• Project Title: Suppose You Were the Last One Left: The Function of Terror Management Theory in Cormac McCarthy's The Road

  • BASIS Advisor: Mr. Hansen

  • Onsite Mentor: Hope Garcia

Terror management theory (TMT) is a social psychology theory that rationalizes how humans deal with their universal, subconscious fear of death. TMT explains that humans process such fears through two mechanisms: proximal defenses, which are conscious and immediate responses to death anxiety, and distal defenses, which are prolonged responses to death anxiety in which people embrace certain cultural values to evade existential terror. This is known as the dual-process model of TMT. The Road, a Pulitzer-prize winning novel written by American author Cormac McCarthy, describes the journey of an unnamed father and his son trying to survive in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The prevalence of death imagery in this novel indicates that there is a significant body of text that TMT can be applied to. This prompted the research question, “How can terror management theory’s dual process model be applied to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road to generate a new understanding of The Road, as well as of terror management theory?” To investigate this inquiry, I utilized a qualitative method to record down quotes from the novel. These quotes were sorted into three categories: “death anxiety provocation,” “proximal defenses,” and “distal defenses.” After collecting quotes from The Road, I will conduct a quantitative analysis of the amount of times death anxiety, proximal defenses, and distal defenses manifested in the novel.