According to Freud’s psychoanalytic theory, Eros which consists of our life instincts, Thanatos, our death instinct, and The Psyche all challenge the humanist idea of the self. The Road is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a ‘man’ and ‘boys’ Eros and will to survive is combated by many obstacles which jeopardize their ability to uphold their optimism to keep going. Whereas in Owen’s poetry, he writes from a personal perspective and so is able to depict the harsh realities that soldiers go through, witnessing large numbers of deaths on the front line. We can identify that in many of the poems, the main characters face a loss of hope and humanity in the soldier camps as they too have to fight for their lives on the frontline of the war. However, unlike the boy who is protected by his father’s love, the soldiers in Owen’s poems do not have this security around them, therefore lacking the same urge to survive. According to Freud, Thanatos can be defined as aggression or violence towards others in order to maintain their own well-being.
In both texts, we see this aggression being forced onto others in order to retain the resilience that is so important to survive. Throughout ‘The Road’, the man and boy go to great lengths in order to protect themselves. They refuse to help others because they do not know who poses a threat which is an example of their life instincts. In order to stay safe, they know that they must isolate themselves from the rest of society. As the man and boy move from place to place in a bid to remain unseen, they encounter many examples of cannibalism. In their search for food, they come across a house which contains a basement full of humans, some with limbs missing; “one man’s legs have been amputated up to his hips” prompting the boy to ask if the ‘bad’ people are going to eat the ‘good’ people. McCarthy’s language emphasises the need to use aggression towards others in order to maintain one’s self-wellbeing.
This is shown by the boy questioning the man about why they could not help them. He asks “we couldn’t help them because then they’d eat us too?”. The fight to survive at all costs has led to the loss of humanity from the only forms of civilisation that remains. In this ‘dog-eat-dog’ world, you have to do anything to survive, even if that means inflicting violence onto others. Furthermore, the man’s wife, who the reader presumes commits suicide in order to protect herself from the harsh realities of the post-apocalyptic world, asks the man “can you do it? When the time comes, could you crush that beloved skull with a rock”. This is emphasised as it is one of the few things she says in the entire novel. It signifies the length that a father must go in order to protect a child’s innocence. In this case, it is not maintaining his own self being, but that of the boys.
It can be argued that his role in protecting the son gives him the ability to make these decisions for him. The theme of survival and resilience is also explained in Owen’s war poetry. In ‘Futility’, we see a soldier helping his compatriot to get into the sun, attempting to revive him. The word futility itself is a term used for uselessness. In this case it could be a reference to God and the war and the worthlessness of both in failing to prevent the horrors of war and even the deaths of the soldiers.
Much to the soldier’s dismay, he recalls that “it always woke him”, however on this occasion the resilience that has always woken him has failed to work. Similarly, in the Road, the man’s attempts to stay alive and protect his son eventually fail as the reader sees that he is getting closer to death with each move that they make. The soldier’s life is cut short like “fields half-sown”. This can describe how soldiers are sent out by the older generation to fight in the war while they were still young. Their lives are cut short, as Owen witnessed many deaths of these young soldier.
The poem, which is written like a sonnet, however broken into two seven-line stanzas is also reflective in the change in mood. The two-stanza structure reflects the poem’s change in tone, from hope and confidence to despair. The oxymoron of the brightness of the sun, and “the cold stars” are also representative of this. Like the man in The Road, Owen is able to show the soldiers moment of realisation that death has arrived, through the form and structure of the poem. Similarly, in The Road, the structure of the novel contains no chapters and limited punctuation. This emphasises the continuous cycle of despair and survival. It can be interpreted as a lack of progression in getting out of this post-apocalyptic world where there is little optimism.
It reflects the aggression of the war and how the violence has led to the deaths of many young soldiers. Furthermore, Freud describes Eros as the drive to live. Unlike the man in the road, the soldiers in ‘The Dead-Beat’ do not have the same drive to persevere. Owen writes the poem based on his own personal experiences while he was a soldier. The poem shows a soldier who is unable to get back up despite multiple threats.
The cynical tone of his comrades evokes a pitiless reaction from the reader when compared to The Road. They accuse him of “Dreaming of all the valiant, that aren’t dead”. His comrades emphasise the importance of the drive to live which this soldier lacks in contrast to the resilience which is so often seen with the perseverance of the man and boy in The Road despite their struggles. The stress of him being “unwounded” and still unable to get up drives an angry, unsympathetic response from those around him. This is explicitly outlined by the ‘Doc’ who says “That scum you sent last night soon died. Hooray!” The fact that they are cheering the manner in which the soldier dies emphasises the importance of resilience and fight that an individual should have; without it you are regarded as worthless. During Owen’s time in the war, he suffered from post-traumatic-stress-disorder which was known as shell shock at the time.
In his platoon, he placed a gun to one of his soldiers’ heads who could not get up. The medical doctor at the time was also ‘glad’ of the soldier’s death. The soldier’s unwillingness to persevere and fight for his life devalues his status.
It can be argued that the lack of direction and protection that the man in The Road provides is lacking in Owen’s poems. His real-life depictions show how perseverance and hope was rare from his experiences. This lack of life instinct and fight contrast to the man and boy from The Road.
