tNoah Kay AP Literature and Composition Pd. 4 Ms.


A Psychoanalysis of Cannibalism
The word “cannibal” is derived from the Carib tribe’s namesake, as they were said to have eaten their enemies in war. Despite being a rather controversial topic in most modern societies, Cormac McCarthy makes cannibalism one of the foremost aspects of his post-apocalyptic novel, The Road. This work is characterized by its relentless gloom and its bleak, barren prose, which echoes the landscape that the two main characters roam. The novel is written primarily in the third person, as an unknown narrator describes a man and his son’s trek to the coast, hoping they will find something there. They are always referred to as “the man” and “the boy” or “the child,” never by name, which adds to the story’s overall aura of mystery, as well as highlights the futility of names. Most importantly, though, the man continually reassures his son that they are “the good guys” and that they will never resort to cannibalism, as many of the remaining beings in the world have. In The Road, the man and the boy symbolize Western attitudes toward cannibalism, while the remaining humans on the planet have devolved, and they represent ancient tribal attitudes toward the subject. The history of cannibalism goes beyond simply cruel and bizarre acts of necrophilia. In our modern society, this impression has been instilled into our

The first was to prey on their opponents in war as a form of intimidation. practiced cannibalism for completely different reasons than the aforementioned menacing killers did .” Conklin is correct. though. Beth A. and the cannibals that pervade the story can be likened to the Carib tribe. an associate professor of anthropology at Vanderbilt University. Additionally. serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Andrei Chikatilo have formed our thoughts on the subject. but … cannibalism can have positive meanings and motives that are not that far from our own experience. and their name made way for the word “cannibal. barbaric and degrading act.minds.” It can be said that the two main characters in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road are comparable to Columbus and his crew of fellow explorers. The Wari tribe. The Wari would eat their deceased in order to get closer to the dead. This is a comparison that McCarthy may have drawn . Their different uses of cannibalism reveal that the practice can be applied to various situations in order to produce a particular effect. as well as to help cope with the process of mourning. these natives of the Amazon rainforest had two different uses for cannibalism. The second. Conklin. as they cannibalized their victims solely for sexual gratification (macalester. a Native American tribe known as the Caribs existed in the West Indies when Christopher Columbus journeyed across the Atlantic in order to explore the New World. took place in a completely contrasting setting: at funerals. believes that “We assume that cannibalism is always an aggressive. They were also known to eat their enemies in battle.

that the cannibal has been “perhaps the ultimate symbol of savagery and degradation” i n Western society (Avramescu). grinning . Following this exchange. The supposed cannibal replies in extremely simple and vulgar English. McCarthy describes an encounter with a cannibal early in the novel. and the man asks what he is doing so close to them. they are reminiscent of tribes such as the Caribs and the Wari. “I was going to take a crap” (McCarthy 54). The man and the boy are described in a much more humane manner than those that have resorted to cannibalism. In our Western society and throughout Western history. as it seems McCarthy finds names and explanations of the past useless to the story’s greater meaning ). It is as if the man and the boy are exploring completely uncharted waters. most of us have viewed cannibalism as a degrading and taboo phenomenon. Catalin Avremescu states in his book An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. primal behavior. One of the clearest and most important distinctions in The Road is the difference between the cannibals and the man and the boy. The man and the boy stand face to face with this “sunken-eyed” creature. highlighting his simplistic. Avramescu tracks Western attitudes toward cannibalism from Ancient Greek literature to the present. he was born after the apocalypse (which is never named specifically. These views are apparent in McCarthy’s novel. In his work. the cannibal is no longer supposed. as he grabs the boy and holds a knife to his chest. especially the of when writing his novel. In fact.

Throughout McCarthy’s novel.” killing him instantly (McCarthy 56). naked human beings in a locked cellar (which the man breaks open). however. the protagonist pair comes across a slew of live.” (McCarthy 93). “They’re going to eat them. all trying to hide. Naked people were “huddled against the back wall … male and female. The boy’s nervous question also brings into light another important emotion common to humans: fear. most likely being harvested by the cannibals to feed on.” Throughout the novel. On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt. A little bit later in the novel. shielding their faces with their hands. McCarthy is able to create a haunting image that triggers the reader’s emotions. they . the reader is reassured of humanity as he feels fear along with the boy and his father. something that symbolizes their humanity and will to live independently) which will prevent them from falling to the cannibals. He often states that they are the ones “carrying the fire” (an actual campfire. “Yes” (McCarthy 107). display no trace of this. The boy soon asks the man. aren’t they?” and the man responds plainly.and threatening. Even with such bleak. simple prose. yet this prompts the man to shoot him in the forehead from “a distance of six feet. The man goes on to explain to the boy that this is one of the “bad guys. this is a constant way for the man to reassure the boy (and himself as well) that they will never fall and will never begin to practice cannibalism. as well as clarifying his attitude toward cannibalism. The cannibals.

