Cormac McCarthy’s "The Road". Social Interactions and Social Relations

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

11 Pages, Grade: 3,3 (1,3)


“Maybe you’ll be good at this. I doubt it, but who knows. The one thing I can tell you is that you won’t survive for yourself. I know because I would never have come this far. A person who had no one would be well advised to cobble together some passable ghost. Breathe it into being and coax it along with words of love. Offer it each phantom crumb and shield it from harm with your body.” (McCarthy, The Road 57)

“Action is rational in so far as it pursues ends possible within the conditions of the situation, and by means, which, among those available to the actor, are intrinsically best adapted to the end for reasons(…).” (Parsons, 1937: 58)

These two epigraphs, the first from Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and the second from Parsons “Structure of Social Action” give us a slight hint about the importance of social relations and interactions and their outcomes. As a consumer of this kind of post-apocalyptic media you’re thrown into these settings by either waking up from a dream or by regaining consciousness. The setting and the “new world order” are already fixed. Either people try to survive for their own while searching and hoping for “others” in order to have a higher chance of surviving, or they are already a part of a community which fights against others in order to survive. In both cases, on the other hand, those “communities” already do exist and in both cases it’s always a question of the “good” against the “bad”. While dealing with post-apocalyptic media several questions came to my mind. How came those communities and groupings and into being? Which role do social interactions and social relations play in order to form a new kind of social system(s), after the (previous-) known world-order got destroyed by an apocalyptic event? Social sciences usually deal with the reasons of social interactions and relations. But they depend on existent fixed social values, rules, laws, morale and religious believes, since those aspects influence the actions of each and every individual. In this essay I’d like to take a look at social interactions of individuals who find themselves in a world where known values, believes and rules seem to be invalid and where the individual survival seems to be the only aim to strive for. But is survival the only need of people? The Road, with its cold, bitter and ashen world, where ethics and morale are lost, where “society”, as we know it, is completely absent is a good basis for this research.

“The science or study of the origin, development, organization , and functioning of human society; the science of the fundamental laws of social relations, institutions, etc.”

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Sociology deals with the relationships between individuals and with ‘social interactions’ which is the building block of society. ‘Social Interaction’ can be defined as an exchange of two or more individuals by using symbols. Those symbols are interpreted and lead to another social action. A behavior, for example a single movement, is defined as an as soon as it conveys meaning. When it’s addressed to someone else it’s a form of social behavior. A social action is given as soon as you expect a reply from the one you just addressed. The next step would be a social contact, which means you do receive a response, a form of interaction. Do these steps happen repeatedly ‘social interaction’ takes place. These social interactions can only take place in in social groups. (vgl. Abels, Einführung in die Soziologie). George Simmel, a German sociologist and philosopher described in is pioneering work on pure social forms a ‘dyad’ (two members) as the smallest form of a social group, followed by a triad (three members) and, of course, lager social groups do exist where these social interactions happen repeatedly. Within those groups the members try to define rules, and design a morale which they seek to live. It’s quite obvious that those may differentiate in various perspectives. Microsociology tries to study social interactions and Ethnomethodology, a sub-branch of it, questions how people’s interactions can create the illusion of a shared social order despite not understanding each other fully and having different perspectives.

“From the point of view of sociological theory the moral order consists of the rule governed activities of everyday life. A society’s members encounter and know the moral order as perceivedly normal courses of action-familiar scenes of everyday affairs, the world of daily life known in common with others and with others taken for granted. They refer to this world as the ‘natural facts of life’ which, for members are through and through moral facts of life” (Garfinkel 1967, 35).

In order to proof his thesis he conducted several experiments which aimed at destroying this ‘social order’ which basically means the constitutive expectation one has. He did this by choosing a ‘victim’ who got confronted with the actions of a cooperation partner who acted against all constitutive expectations in a specific discourse. If the first person’s actions are not matching up to the second’s expectations, Garfinkel believes that the second person would have difficulties to understand the sense of the first persons actions, since every action needs to be rule-governed. Possible reactions might be fear, disorientation, being perplexed or indignation. Every kind of social interaction therefor depends on rule-governed constitutive expectations which are used as an assumption for the interpretation of the behavior of other participants. Talcott Parson, an American sociologist, on the other hand described, regarding to individuals, values are the meanings which are contributed to things and actions. He mentioned that all kinds of social systems derive from the interaction of individuals as a unity.

“Values are modes of normative orientation of action in a social system which defines the main directions of action without reference to specific goals or more detailed situations or structures.” (Parson 1958, S.171)

He claims that values and norms (Ethics) are the essential factors which assure social order. The only question here is of how institutional preconditions of society are to be linked with subjective motivations of agents. Erich Fromm, a German psychologist, sociologist, humanistic philosopher said:

“In order that any society may function well, its members must acquire the kind of character which makes them want to act in the way they have to act. (…) They have to desire what objectively is necessary for them to do. Outer force is to be replaced by inner compulsion.” (Fromm, 1944, S. 381)

As you can see many theories do exist about the function of social-systems. The problem here is, and that’s why I started this essay the way I did, that most theories have significant gaps and other sociologist try to fill these gaps by introducing another theory, but none of them can explain or grabs the exact relation of subjective motivations, existent social systems, or ethics. Instead of skipping theory to theory I’d like to use the finding mentioned above while taking a closer look on “The Road”.

Throughout the book “The Road” there are several social interactions within byads, triads, and other (bigger) social groups, that can be analyzed and interpreted. On the one hand we have the father and his son, which we follow throughout the book. We get to know about their social values, their morality, their rules and their ways of thinking, how they integrate in the new social order of the world.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Cormac McCarthy’s "The Road". Social Interactions and Social Relations
University of Paderborn  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
"It's 'the end of the world' as we know it": The Apocalypse and other End-of-the-World Narratives
3,3 (1,3)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Diese Hausarbeit war meine erste Abgabe. Der Dozent gab mir für den Inhalt, sowie für das interessante, sowie komplexe Thema ein "sehr gut", jedoch gab es aufgrund der nicht eingehaltenen Formalia Abzüge. Diese Arbeit soll als Ideen-Pool gesehen werden, eignet sich jedoch nicht als Beispiel für eine angemessene Gliederung, obgleich der normale Aufbau einer Hausarbeit eingehalten wurde.
Apocalypse, End of the World, The Road, Cormac McCarthy, Social Relations, Social Interactions, New World, Post-Apocalypse, Garfinkel, Diad, Triad, Social Groups, Soziologie, Ethnomethodological Studies, Ethnomethodology, Sozialforschung, Qualitative Sozialforschung
Quote paper
Sebastian Simbeck (Author), 2014, Cormac McCarthy’s "The Road". Social Interactions and Social Relations, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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