Existentialism in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Pooja Singal


The post-apocalyptic genre, sometimes uses the comic frame to make the point clear, like the warning of the dangers of a nuclear holocaust as in A Canticle for Leibowitz  by William Miller, (1960) or environmental catastrophe as in Earthworks by Brian Aldiss, (1965) or genetic experimentation as in Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake (2003). Specifying the cause of the disaster, and making it preventable by human effort, brings the comic frame of the post-apocalyptic novels into position. But if the purpose of the tragic apocalypse is to bring the readers into proper relation to the approaching end, the question is: what happens after the end? What about the identity and purpose of the characters? If we project ourselves beyond the end in the tragic frame, we find only void. Tragic post-apocalyptic narratives seem predisposed to raise the question of whether there is any meaning to individual life or human history. These questions are hidden within the genre, but the historical context also provides another force shaping the development of post-apocalyptic fiction.  The Road is a seminal novel within the genre, and  Cormac McCarthy is a major novelist exploring and refining the existential ideas that emerge from the tragic frame. Steven Frye says in relation to McCarthy’s novels:

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