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The Conformity of Cannibalism

by dogs


The Conformity of Cannibalism

As humans, people have always held the morals of society and humanity over the common sadistic nature of animals and vermin. But, when the world is struck with Cormac McCarthy’s apocalypse in The Road, society is faced with the option of upholding social morality, or sinking to the level of callous cannibals for survival. In the ashen and putrid modern world, morals have disintegrated with society as resorting to cannibalism for a food source has become the norm. The diminishing flame of humanity is only kept alive by the tender kindling from the boy, as his saintly personality keeps “the fire” from extinguishing (129). The boy walks through the post- apocalyptic world carrying ‘the fire’ because of his compassionate nature; therefore, he is an alien and outsider to the savage cannibalism of society.

The boy’s sense of moralities makes him a foreigner and sets him outside the conformity of inhumanity. When the boy and the man come across Ely on the road; the boy, ignoring his father’s protests, convinces the man to give Ely some of their precious food. Even when food sources are dwindling and ever can or withered apple someone can get their hands on is a source of life. Despite this fact the boy still gives Ely some food, which, at first glance, thought the boy was “an angel” of humanity (172). Ely is surprised by the boy’s compassion; stating that he has not “seen a fire in a long time” in direct reference to both the physical fire and the fire of ethical values from a forgotten society that the boy carries (172). The boy’s unconscious efforts to keep the dwindling flame alive exemplify his pure morals.

The boy carries the diminishing fire of humanity as he is determined to retain ancient morals and never resort to cannibalism. While on the brink of starvation, the boy asks his father in distress: “We wouldn’t ever eat anybody, would we?” (128). The father, in reply, says that they would never, presenting to the reader how the boy and the father choose the unsullied values of humanity instead of cannibalism. No matter the conditions of the situation, the boy and the father never steal from the living. The boy even makes it a point to “thank the people… who gave [them]” all the food and weren’t able to utilize it themselves (145). The virtuous character of the boy sets him more apart from the remnants of society in both his actions and his appearance.

The boy is the only known pure character throughout the entirety of the book, which makes him an outsider in the modern world. After restating that the boy and the man are carrying ‘the fire,’ McCarthy describes the boy as “an alien” because he is always reassuring that they are living by the moral standards of a forgotten humanity (129). Much like the boy’s pristine and taintless morals, his physical appearance also sets him outside execrable characteristics of the modern human being. His “translucent” skin gleaming light, as his “golden hair” stands out as beautiful in the anemic world of grays and black (129, 152). The fire and withering hopes of humanity, the boy tirelessly maintains at all costs as, even in a world riddled with corruption the boy strives to put others before himself.

It really takes a few fires and a shortage of food to turn a civilized community into a savage band of vermin. Society went from its highest point of success to the survival of the fittest, receding back into the melancholy cave of lost knowledge and hopeless culture. CEOs and beggars become vile varmint as they crouch to the ground, lips stained with the festering flesh of their families. Recoiling and shrinking away from the faint illumination of morality, coruscating from the flickering flame of humanity. Endlessly, the boy tends to the ebbing fire as he carries the remnants of human nature through the murky blackness of the modern world.

Works Cited

McCarth, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage Books, 2006. Print.

P.S: I figured you guys should see one of the many essays that have been consuming my time recently :). I just cranked this one out, it's a little rough around the edges I know, everything is according to MLA standards. Also, on the last paragraph I was just like "screw it!" I've always wanted to write a short story instead of an essay for my English teacher, but I can't do the entire essay a short story for fear I would fail. So I did this instead. Let me know what you think of it and I can change it to something more anyalitical if necessary. Thanks for reading!


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Wed Feb 27, 2013 6:07 am
Morrigan wrote a review...



Hi, dogsy!

Ah, MLA format. My favorite.

While I haven't read this book, this essay certainly will make me think about it when I do read it (it's already on my list of books to read).

Your introduction is much better than any introduction that I'm capable of. Nice work there.

A few things about your essay that have room for improvement:

In general, I would elaborate on your ideas more. Some of the references to the novel in your paragraphs are only explained by one sentence. Make sure you're connecting every idea and reference/quote to your topic sentence. Also, make sure you connect each paragraph back to your topic sentence.

I think you should make your thesis statement a little clearer. I wasn't quite sure what it was until I started reading the rest of your essay.

