Submitted by Sulema Pena
Literature is about identity and its formation; similarly, contemporary literature is about identity formation through the death of a father. This is a recurring theme in the contemporary world expressed through a variety of novels. The idea of fatherhood and identity have always been linked together and can be traced back to Freud’s theory of identity being founded in “fatherness”. A negative connotation tends to be associated with the idea of fatherhood since fathers can be seen as a symbol of control, more so in a totalitarian manner, in which fathers rule everything. Although, in novels such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book offer a kind of gratification of fathers. The Road by Cormac McCarthy tells the story of a father and son who are struggling to survive the ramifications of a post-apocalyptic world. McCarthy works fatherhood into the novel through specific moments when the father needed to be the son’s source of protection and control in order for the son to prosper. In the end, the son is able to reconcile in terms of his father’s decisions and become his own person as a result. The Road is ultimately about the role fatherhood plays in the formation of the self in unusual circumstances. The structure of the novel is interesting because it does not contain any chapters or breaks but rather it is a continuous story. McCarthy has a limited use of punctuation, commas, and apostrophes, which creates a distinct form of structure. This unique structure compliments the overall timeless and mysterious tone of the novel. The dialogue between the father and the son is minimal and conveys to the audience that words are not enough to show the genuine relationship between the two, but rather it represented through their actions. This beautiful father and son relationship is set in a novel that is categorized to be in the genres of Post-Apocalyptic fiction and Science Fiction, which connects back to the overall meaning of the novel. Although the new world is full of death and emptiness, a connection between father and son is still able to prosper and have an impact on the son’s formation of identity. The Road is a novel that is unique from the rest and it is definitely one to read. The reader is invited to experience the post-apocalyptic world that the father and son are living in and is kept in suspense throughout the entire book. McCarthy, through the unusual structure and short dialogues, successfully created a novel that shows the fatherhood and identity formation coincide with one another.
Since the father was the one who protected the son for the entirety of his life, he enabled the boy to begin the search for his own identity. Fatherhood in protection is significant because the father wanted to survive as long as possible; Thus, the father even expressed to the son “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God”. The level of devotion the father had for the son is seen early in the novel when they encounter the “roadrat” (pg. 66) with the truck. When the man with the truck got ahold of the child, the father did not hesitate to kill the man even if that meant using one of their last bullets. There were other instances when the father realized that since the world has been completely stripped from its humanity, he had a difficult decision to make; either the evil in the world would eventually kill the son or he would have to kill the son himself as a way of protecting him. The father had done all he could to equip the child with the knowledge he needed to survive and he enable the son to outgrow him. McCarthy's 2006 novel won the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and is indicative of his writing. As mentioned before, The Road brings an interesting perspective on the roles of the father and identity and the preparation for their children to live without them in some way. This is also a major theme in Alison Bechdel’s ‘tragicomic’ autobiography.
Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is a memoir in the form of a graphic novel in which she expresses dealing with her father's death and her journey in discovering her own sexuality. In the end, Bechdel’s novel is about the complex relationship with fathers and the cruel optimism of the fatherhood one wishes they could have had. Fun Home is seven chapters long, which is narrated by a reflecting Alison who explains the perspective of her adolescent and young adult self. Bechdel also does not shy away from creating her drawings more explicit which can cause some readers to feel uncomfortable which such details of her exploration of her sexuality. The only reason Alison is able to come to terms with her sexuality is because her father was not able to. Alison’s father’s own sexuality shaped the dynamics of the family by hiding his identity, which was the reason for the distance between him and his children. The failure of her father is what enabled her success and the discovery of her true self. The image of Alison playing airplane with her father and the last image of her jumping off the diving board are significant because it shows the progression of her relationship with her father. The first image represents the support Alison needs from her father in order for her to “fly”. In other words, Alison looks to her father for trust and support, despite the barrier that is between them. The last image shows Alison jumping into the pool which was a conscious decision and expresses that she has taken the knowledge her father gave her which allows her to “fly” on her own. Alison is able to outgrow her father just like the boy in The Road and lives her father's dream through her own life.
The concept of fatherhood is different in Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, since the father is absent, although there are other people who fill the role of a father figure. Due to Bod’s family being murdered, he is raised in the graveyard, and through characters such as Silas, the search for his own identity began. Rather than Bod’s identity being formed in his family, it is formed in the family of ghosts in the graveyard with a vampire as his father. The nature of Silas’ identity is not explicitly expressed, which allows the audience to avoid applying certain expectations that are associated with vampires. Vampires are drainers of life, which is what fathers and patriarchies do; they both drain the life of everyone around them and for this reason they are able to exist in their power. Silas is completely inverted since he is a life-giving vampire, and this produces a different image of a father producing an identity for Bod. Through each of these novels, there seems to be an emphasis on father and the complex relationship we as a culture seem to have with them, especially after modernity and Patriarchy. The audience intended for each novels are very different but yet the same story is repeated about the role of fathers in the formation of identity. What is it about our culture today that everyone is obsessed with the idea of the failure of the father or even the gratification of the father as a way of coming to terms with one's identity?