Motherless Apocalypse

The topic of sexuality may seem a bit played out by now, but I think it’s important to discuss it in light of the motherless father-and-son relationship in “The Road.”

It is immediately apparent that there isn’t a central female figure alive in this post-apocalyptic tale. However, through the father’s memories, we learn a little bit about a mother that once existed before the world came to an end. Much like the other apocalyptic films we viewed for class, the female figure is pregnant. However, thats where the parallels end because this mother does not prescribe to the traditional apocalyptic gender roles. For example, we learn that the mother accepts her husband viewing her as a “faithless slut” as she takes “Death” as her “new lover.” (pg. 54) Unlike the other films’ female protagonists, the mother has presumably killed herself as the clock turned 1:17 (the time their world has come to an end). This is in strong contrast to the female characters in Apocalypto and Children of Men who are desperately holding on to their offspring amidst chaos and danger.

Although the mother doesn’t physically exist in the story, she is manifested periodically through the father’s daydreams and nightmares about her. For example, the father has a nightmare in which he fails to save her from some impending danger. Later, he has a daydream in which he remembers the silk dress “clinging to her breasts.” These dreams, from the perspective of the husband, attribute more of the traditional gender roles to the mother as a “damsel in distress” who is a bit more sexualized.

While the mother is not there with her son, the father has taken over the traditionally maternal aspects of parenting. For example, the father tries to soothe his son’s worries by patiently answering his worrying, yet incredibly thoughtful questions about life and survival. At the halfway point where we left off, there is a great sense of peace after they find a safe haven replete with supplies of canned food. Here, the father is preparing meals and washing their clothing – tasks that are traditionally assigned to mothers.

While the father certainly takes on these traditionally maternal roles, I saw him mostly as a desensitized and masculine figure in the son’s life. Although he does a good job of patiently answering his son’s questions, he usually responds with one-word answers and urges him at times to stop asking certain questions. Also, at one point, the father passes along the revolver to his son only to realize that it isn’t a good idea. Furthermore, as a reminder of our conversation in class about a cause we would die for, the father firmly states “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you. Do you understand?” (pg. 73) Last, the continuous reference to “we’re carrying the fire” in response to the son’s worries is a stereotypically macho sign of triumph in the face of no hope.

There is definitely a stereotypically masculine aspect of not displaying emotion, scavenging the forest for food and killing anyone in sight. At the same time, however, some may argue that the father’s behavior is just a natural response to danger and suffering as he attempts to bring his small family to safety. This is a valid point because it’s never as completely dualistic as one would think. However, after having read books and films interpreting apocalyptic tradition, it seems to me that the nameless father in “The Road” is prescribing mostly to the traditionally masculine role of an apocalyptic narrative.

2 thoughts on “Motherless Apocalypse

  1. Hi Ilirjan,

    One minor point (not affecting your astute discussion of the mother’s role) is that the clocks stopped at the time of the apocalyptic catastrophe, but that is not time time of the mother’s suicide. She gives birth to the boy after that day and continues to live for a few years with the father and son before she tries to persuade him that they should all die, and finally leaves to kill herself. As we think about the gendered portraits and follow your lead on the ways in which a strict dualism is broken down in the father’s devotion to the son, let’s pursue more specifically the ways in which the apocalyptic narrative might reinstate certain dualisms even as it questions others. Your discussion made me think about framing last week’s question about what one might be willing to die for to ask: What might we be willing to live for, despite death and devastation all around?

  2. Thanks for clarifying about the time!

    I also thought about that reframing of the question especially when the author says on pg. 26 – “the boy was all that stood between him and death.” It is presumed that as a parent, the father is only living to protect his child. Obviously, I don’t understand first-hand the sentiments surrounding the role of a parent, but it seems to be innate and also expected of parents to sacrifice their lives for their children. It made me wonder if this is the only case where we force ourselves to live in such devastating times.

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