Isolation and Despair in Kafka’s and McCarthy’s Books

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Isolation is a reoccurring theme in both texts. It is highlighted again and again within ‘The Road’ through the use of the boy and the father and in the short stories written by Kafka, such as ‘The Metamorphosis’ and ‘Investigations of a dog’.

It is this isolation which presents us with the despair and nothingness of the characters, as it is widely accepted; to gain happiness you must be socially active to avoid the feelings of loneliness which bring along many negative aspects such as depression, despair and hopelessness.This is presented within some of Kafka’s short stories to some extent. The isolation of the dog in ‘Investigations of a dog’ has led to him feeling frustrated and anxiety; both bring negative effects on one’s health. However in context of the texts this idea can be arguable, it could easily be argued that the isolation within ‘The Road’ is necessary to ones survival due to the cannibalism which has evolved in this post- apocalyptic world.

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‘The Road’ shows isolation through the boy and the father.They are both isolated from man and try to keep their contact and encounters with people to a minimum; ‘On this road there are no godspoke men’ this line shows how McCarthy is suggesting that the man believes there is a loss of good and pious men showing a loss of humane behaviour which therefore gives the man and boy a justifiable reason to isolate themselves. This could be interpreted as a positive aspect of isolation which ensures their well-being as the remaining men in the novel have adapted to cannibalism meaning the boys and the fathers best interest is to isolate themselves.Aristotle stated that ‘we are political animals; he is suggesting that we should all live in ‘polis’ meaning city’s or community’s, This highlights the fact that people who are living in community’s in ‘The Road’ have turned to cannibalism which therefore accepts Aristotle’s idea of ‘political animals’ furthermore shows the positive effect of isolation as the people who are isolated such as the boy and the man; the family near the end of the novel and Ely have restrained from cannibalism and still have some good left in them.

Furthermore this isolation between the man and boy allows the man to express his love towards his son and his affection; “Hold him in your arms. Just so. The soul is quick. ” the man questions his ability here to kill his son to protect him from others harming him in worse ways; the love and passion is expressed through McCarthy’s language.

He concludes that he is unable to kill his son showing the bond between the father and son contradicting the despair and nothingness of isolation and somewhat making the isolation beautiful and complete.Isolation presents a positive, cathartic effect within the metamorphosis. Gregor is shown to be neglected by his family from the outset of the story, he is shown as a character that cares about his family and works hard to support them even though his family do not appreciate his efforts. Kafka may have done this to set up a situation in which it is impossible for Gregor’s family to accept him.

“Let me go to Gregor, he is my unfortunate boy! ’ his shows how despite Mrs. Samsa not being able to handle the sight of her son as a insect; mentally.She still feels empathy and love towards him whereas before this love may not have been portrayed as such. This could link to the life of Kafka as he went through many relationships, despite them not being healthy; his love shared with Felice Bauer was arguably one of his most successful relationships having highlighted to her that life with him would be ”a monastic life side by side with a man who is fretful, melancholy, untalkative, dissatisfied and sickly’.

However Felice still showed love towards him and made their relationship last for up to 5 years on and off.This shows that although the isolation is present, it may allow people around you to feel sympathy and therefore be able to relate with the person in question. However it can be argued that the isolation in ‘The Road’ is negative in that it causes despair and ultimately mortality and nothingness. McCarthy suggests that as people diminish in size and become isolated, there’s the risk that no one will be left at all and that then even humans themselves will have disappeared.

[The Boy:] Are we going to die? [The Man:] Sometime. Not now.This conversation between the man and boy suggests that the man has already accepted that even though their isolation is protecting them from robbers and cannibals, he knows that they will die eventually. Cacioppo highlighted a 1988 Science paper suggesting that social isolation increases mortality this can link to the fact that the man is aware that one day they will run out of resources and food to survive and due to the isolation they won’t be able to replenish their necessity’s to survive ultimately killing them both and resulting in nothingness.

This despair linked with isolation can also link to McCarthy. McCarthy revealed, in a interview with oprah, that his book was ‘a love story to his son’ this may show the isolation between McCarthy and his son and how their relationship may be one of despair on the surface but with love buried beneath it. Memories also isolate him further and distract his continuous struggle to survive. This isolation causes the man to feel despair as he constantly has flashbacks of the past world and particularly his wife.

‘You forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget.This highlights his difficulty to forget the past along with the despair and pain that comes with his isolation; it is almost as if the man is isolated from and unable to accept, the present and is stuck in his past, it is his connection with the past life which is making survival in this post-apocalyptic world difficult for him, this could link to existentialism, and the struggle of finding meaning to ones life, which his highlighted by his flashbacks in the film; ‘The Road. Isolation is also presented with negative connotations throughout Kafka’s stories. The metamorphosis’ presents the character of Gregor in despair despite the fact that he’s finally gotten his wish of escaping his work life, Gregor is overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame at literally having become a parasite to his family; Gregor is shown to be isolated as we learn early in the story that Gregor wishes to quit his job and be free of his family obligations, we also see that he wishes to escape the rigid society which he is stuck within; ‘Constantly seeing new faces, no relationships that last or get more intimate’ here Gregor seems to be implying that he is unable to make connections with people due to his job as a travelling salesman.

This highlights his isolation, despair and frustration that follows furthermore linking to ‘The Road’ as Gregor is feeling isolated from the rest of mankind, also the texts can be linked in that the characters from these texts want to escape from their job or present life’s in order to obtain something that will make feel complete. Gregor’s physical isolation from the outside world in his room speaks to his general alienation from modern society, which expects him to work hard and find a wife, he is isolated and trapped within a consumer based, materialistic society which although he doesn’t physically try to gain escape from, it is a silent struggle.A study that was conducted by Kimmo Herttua concluded that living alone can increase rates of being socially, this could apply to Gregor’s isolation to his room. Overall the presentation of isolation is intertwined in both Kafka’s and McCarthy’s text’s.

They both explore the diversity of isolation through the use of despair and nothingness; were the isolation of the man and son in ‘The Road’ may lead to death and mortality, it is also essential to insure their survival for as long as possible whereas in Kafka’s texts isolation is present and a turning point is used to create a sense of sympathy and happiness. It is such examples that highlight how Kafka and McCarthy play around with typical conventions of certain themes.

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Isolation and Despair in Kafka’s and McCarthy’s Books. (2017, Jul 10). Retrieved from

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