And just like that, my AP Research project has reached the end of it’s road… The Road... Hm…
Ultimately, the results of this study suggest a revised understanding of both post-apocalyptic literature and of TMT’s dual-process model. While post-apocalyptic novels usually follow the journey of characters trying to physically survive, perhaps what motivates these characters is not the mere thought of escaping death, but their desire to strengthen emotional bonds and cultural roles. Similarly, the dual-process model is not as straightforward as psychologists originally theorized; not every death anxiety situation will lead to both a proximal and a distal defense. More specifically, the activation of distal defenses is not necessarily tied to the activation of a proximal defense. This finding blurs the line between proximal and distal defenses, suggesting that further research needs to be conducted about the dual-process model. Specifically, future research could focus on instances in which only one of our defenses (e.g. proximal or distal) is activated; questions such as “Why does this happen?” have yet to be answered.
Furthermore, while this study focuses on studying the dual-process model in a single novel—The Road—future research could apply a similar methodology to McCarthy’s other works in order to draw broader conclusions about the author’s books. In fact, this methodology—categorizing quotes and determining the frequencies of proximal and distal defenses—could be used to analyze the dual-process model in novels across all genres, not just for post-apocalyptic literature. Similar to how feminist film perspectives illuminate gender disparities in media, a terror management theory “lens” could be used to study literature and gain a deeper understanding of the books we read. Examining TMT with literature could provide explanations for how we think about the totalizing phenomenon of death. Indeed, despite the dark themes that TMT engages with, this research study actually contributes to a somewhat uplifting goal: to uncover the mysteries surrounding death. Even McCarthy’s commentary on death shifts into a hopeful tone at the conclusion of this novel. Consider the final paragraph of The Road:
Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow… On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery (McCarthy 287).
The ending of The Road points to the durability of memory and the power of the past. Our physical bodies may pass on, but we can only hope that our symbolic selves—the values we imbue through our existence—will continue to survive like brook trout, carving our stories into a world newborn.