I think this essay kind of only explains what is going on in the book, though. To really be a good essay, I think that you need to connect the ideas within the book to something outside the book. You have a good start when you say that cannibalism within the book represents conformity. I think you should focus on that more, and show how the book illustrates conformity in a negative light, rather than focusing on how the boy is the last flame of humanity.

The last paragraph gets progressively more flowery. Now, while this might be entertaining, it's going to do nothing for your grade. *shakes finger in disapproval*

Also this side note:

The diminishing flame of humanity is only kept alive by the tender kindling from the boy,
I accidentally read this literally. I thought that you were talking about cannibals burning a boy and using him for light. I then realized my mistake and chuckled at myself.

Altogether, I think you should elaborate more, and make more connections to society itself, rather than staying confined in the realm of the book. I hope that this review was helpful, and that you get an A++ on your paper.




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Tue Feb 26, 2013 3:03 pm
Trident wrote a review...



Hey Tucker, interesting essay here. My thoughts:

Firstly, I have to mention how overrated I thought this book was. I know many people liked it, and I don't begrudge them that, but I thought it was oversentimental and tried to play to peoples' emotions. That little boy was this fake little philosophe. Cormac McCarthy as munchkin-savior. So overbearing to me.

Now, that has absolutely nothing to do with your essay, but if I show a little snark later on, you will know why.

Essay topic

Interesting idea that cannibalism is the form of conformity here. After I read the essay, though, I felt as though you focused more on the moral aspects of succumbing to cannibalism than the idea that it was a conformist behavior.

As humans, people have always held the morals of society and humanity over the common sadistic nature of animals and vermin. But, when the world is struck with Cormac McCarthy%u2019s apocalypse in The Road, society is faced with the option of upholding social morality, or sinking to the level of callous cannibals for survival.


This is a very potent moral argument, and a very aggressive start. However, what promises to be a socialistic analysis quickly dissolves into a ontological moral tirade. The "sinking" and "diminishing" are not based in analytical reasoning (which I believe is the correct approach when discussing sociological ideas such as conformity) but in emotional appeals.

The boy%u2019s sense of moralities makes him a foreigner and sets him outside the conformity of inhumanity.


Aha, see. Already you have transitioned from a sociological and biological function (albeit a taboo one) to an ethical argument. Sociology strives to be neutral and unbiased, while ethics doesn't. The problem with the essay right now, is that you try to claim you are arguing the former while you are arguing the latter.

That said, there is nothing wrong with arguing ethically. It is a very human approach. The problem is trying to argue ethically, while pretending to do so in a scientific approach. It is not! It is a philosophical approach.

Ely is surprised by the boy%u2019s compassion; stating that he has not %u201Cseen a fire in a long time%u201D in direct reference to both the physical fire and the fire of ethical values from a forgotten society that the boy carries (172). The boy%u2019s unconscious efforts to keep the dwindling flame alive exemplify his pure morals.


See what I mean?

Much like the boy%u2019s pristine and taintless morals, his physical appearance also sets him outside execrable characteristics of the modern human being. His %u201Ctranslucent%u201D skin gleaming light, as his %u201Cgolden hair%u201D stands out as beautiful in the anemic world of grays and black (129, 152).


This is a good point, but I hardly see how this relates to your original idea that cannibalism is conformity. Instead of reinforcing that point, instead you seem to be attempting to legitimize your moral argument by pointing out features that McCarthy has included in this child, this "Christ-figure" that will save humanity. But in a sense, this is almost leans toward parody, for this savior is clad in a Western-white moral innocence that seems transcendent of this dreadful world he inhabits.

It really takes a few fires and a shortage of food to turn a civilized community into a savage band of vermin. Society went from its highest point of success to the survival of the fittest, receding back into the melancholy cave of lost knowledge and hopeless culture.


You verge on making a sociological argument here, but it is still laced with moral arguments. What you fail to do is make the ethical and moral justification against cannibalism (forget conformity, which has been almost completely neglected). You simply say it is so. But why should your readers believe it?

You have some beautiful language here, but it seems to mask any potential point you are trying to argue.

Yikes, that was a bit harsh for me. Hope it helps!





"Life, although it may only be an accumulation of anguish, is dear to me, and I will defend it."
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein