If this is the first of my blog posts that you’ve stumbled upon, then hello! And if you’re on a senior-project-blog-reading-spree, then hello to you as well. And to the people who have managed to remain interested in my research, I extend an extra friendly “hello” to you! (Because God knows I’ve struggled to remain interested in my own research project.)
In terms of results, when comparing the amount of times proximal defenses versus distal defenses manifested in response to death anxiety (i.e. “DA+PD” and “DA+DD” sections), we see that there were twice as many distal defenses compared to proximal defenses. Considering The Road’s post-apocalyptic genre, it is surprising that distal defenses play such a significant role in the novel. The Road is often described as “an uninterrupted record of the things the man and boy do in order to survive,” with an overwhelming amount of detail dedicated to describing how the pair go through repetitions of setting up tents, building fires, and searching for food (Fledderjohann 44). In other words, The Road’s “post-apocalyptic horror-scape” leads us to expect that proximal defenses would take the forefront of the dual-process model in this novel (Walsh 52).
However, with twice as many “DA+DD” instances compared to “DA+PD” instances, we can conclude that distal defenses actually played a larger role than proximal defenses in The Road. As a reminder, distal defenses are involved with “the maintenance of worldviews and self-esteem” (Bruke et al. 156). This emphasis on distal defenses illustrates how the father and son do not necessarily rely on physical actions, such as boiling water and finding clothes to wear, to survive. In fact, the pair rely on thoughts and actions that reinforce their cultural worldview in order to survive in a barren wasteland. In this case, the father and son form a powerful emotional bond through discussions about abstract concepts like time and morality, and metaphorical reflections on life and death, all of which shape their worldview into one in which emotional dependence on each other is crucial to survival. An example of this idea manifests when the father, holding his son one night, is reminded of their mortality. In this moment of intimacy, he thinks, “The boy was all that stood between him and death” (McCarthy 29). The father’s love for his son becomes painfully clear at the end of the story, when he falls deathly ill and whispers to his son, “You have my whole heart. You always did… If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.” Later, when the father ultimately passes away, his son exclaims “I’ll talk to you every day… And I won’t forget. No matter what” (McCarthy 286). This idea that the main characters in The Road survive through emotional, not physical means, reinforces an interpretation of this novel in which the novel can be considered “a journey motivated by the father’s heroic question for a place in which his young son can survive. And this quest, undertaken in the certainty of his own impending death, is motivated by paternal love” (Cant 188). This conclusion implies that there can be a layer of complexity in novels written in the “survive or die” genre; while these novels generally center around evading death through physical, proximal methods, the characters in such novels can also have emotional connections that help them survive in hopeless circumstances.
Furthermore, according to the results of this study, we can come to a revised understanding about TMT. Distal defenses are commonly thought of as “increasingly activated as the accessibility of death-related thoughts increase… and proximal threat-focused defenses are initiated” (Arndt 40). Thus, proximal defenses are often seen as precursors to distal defenses; in other words, proximal defenses must be initiated before distal defenses (Burke et al. 156). However, the data in this study actually revise this understanding about the relationship between proximal and distal defenses. Only about 45% of data (i.e. the category labeled “DA+PD+DD”) aligned with our traditional understanding of the dual-process model—an instance of death anxiety provocation leading to the activation of a proximal defense, then a distal defense. On the other hand, the data also showed that the majority of death anxiety situations in the novel led to either a proximal or distal defense, not both (i.e. the “DA+PD” or “DA+DD” categories). “DA+PD” and “DA+DD” occupied a combined 54.6% of the death anxiety instances. Thus, the frequency of death anxiety situations that followed the sequence “DA+PD” or “DA+DD,” compared to the frequency of death anxiety situations with the combination “DA+PD+DD,” indicates that the activation of distal defenses is not necessarily reliant on the activation of proximal defenses. Furthermore, not every encounter with death anxiety leads us to respond proximally and distally; perhaps only one of these defenses is activated at a time. Thus, the dual-process model is not as binary as we originally thought; the interaction between proximal and distal defenses does not simply follow a linear sequence.
This week’s quote comes from page 274 in The Road:
The road crossed a dried slough where pipes of ice stood out of the frozen mud like formations in a cave. The remains of an old fire by the side of the road. The silky spills of ash against the curbing. He stood leaning on the gritty concrete rail. Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence (McCarthy 274).
Yup, “we’re in the endgame now.”
…But seriously though. Can’t believe this whole research journey is almost over. But part of the journey is the end, according to Tony Stark, who I love more than anybody on this Earth (on… in… the universe? According to the trailers my soft boy is floating somewhere in space so I’m really not sure anymore).
See you next week for my final blog post (yeehaw!)
Arndt, Jamie, Alison Cook, and Clay Routledge. “The blueprint of terror management.”
Handbook of Experimental Existential Psychology. The Guilford Press, New York, New
York, USA (2004): 35-53.
Burke, Brian L., Andy Martens, and Erik H. Faucher. “Two decades of terror management
theory: A meta-analysis of mortality salience research.” Personality and Social
Psychology Review 14.2 (2010): 155-195.
Cant, John. “The Road.” Cormac McCarthy, edited by Harold Bloom. Bloom’s Literary
Criticism, 2009, pp. 183–201.
Fledderjohann, Matthew. “How to Continue: Sustaining Existence through Beckettian Ritual in
McCarthy’s ‘The Road.’” The Cormac McCarthy Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, 2013, pp.
44–58. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/42909449.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road, Random House, 2006.
Walsh, Chris. “The Post-Southern Sense Of Place In The Road.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal,
5.1 (2007): 52-54.