Figures of violence in Cormac McCarthy's The Road: "No remedy for evil but only for the image of it

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Much criticism has been devoted to Cormac McCarthy's vision of violence as foundational to American civilization. The Road, his last novel to date, ostensibly pushes this idea to its limits, giving shape to a post-Apocalyptic, post-America in order to investigate the violent social consequences of near-Total ecological disaster. What has yet to be adequately addressed is the essential rhetorical character of this violence; McCarthy's privileged technique for conveying the irrepressibility of violence, I argue, involves drawing attention to its figures, to the displacements of violence inherent in tropes and figurations. While language and the world are shown to be "shrinking down," figures remain, and the process of making them continues unabated. In self-reflexively using literary tropes and figurative language, McCarthy suggests that figuration is not only a precondition for human acts of violence, it is also, perhaps, the capacity that distinguishes human life from "mere life." The novel's stark pessimism indicates that there is no human way out of figuration and the violence that dwells at the heart of conceptions like evil. In provoking the reader to become more aware and suspicious of the process, though, McCarthy's critique of violence, albeit negatively, signals toward some constructive potential in the human endeavor to forge better, or less-worse, figures. But this is an eminently frail affirmation, for, in the last analysis, The Road insists that there has always been, and will likely always be, a violent human affinity for figures of violence themselves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-243
Number of pages23
JournalConcentric: Literary and Cultural Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2016 Sept

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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