rebirth. Through these religious allusions, McCarthy thus underlines the contiguities of loss and renewal.
In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery – The Road by Cormac McCarthy
McCarthy also uses the motif of God to not only explore the ambiguities of divine presence and morality but also examine the empowering reconnection with others. Enveloped in darkness, the man glances up to see “weird gray light…Pray for lightning” (234).Although “lightning” typically represents an act of God and illuminates the father and son’s path, it simultaneously is “weird[ly] gray.”The “gray light” underlines the uncertainties of the presence of God within the land and thus the ambiguities of associated morality.
Yet, despite these ambiguities, McCarthy closely examines human connection as a possible source of healing and rebirth through the ending. The boy is embraced by the veteran and the “woman held him…the breath of God was his breath…passed from man to man” (287). Through the boy’s final discovery of other ‘good guys’ and the warmth of “[holding him],”McCarthy evokes a heartfelt sensation. The boy’s union with a new man and woman also parallels to the underlying religious convergence of the Holy Trinity. In the beginning, the emblematic Holy Trinity through the father and son was incomplete, consisting of the Holy Father and the Holy Son but missing the deceased mother or the Holy Ghost. Perhaps, it is this absence of the Ghost that dissonance permeates from the start of their journey. By revitalizing the ending with the “woman” and the Holy Ghost, McCarthy highlights the completion of the Holy Trinity and thus uses this harmonized convergence, this connection of “pass from man to man,” to suggest the healthiness of meaningful connections within humanity.
Thus, McCarthy employs religious allusions and symbols to examine the cyclical nature of death and rebirth, and although the novel still ends with ambiguities of God and morality, McCarthy seems to suggest the beauty of human connection and its possible impetus for carrying the fire into a brighter future.
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