Committee Chair

O'Dea, Gregory

Committee Member

Wilferth, Joe; Guy, Matthew


Dept. of English


College of Arts and Sciences


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Place of Publication

Chattanooga (Tenn.)


Meaning has been the topic of much commentary on Cormac McCarthy’s work. Critics posit an array of conclusions about meaning in his corpus, ranging from its impossibility to its excess. Much work concludes that if meaning exists, it is generated from an interplay between the natural world that McCarthy describes in his work and the characters who interact with it. With The Road, McCarthy offers his clearest presentation of meaning as it pertains to human knowing. In this presentation, McCarthy explores knowing through a beginning-in-ending, or palindromatic scheme; he arrives at the origins of knowing by reaching its terminus mirror. The scheme of The Road involves the idea of negative knowledge, which involves the process of unknowing former realities. This process is outworked by the novel’s father, who must unlearn the functionality of a social object-world that had been decimated by an apocalyptic event. McCarthy shows the father and his son entering dwellings and using the objects they find in them to depict this negative knowing, as he employs the literal road as a conduit of knowing; it is the channel that brings the two into contact with knowable things. By the novel’s end, the father’s mode of knowing loses its functionality, which is symbolized by the road’s failure to bring the two into contact with dwellings. Through this, McCarthy indicates that human knowing and meaning has been refigured, its new form embodied in the son.


M. A.; A thesis submitted to the faculty of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Arts.




Apocalypse in literature; McCarthy; Cormac; 1933 -- Road; Fathers and sons in literature; Good and evil in literature


Negative knowledge; Palindromatic schemes; The Road


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America

Document Type

Masters theses


iv, 79 leaves




Under copyright.