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Female Value: Dead in the Ashes of McCarthy’s The Road

By Marissa Huggins, V Form

Female Value: Dead in the Ashes of McCarthy’s The Road

In a post-apocalyptic world, the way of survival is quite literally “every man for himself.” The few humans that survive the apocalypse are forced back to their primitive states of being and live in constant fear of death. Some survivors, known as “the bad guys,” change their perception of human life and become morally limitless with their methods of survival. The “bad guys” either kill or capture people, depending on the perceived threat or benefit. Thus, the post-apocalyptic world’s culture is one where everyone’s purpose is to sustain his or her own life. Unlike most of the survivors in McCarthy’s The Road, the father and son have a co-dependent relationship that often promotes their survival. While the father may have been upset that his wife killed herself, his wife was wise to end her life and escape her life of imprisonment.

The wife was an intelligent woman who was aware of the reality of her life as a female in the post-apocalyptic world. A normal functioning society, that values a variety of human traits, does not describe the state of the world after the apocalypse. Physical strength served as one of the few advantageous human qualities capable of increasing the value of a survivor’s life. Regardless of a female’s physical strength, she was reduced down, from her already unequal status, to a reproductive system. A female’s sole purpose, in the eyes of males, was to repopulate the earth. The male dominant culture did not see value in a woman’s existence, unless, of course, she was healthy enough to have children or to be eaten alive. Thus, if the wife didn’t kill herself, she would likely be captured, treated horribly by men, and disregarded to have any value.

The wife was both wise and logical. Regardless of her desire to live, she made the conscious decision to end her life because she realized that her life as a woman was not worth living. The wife was not suffering from depression when she killed herself; the decision she made to end her life was purely logical. While she may have had no desire to die in the pre-apocalyptic world, the post-apocalyptic world couldn’t provide her any reason to live. No female wants to be raped, stripped of her already limited rights, and used as a birthing machine. Given the situation of the post-apocalyptic world, the wife was more likely to be abducted, and, therefore, abused, than safe with her husband and son. Being abducted and non-consensually impregnated would rip the wife of her freedom by taking away her basic right to choose what she wants to do with her body. Furthermore, the concept of having a child would lose its meaning. If the wife ever saw her child after she gave birth, she wouldn’t see the child the way she saw her son. Having its freedom ripped away at birth, she would see the child as a being built to destroy the “goodness” left in the bleak world.

The husband could argue that it was selfish of the wife to kill herself. Killing herself did save her from a lot of suffering, but, at the same time, killing herself helped her husband and son. The son and father struggled enough to find food and shelter to sustain themselves, simply finding food for another person would be difficult and burdensome for the whole family. Additionally, in the very likely event that the wife was captured, her son and husband would have to experience the pain of seeing her abused, while not being able to do anything about it. Alternatively, the father and boy could easily be torn apart from the wife, never to see her again, or killed while trying to save her. By killing herself, the wife protected her son and husband from pain and, quite possibly, saved their lives.

Marissa Huggins is a V Former from Lake Bluff, Illinois.  She is a prefect in Pine/Oak, runs cross country, and loves biology. 

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