Preliminary Data: A Reminder that Reading is still Fun and Fresh

Mar 22, 2019

To the newcomers of my blog, welcome and hello! And to returning readers, welcome and hello! As always, tune in regularly for an extra greeting!

As a reminder, my AP Research project is focusing on discovering intersection between psychology and literature. More specifically, I am focusing on how terror management theory can be applied to Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road in order to learn more about the novel and the psychological theory. In terms of preliminary data, I planned on sorting quotes from the novel into three categories (in accordance to terror management theory’s dual-process model): death anxiety provocation, proximal defenses, and distal defenses. In order to make my methodology more replicable, I came up with definitions for these three categories. And these definitions were definitely tested as I began collecting data while reading The Road.

After collecting quotes, my data table looked a little like this:

He woke to the sound of distant thunder and sat up. The faint light all about, quivering and sourceless, refracted in the rain of drifting soot. He pulled the tarp about them and he lay awake a long time listening. If they got wet there’s be no fires to dry by. If they got wet they would probably die.
The living room the bones of a small animal dismembered and placed in a pile. Possibly a cat. The boy gripped his hand. We should go, papa. Can we go? Yes. We can go. I’m scared. I know. I’m sorry. I’m really scared. It’s all right. We shouldn’t have come.
The roadside hedges were gone to rows of black and twisted brambles. No sign of life. He left the boy standing in the road holding the pistol while he climbed an old set of limestone steps and walked down the porch of the farmhouse shading his eyes and peering in the windows.
He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death. He slept little and he slept poorly. He thought if he lived long enough the world at last would all be lost. Like the dying world the newly blind inhabit, all of it slowly fading from memory. And the dreams so rich in color. How else would death call you? Waking in the cold dawn it all turned to ash instantly. Like certain ancient frescoes entombed for centuries suddenly exposed to the day.


In terms of data analysis, I wanted to further categorize these quotes to determine the frequency of proximal and distal defenses in the novel. The first row shows an instance of only death anxiety, without any proximal or distal defenses related to it. For example, a paragraph would describe the desolate landscape surrounding the father, and the following paragraph would jump to a description of the father and son walking through brambles. This paragraph would be coded this as “Death Anxiety Only,” abbreviated as “DA only.” Conversely, the second row showcases one instance of death anxiety leading to both a proximal and a distal defense. This category, coded as “Death Anxiety + Proximal Defense + Distal Defense” (shortened to “DA+PD+DD”), aligns with the traditional understanding of the dual process model, as it shows how aggravation of death anxiety can lead us to respond both consciously and unconsciously. On the other hand, there were also instances in which one case of death anxiety led to only one proximal defense (row 3), or one case of death anxiety leading to only one distal defense (row 4). These situations were coded as “DA+PD” and “DA+DD,” respectively.

After reading the first fifty pages of The Road, I counted up the number of “DA only,” “DA+PD+DD,” “DA+PD,” and “DA+DD” instances in my data. The following are my preliminary data:

DA only DA + PD +DD DA + PD DA + DD
7 7 3 6


Onwards with more reading!

This post’s quote comes from page 114 of the novel, after the boy and the father encounter an abandoned basement full of rotting bodies and cannibals (hooray!): “They lay listening. Can you do it? When the time comes? When the time comes there will be no time. Now is the time. Curse God and die. What if it doesnt fire? It has to fire. What if it doesnt fire? Could you crush that beloved skull with a rock? Is there such a being within you of which you know nothing? Can there be? Hold him in your arms. Just so. The soul is quick. Pull him towards you. Kiss him. Quickly.”

(And on a slightly unrelated note, my project has inspired me to read more “for fun.” Which is pretty much taboo for a BASIS student. But honestly? I finished Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five yesterday and it was fantastic; I would highly recommend giving it a read, even though I know nobody will take this recommendation because there’s only about 2.6 people on Earth who still read books in their spare time.)

One Reply to “Preliminary Data: A Reminder that Reading is still Fun and Fresh”

  1. Krip R. says:

    That one quote about sleep and dreams felt very relevant to me! I can clearly see how you have split the three categories, and it seems like your method has been implemented quite well.

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