The soldier is unable to get back up and fight for his life. In addition, another key theme of both texts is innocence and the moral question of what is good and evil. This links to the Freudian concept of The Super-Ego which is defined as our moral guide which mediates between what is right and wrong. In The Road, this is reflected through the boy and the man in their journey. The boy continuously seeks confirmation from his father that they are “the good guys” even when they refuse to help out the people they encounter on their journey. The repetition of what they refer to as “carrying the fire” represents the goodness that we have within ourselves. Although the father commits murder to protect his son, it is seen as a good thing as it is done out of love and protection for his son.
He tells the boy “I will kill anyone who touches you” and that “if they find you, you are going to have to do it”. Unlike the other characters who kill for themselves, the reader is able to sympathise and see that the man is only killing to protect his son. It can be viewed as the moral thing to do, out of the love and protection of his son. The line between what is right and wrong is explored through the horrors of this post-apocalyptic world.
Although what he says is a terrible thing to do, it is done to save his son from being eaten by cannibals or being hurt. It serves as an oxymoron in the sense that in order to save his son, he is asking him to die. On their journey, the boy encounters another young child who has been skewered alive, which again is symbolic of the death of boy’s innocence.
It shatters the boy, who sees the realities of the post-apocalyptic world. Despite witnessing the extreme lengths that people go to survive, when the boy encounters a dog that can be used for food, the boy says “we’re not going to kill it are we papa?’. The man is seemingly frustrated at the boy for his innocence as he says “you’re not the one who has to worry about everything”.
However, he understands that the boy represents the only beacon of hope for the righteous people of the world, and that his intentions are always to do the right thing, even at the expense of survival. The love between the man and the boy ensure that they always use the ‘right’ method which they deem to be moral on their journey. With every step of their journey, the morality of their decisions is always questioned through the boy. His innocence leads him to do this. Similarly in Owens war poem ‘Disabled’ we see a sense of innocence that can be portrayed as naivety.
The boy goes to war for reasons that are superficial. He signs up “to please” a girl he is in love with. The horrors and fear that war creates are hidden by his innocence and lack of reality.
He is unaware that he has to fight for his survival, which is nothing like “the blood-smear” he got from his footballing days. Similar to the boy in The Road, the soldier is exposed to the cruel realities of the war which leads to his loss of innocence. The youth and innocence of the participants is emphasised. Over the first three stanzas, Owen refers to boys, girls and the face of the adolescent soldier who looked “younger than his youth”. Moreover, the atrocities of war become apparent to him once he has become injured from the battles. He is described to be “legless” and “sewn short of elbow”. This presents the reader with a melancholy image of the soldier showing the extent of his injuries. His isolation and despair are emphasised by him “waiting for the dark” to come and take over him.
The reader can interpret this is him waiting for death as he lacks the will to live after coming out of the war. It evokes a feeling of pity for the soldier which Owen was aware of due to his time in the frontline. Owen wrote ‘Disabled’ whilst he was a patient in a military hospital. Consequently, he would have been well aware of the life-changing injuries that soldiers suffered from. By witnessing the cruelties of the war, the soldier has subverted his initial values that we hold like goodness to one of hopelessness and loss. His innocence of what he perceived the war would be like has shown the soldier the true realities that soldiers like himself will have to face. Moreover, the theme of paternal love is explored throughout both texts.
At the beginning of The Road, the wife identifies that “the boy was all that stood between him and death”. The man’s love for the boy is the only thing that keeps him going. He goes to great lengths, including starving himself just so that the boy has enough food to eat. He believes that he should protect his son from everything, not just take the easy way out, despite his death being inevitable. The only time we see the man use violence, is to protect his son from the “bad man” who poses a threat to his life, even though he gets shot in the process of it. As the man is dying, he sees the boys need to be the ‘good guy’, so tells him ” you have my whole heart.
You always have. You’re the best guy”. However, as the man’s battle of survival comes to an end, the bond between them increases. McCarthy’s message of hope is emphasised at this point, as it shows that humanity is not all lost. There is still hope through the boy, who joins another group with a boy of a similar age to him. The reader may interpret this as a sign of humanity being found once again.
This is symbolic at the end of the novel, as the boy continues his journey with another group and a boy of similar age to him. He has found a group who the reader presumes to be of the same ‘good’ nature. In contrast, in Owen’s ‘The parable of the old man and the young’, the poem shows an old man who is ordered not to touch the young boy, however the man disobeys this and “slew his son”. He then goes on to kill “half the seeds of Europe, one by one”. The poem is similar to the biblical story of Abram, in which the angel represents pity, whereas the ram in the poem can be seen as pride. Owen is urging war-mongers to sacrifice their own pride rather than the “youth” of the nations.
The old man in this represents an authority figure, like many of the generals in the war, who wanted the continuance of war. He is told to kill the pride embedded within himself, however in his arrogance, disobeys God’s wishes. The text is significant as it shows the loss of humanity at a time in which personal arrogance led to the deaths of many young lives. Unlike in The Road, the young soldiers were placed on the front line to fight in the war. They lacked the protection and nurture that the man provides for the boy. As a result of the missing paternal figure, it culminated in a lot of deaths. To conclude, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is symbolic of the hope and humanity’s will to survive at all costs.
The man puts his life on the line several times in order to protect his son. The boy in The Road represents hope and innocence, which is why his survival is so precious for the reader. The paternal love between the man and boy keeps them going on their journey. However, in Owen’s poetry, it is quite the opposite to The Road as there were soldiers who lacked the nurture and protection from a father figure. As a result of this, their resilience and fight for survival gave up more easily, because of that lack of optimism and love. In both texts to an extent, humanity has been lost through cannibalism in The Road, and the large number of deaths in the war.