Skylar Latshaw ACF Abstract FY13

Foucault's Panopticonic Gaze and Cormac McCarthy's The Road (abbreviated)

American Literature Association: Cormac McCarthy, Ernest Hemmingway and Their Traditions

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is not only considered one of his masterpieces, but also the black sheep of his novels. Many critics and fans of McCarthy note that its post-apocalyptic setting sets The Road apart from the realism of McCarthy’s other works, some even arguing that it should be classified and read as science fiction. The world, deprived of flora and fauna, is certainly an alien landscape, with the few people left shells of who they once were, many resorting to cannibalism.The post-apocalyptic setting of The Road functions differently than the world before the cataclysmic event. Priorities have shifted; survival and medical skills are essential. Sight is by far the most important of the senses, allowing for scavenging and avoiding danger. The novel’s protagonists, an unnamed father and son, are constantly searching abandoned houses for food, hiding from cannibals, scouting and keeping watch. The ocular is survival.

As concrete as the ocular is, it goes beyond the literal in The Road. A component of sight, “the gaze,” the ability to see and be seen, becomes a psychological obsession with the father, informing his actions, outlook, and goals. Although “the gaze” is a term used by several critics and philosophers (including Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Lacan), Michel Foucault’s panopticonic gaze is most apt to apply to the father’s situation. By viewing the father through this lens, my paper reveals how much of an impact Foucault’s panopticonic gaze has on the father in The Road. The gaze creates in him an anxiety of surveillance, isolation from other people and, ultimately, a consistent sense of fear. I argue that it is the father’s own psyche that is not only both the greatest help and hindrance to him and his son, but also an insightful framework to view the novel’s key themes–especially good and evil, religion, and generosity–through.


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