The Reproductive Imperative of The Road

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This article explores the gender dynamic of Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Road (2006). It engages the novel's post-apocalyptic survival narrative from three different perspectives within the novel: first, the man, whom the world seems to be set against; second, the boy, who has a fundamental openness to the world; and third, the woman's aborted narrative. Though few critics take it up (Nell Sullivan is perhaps the most prominent), this article argues the woman offers a third interpretive path through the novel. Her story remains crucial to the cohesion and successful completion of the plot, yet the novel does not present its telling. Drawing on queer theory and Marxist-feminist analysis, this article explores an impasse: The Road effectively banishes the woman from its pages, despite the fact that she is necessary to the flourishing of the man and the boy. I argue that the novel works as narrative precisely because of the aborted emplotment of the woman and the appearance of the new woman at plot's end. The Road creates a reproductive imperative that binds the fantasy of beginning anew with the ideology of gender. It insists that reaching any future whatsoever means women must have babies.

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This chapter examines the role of women within the family as a source of social productivity, that is, of surplus value making. In pre-capitalist patriarchal society the home and the family were central to agricultural and artisan production. Women, children and the aged lost the relative power that derived from the family's dependence on their labor, which was seen to be social and necessary. In order to see the housewife as central, it was first of all necessary to analyze briefly how capitalism has created the modern family and the housewife's role in it, by destroying the types of family group or community which previously existed. The “unreliability” of women in the home and out of it has grown rapidly since then, and runs directly against the factory as regimentation organized in time and space, and against the social factory as organization of the reproduction of labor power.
In a queer-theory reading of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol in the 2004 polemic No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive , Lee Edelman relied on a narrow concept of reproduction as procreative heteronormativity anchored in heterosexual sex. He left untold the other story of reproduction: our daily reproduction in the service of capitalism. Marxist and materialist feminist theories of reproduction remind us that we all engage in reproductive work and that women have traditionally been considered natural providers of this work. A reading of J. M. Coetzee's Slow Man , in which a male protagonist depends on the domestic labor of a migrant woman, provides a counterpoint to No Future.
Cormac McCarthy presents readers with an unconventional challenge. He embodies but redefines the common notion of the artist as outsider. His first book appeared in 1965, and major critics, reviewers, and artists have admired him from the beginning. But he has never spent much time in a major metropolis and has quite intentionally avoided any identification with the “art world” as it exists and is conceived in the popular imagination. Instead, he has lived as he has chosen, in homes he built himself and sometimes in the semirural places where his novels are set. He writes with singular attention to his own vision, and only in the last two decades has he risen from relative obscurity. Beginning with his first novel, The Orchard Keeper (1965), he has been recognized by reviewers as a powerful new voice and a legitimate heir to the Faulknerian tradition. However, until the widespread popular reception of All the Pretty Horses (1992), none of his novels sold more than five thousand copies in hardback. As late as 1980, he survived on meager advances from his publishers and generous fellowships from the William Faulkner Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation, among others. He refused to promote his works through lectures and book tours, and popularity seemed to matter little to him. In the past twenty years, however, he has gained international attention. In 1981, he received the coveted MacArthur “Genius” Grant. A decade later, he won the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award for All the Pretty Horses, and in 2007 he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Road. A great admirer of McCarthy’s work, Harold Bloom states: “I yield to no one in my admiration for Blood Meridian. I think there is no greater work by a living American.” After years of effort, McCarthy is now considered, along with John Updike, Toni Morrison, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo, as an American author of monumental importance and value.
