Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Echoes of Eden in Cormac McCarthy's The Road

In my previous two posts, I discussed what author and professor Jerram Barrs means by echoes of Eden and how he describes the apostle John's use of an echo of Eden in the twelfth chapter of Revelation. Today we will consider an example of an echo of Eden in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Road by Cormac McCarthy.

First here is a synopsis of the book fromWikipedia:
An unnamed father and his young son journey across a grim post-apocalyptic landscape, some years after a major unexplained cataclysm has destroyed civilization and most life on Earth. The land is filled with ash and devoid of living animals and vegetation. Many of the remaining human survivors have resorted to cannibalism, scavenging the detritus of city and country alike for flesh. The boy's mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, gave up hope and committed suicide some time before the story began, despite the father's pleas. 
Realizing that they cannot survive the oncoming winter where they are, the father takes the boy south, along empty roads towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and in a supermarket cart. The man coughs blood from time to time and eventually realizes he is dying, yet still struggles to protect his son from the constant threats of attack, exposure, and starvation. 
In the face of these obstacles, the man repeatedly reassures the boy that they are "the good guys" who are "carrying the fire." On their journey, the duo scrounge for food, evade roving bands, and contend with horrors such as a newborn infant roasted on a spit, and captives being gradually harvested as food. 
Although the man and the boy eventually reach the sea, their situation does not improve. They head back inland, but the man succumbs to an illness. Before he dies, the father tells the boy that he can continue to speak with him in his imagination after he is gone. The boy holds wake over the corpse for days, with no idea of what to do next. 
On the third day, the grieving boy encounters a man who says he has been tracking the pair. The man, who has a woman and two children of his own, a boy and a girl, convinces the boy that he is one of the "good guys" and takes him under his protection.

Now, let me remind you of an echo of Eden as described in Echoes of Eden. Jerram Barrs writes,
One of the striking elements of much pagan religion is the following story, here presented in summary. There is the hope of the birth of a divine son, a hero, or warrior. There is a declaration of enmity against this divine son and the threat of his destruction at birth. There is heavenly protection provided for the newborn infant. Then the heavenly child defeats his enemy (80).
Even in the synopsis of The Road above, we can see vestiges of the divine child echo that is present in Revelation 12 as well as the Greek myth of Apollos' birth. Let's consider the main ideas of this echo of Eden.

  1. The hopeful birth of a divine child. The father in The Road clearly perceives his son as a special gift from God. He indicates this declaring "He knew only that the child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke." The father recognizes the boy as a type of divine child whose birth would bring hope.
  2. The threat of destruction at his birth. His enemy was despair, and it was embodied in his mother. Of his birth she says, "My heart was ripped out of me the night he was born so dont ask for sorrow now." Presumably, when he was born his mother did not want him. She certainly did not want his life to continue as a young boy; she speaks of killing herself and her child swearing, "I'd take him with me if it werent for you. You know I would. It's the right thing to do." It seems that the very day he was born she screamed for his death; the father ignored her: "A few nights later she gave birth in their bed by the light of a drycell lamp ... Her cries meant nothing to him ... He held aloft the scrawny red body so raw and naked and cut the cord with kitchen shears and wrapped his son in a towel."
  3. A heavenly protector. The father also believes he is ordained by God to be the boy's heavenly protector: "My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you." He would not succumb to despair and he would not let his charge, his son, despair either: "This is what the good guys do. They keep trying. They dont give up."
  4. The defeat of his enemy. Finally, the boy, a divine child of sorts, defeats his enemy, despair, and continues his journey on the road. Interestingly when his father dies, he remains with his dead corpse in mourning, but does not sink into despair. Three days later he returns to the road and finds a new family. The boy is with the dead for three days, rises, and returns to life on the road; divine child indeed! "He stayed three days and then he walked out to the road and he looked down the road and he looked back the way they had come. Someone was coming ... Are you one of the good guys? The man pulled back the hood from his face. His hair was long and matted. He looked at the sky. As if there were anything there to be seen. He looked at the boy. Yeah, he said. I'm one of the good guys."

We see in The Road clear evidence of an echo of Eden. In this post-apocalyptic story we see a hint, a shadow. of the true story of the divine child who overcomes a threat at his birth and eventually defeats his enemy. The great truths of our faith are seen even in secular literature. I find this uplifting and edifying. This adds immense value to a book that I already found enjoyably entertaining. I'm thankful for Jerram Barrs' wonderful book Echoes of Eden for opening my eyes to this.

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