Throughout the novel. she committed suicide shortly after giving birth to her son (the boy) out of fear of the cannibals. We witness the man wishing that he could revisit his life before the mysterious apocalypse. he has recurring dreams of what the world was like before it . though. despite it being only remains. The pair also hear “hideous shrieks coming from the house” as we are left to imagine the cannibals preying on those that they had previously seen. despite having a slew of nightmares. the repulsive detail in which he describes this horrid scene puts an exclamation point on his generally stark prose. This marks the true culmination of McCarthy’s clear hatred for cannibalism. Even later in the novel. in . as well as supports the theory that the man and the boy represent Western attitudes toward and wariness of cannibalism. “What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit” (McCarthy 167). the man and the boy come across a camp with a fire. This further underlines the gloom and relentless figurative darkness that is beheld throughout McCarthy’s novel. as well as a summation of Western attitudes toward the subject throughout history. McCarthy writes. This.simply prey on other humans to fuel their own needs. and witness possibly the worst instance of cannibalism yet. the man continues to have flashbacks to life with his deceased wife. Although McCarthy does not provide much gruesome detail. it may be even worse that we are forced to visualize it.

She tells him that she is “so glad to see him” and “talk[s] to him sometimes about God” (McCarthy 241). having no idea what to do alone. this intense love and care separates him from the cannibals. and the boy decides to do so. When he meets the woman of the group. faithful to him even in death. the man. He is. let alone someone like his beloved son. His epiphany of sorts shows even more that he remains a true human. as well as why he and his son are journeying together. finally dies. they simply go about their business. He stays by his father’s corpse. Another human quality is shown here: yearning. These qualities are what separate “the .a way. the boy grieves and mourns for three days. keeps him alive and reminds him of what life used to be . after a long trek to the coast with absolutely no benefit. He discovers a “strange beauty” after gazing upon his frail. on occasion. With this. Cannibals do not yearn. The man. with absolutely no regard for their terrible acts. hunger-stricken body (McCarthy 167). however. she “put[s] her arms around him and [holds] him” (McCarthy 241). The novel ends as bleakly and as mysteriously as it started. doing whatever they need to do to keep themselves alive. This forces him to realize even more the hideousness of what the cannibals are doing. realizes something interesting about the boy. and that he could never resort to such a horrendous act on any human being. eventually discovered by some more of “the good guys.” The man of the group appears warm and invites him to come along.

any of the emotions that “the good guys” displayed throughout the course of the novel . stay true to their own morals. with their primitive behavior. the cannibals.” is to avoid the cannibals. as evolved “Westerners.bad guys” from “the good guys” in The Road. We can only assume that the boy will live essentially the same life with his new companions that he had been living with his father. but more importantly. . and virtues. would not have even been able to feign. yet he and the man remain clear references to Western attitudes toward cannibalism. values. let alone feel. The objective of the man and the boy throughout McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel.

htm>.edu/academics/psychology/whathap/ubnrp/serial killers/dahmer. . 19 Apr. Knopf. N. Web.p. . Princeton: Princeton University Press. Salisbury. 19 Apr.d.p. n." Macalester College: Private Liberal Arts College.d. 2006.. McCarthy.d. 2012.colorado.htm>." Exploration.Works Cited Avramescu. N. "The Caribs . David F. An Intellectual History of Cannibalism. Web.. <http://www.d." Exploration. N. 22 May 2012.html>. n. Web. Print.htm> <http://autocww. <www.blackstudies.. Web.d." The Department of Black Studies. 19 Apr.vanderbilt.p." AutoCWW2.macalester. N. UC Santa Salisbury. "Giving Cannibalism a Human Face..html>. Cormac. <http://www. 2012. "Cannibalism. New York: Alfred A. "Brief History of Cannibal Cultures/cannibalism. n. The Web. 19 Apr..p..ucsb.vanderbilt. <www. 2009. Print. 2012. n. David F. n. 2012. "Jeffrey Dahmer. N.

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