Attempts to trace the social origins of the sexual division of labour, and challenges the view that the dominance relationship evolved either out of biological or economic determinants. Describes the history of the related processes of colonization and 'housewifization'; extends this analysis to the contemporary new international division of labour, and the role which women have to play as the cheapest producers and consumers. Then focuses on the role of violence against women in the establishment of production relations which are not based on wage-labour proper, using the experiences of women in India. After arguing that present socialist countries cannot provide the desired alternative for women's liberation because the socialist accumulation process is based on 'housewifization', the last chapter attempts to develop a feminist perspective of a future society based on a self-sufficient economy. Sees the first step towards this as a consumer liberation movement started by women in the 'overdeveloped' classes and countries.- from Author
Forty years after Roe v. Wade, it is evident that the ideologies of "choices" and "rights," which have publicly framed reproductive politics in North America since the landmark legal decision, have been inadequate in making sense of the topic's complexities. In Reproductive Acts, Heather Latimer investigates what contemporary fiction and film can tell us about the divisive nature of these politics, and demonstrates how fictional representations of reproduction allow for readings of reproductive politics that are critical of the terms of the debate itself. In an innovative argument about the power of fiction to engage and shape politics, Latimer analyzes works by authors such as Margaret Atwood, Kathy Acker, Toni Morrison, Larissa Lai, and director Alfonso Cuarón, among others, to claim that the unease surrounding reproduction, particularly the abortion debate, has increased both inside and outside the US over the last forty years. Fictional representation, Latimer argues, reveals reproductive politics to be deeply connected to cultural anxieties about gender, race, citizenship, and sexuality - anxieties that cannot be contained under the rules of individual rights or choices. Striking a balance between fictional, historical, and political analysis, Reproductive Acts makes a compelling argument for the vital role narrative plays in how we make sense of North American reproductive politics.
The trauma of 9/11 ushered in a new age of male-centered sentimentality. With its focus on a father's sacrificial love for his young son in a postapocalyptic setting, Cormac McCarthy's The Road reflects this shift to male-centered sentimentality. In The Road, McCarthy appropriates the sentimental novel as space for unembarrassed male tenderness by nullifying nation as a structuring force of masculinity, excluding the mother from the plot, and rendering sheltered domesticity as unheimlich. McCarthy's good-guy sentimental thereby undoes an implicitly matriarchal domestic power structure and confers upon the father the affective power traditionally ascribed to feminine or feminized sentimental subjects.
This article examines the relationship between good and evil and hope and despair in Cormac McCarthy's novel The Road. It is a novel that tells a classical, almost mythical story and throughout its discourse it touches contrasting yet related opposites: it is the story of man against the elements, and it is a matter of life or death; not only the life and death of its individual characters but of humanity as such. The article discusses how McCarthy's novel is playing with opposites as its discourse contains elements of utopia as well as dystopia. External space, the natural physical world, constitutes a strong dystopian element, while inner space, the psychological inner life of the characters, constitutes a utopian element. In other words, the opposition between the land and the two main characters is the novel's discursive centre.
Addressing the genre of Cormac McCarthy’s 1992All the Pretty Horses, James Lilley writes that despite telling the story of its protagonist John Grady Cole’s journey from home and coming of age, the novel “is a Western, not a Bildungsroman” (274). “Whereas the Bildungsroman is driven forward by a quest for novelty,” Lilley writes, “Westerns are necessarily retrospective, repetitive and elegiac, driven by a desire to repeat and relive the established patterns and plots of the past” (274). Cole, whose story begins with his grandfather’s funeral in 1949 (6), and who travels not west but south across the Mexican border in search of something missing in his modern Texas of cars and oil derricks, “does not want to extricate himself from the past—establishing a new beginning, divorced of all precedent, on the frontier; rather, his journey down into Mexico becomes an elegy to the Old West, an attempt to move backwards in time to a place where the codes of the Old West are still valorized” (Lilley 274). Leaving aside the question of whether he conflates all Westerns with the particular sub-genre of belated Westerns that flourished during the mid-twentieth-century period in which All the Pretty Horses is set, Lilley’s curious distinction between the Western and narratives of new beginnings on the frontier is symptomatic of another implicit conflation, in this case of the Western with genre fiction as such.1 Arguing that John Grady returns to Texas at the end of the novel “fully aware that life, like the Western, is driven by repetition,” Lilley sees Grady as exemplifying McCarthy’s commitment to the sort of “freedom within the ultimately empty and determined symbols of language” described by Lacan (283). This reading of genre, with its stress on narrative and other forms of repetition, analogizes at another level the difference within repetition that for Lacan characterizes language itself: “In the same way that [McCarthy’s] characters realize a paradoxical freedom within the determinism of their landscape, so too we as readers—similarly subjected to the determinism of plot and language—find an impressive, qualitative ‘dynamic space’ within the