Readings in the Twentieth Century
This essay will explore the concept of gender and how it interacts with crisis within both Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis as well as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, with the viewpoint that traditional female characteristics lack value in times of crisis. In order to make this assertion, it is essential to first determine what makes up said ‘traditional’ female characteristics, as well as the characteristics of their male counterparts. Mark Kirby asserts that as a result of their socialisation, men have “less of a chance than women to develop emotional skills that would allow them to address the needs of others” and as a result are discouraged from “expressing their emotional needs by a socially constructed dominant masculinity which emphasises aggression and competition”[footnoteRef:1] meaning that they are expected to mask their emotions in order to maintain the façade of being the alpha male type that men are generally expected to be. By contrast, women are generally referred to as the ‘fairer sex’ in society and subsequently are socialised to be weak, fragile beings by comparison to their male counterparts, often being expected to sacrifice their own independence and physical wellbeing in order to aid those closest to them. [1: Kirby, Mark. Sociology in Perspective. (Oxford: Heinemann, 2000) p. 718]
This aforementioned socialisation can be identified within McCarthy’s The Road as the man, his wife and all other mentioned characters, apart from the son, grew up and lived within modern America, before the events that led to it becoming the barren wasteland that it is in the novel. It is therefore highly likely that social attitudes and the accepted culture within the United States conditioned the McCarthy’s characters’ behaviour, as they likely would have been forced to comply with gender stereotypes in order to avoid becoming societal outcasts. Women feature extremely sparsely in The Road as there is no doubt that the story truly focuses upon the paternal relationship between the father and his son, however the role of the boy’s mother, and the characteristics that she is forced to uphold in her life are extremely significant in exploring why she was unable to continue in their time of crisis. As mentioned earlier, women are accustomed to giving up their own independence for those that they love, and can subsequently be identified by these relationships alone, such as the mother or the wife. In the novel, the man’s wife is only referred to as such, not even affording her the title of ‘the woman’ that the man has, illustrating this idea further. She is expected to take on her role of mother to the boy above anything else due to his infancy when the family begins their journey. At the same time, she is also tasked with maintaining the role of the ‘good wife’ in order to support her husband, who truly is taking on his socially designated role as the alpha male by finding f...