Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel, The Road, depicts a decidedly masculine subject contemplating a death that is simultaneously imagined as, and as taking place at, the end of the world. As such, the novel invites its dismissal as an extravagantly solipsistic elegy for patriarchy. But despite the narrative’s symptomatic displacement of the protagonist’s wife (the mother of his child), and notwithstanding its desperate idealization of the father-child relationship, The Road nevertheless bears the traces of an ethical encounter with the other that resists humanist or paternalist recuperation. This essay begins by reading The Road’s dystopic psycho-political terrain in terms offered by Melanie Klein and Jessica Benjamin. Klein’s trajectory from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive position (and beyond) provides one way of thinking about how a subject responds to loss (and thus to the fear associated with one’s own or another’s death), but it also offers a persuasive account of the developmental movement in McCarthy’s novel. To what extent does The Road’s horrific mise-en-scène comprise a labor of mourning and a working toward relation? This essay also pays particular attention to the figure of the child in The Road and, by introducing the category of “ethical abandonment,” considers the extent to which McCarthy’s “son” fails to conform to Lee Edelman’s account of a hegemonically reproductive futurism.

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