confines of the text” (284). This account of genre as reinforcing the novel’s representation of human agency seems at odds, however, with Lilley’s suggestion elsewhere in the essay that the novel’s generic attributes exist not in McCarthy’s prose but in the mind of his protagonist. Thus, Lilley describes Grady as “determined to live his own Western, complete with strict chivalric codes, daring rescues, and, much to the chagrin of many critics, love at first sight” (275), and argues that “perhaps we should not be surprised that McCarthy’s description of [Grady’s] love affair with [the Mexican heiress] Alejandra is so remarkably flat and unoriginal; John Grady must see her in this way for his own narrative, the Western, to work” (285n6). John Grady no doubt carries his preconceptions with him, but pushing the novel’s generic expectations off onto him, and crediting them with deadening effects on the novel’s language, seems to undercut Lilley’s account of McCarthy’s commitment to “freedom within . . . determinism,” insofar as it makes Grady into a naïve exponent of genre clichés whose creator—like Mark Twain vis-à-vis Huckleberry Finn—presumably knows better. Lilley’s equivocation at these moments, I want to argue, reflects the widespread and persistent prejudice against genre fiction central to what Mark McGurl has dubbed the program era of post-World War II fiction. Committed, in its paradoxical character as “an institutionalization of anti-institutionality” (McGurl 221), to a modernist ideal of individual authorial genius, the writing program pushes anxieties about its own Taylorized character onto “the machine-made quality of formulaic genre fiction” (26). Under these circumstances, it can at most—turning its critique back upon the “institutional respectability that had put a glaze upon the great experimental works of the interwar modernist era”—produce works of “meta-genre fiction,” in which “a popular genre—romance, western, science fiction, fantasy and detective fiction—is both instantiated and ironized to the point of becoming dysfunctional in the production of its conventional pleasures” (McGurl 217). Here, irony...
In The Road (2006), Cormac McCarthy's approach to "naming differently" establishes the imaginative conditions for a New Earth, a New Eden. The novel diverges from the rest of McCarthy's oeuvre, a change especially evident when the book is set against Blood Meridian because their styles and concomitant worldviews differ so strikingly. The style of The Road is pared down, elemental: it triumphs over the dead and ghostly echoes of the abyss and, alternately, over relentless ironic gesturing. And it is precisely in The Road 's language that we discover the seeds of the work's unexpectedly optimistic worldview. The novel is best understood as a linguistic journey toward redemption, a search for meaning and pattern in a seemingly meaningless world — a search that, astonishingly, succeeds. Further, I posit The Road as an argument for a new kind of fiction, one that survives after the current paradigm of excess collapses, one that returns to the essential elements of narrative.
In Cormac McCarthy's 2006 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Road, a father and his son travel the blasted, ruined landscape of a postapocalyptic America. The father remembers the logic, beauty, and order of America's old topography, but he must now confront a new landscape where old signs mean nothing, where old signals are removed of meaning, and where formerly safe, understood, and beautiful places are instead sites of sheer horror. The son, in contrast, born after the event that caused the ruin, knows nothing of the former world and relies only on his father's stories and memories of that world's landscapes. As the pair moves across the barren spaces of this “new” America, these memories create (for the father, the son, and for the reader) both a decipherable and an unknowable terrain simultaneously.My essay focuses on this composite geography within McCarthy's novel, examining the ways in which the world's geographical and emotional meaning has been broken in the text. Disaster and ruin have scraped the landscape of The Road nearly bare of any former codes or meanings, and the old geography is written over with a new and horrific “narrative.” In this alien world, the father's geographical memories are like those faint lines of text in a palimpsest that show through beneath the newer inscriptions. McCarthy carefully and deliberately inserts the father's place-memories throughout the narrative, and it is these memories—in combination with McCarthy's own culturally weighted landscape details—that help create a layered and complex geography out of postapocalyptic nothingness.
Myth, Legend, Dust: Critical Response to Cormac McCarthy
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There is No God and We are His Prophets': Heroism and Prophetic Narrative in The Road
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Everything uncoupled from its shoring': Quandaries of Epistemology and Ethics in The Road
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On the Power of the Negative
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The Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy
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Barren, silent, godless': Ecodisaster and the Post-Abundant Landscape in The Road
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Gender Roles after the Collapse: Women in American Post-Apocalyptic Fiction
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Intertexual and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Cormac McCarthy
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Civilization ends with a shutdown of human concern. Are we there already
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US fertility rate falls to lowest on record
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Styles of Extinction: Cormac McCarthy's The Road
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Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men, The Road
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