Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
The classic device of the underworld journey has seen countless incarnations in literature, the most popular of which occurs in Dante’s Inferno. While the mythic origins of the hell descent have inspired numerous imitators, very rarely are the biblical origins considered. Focusing on the Old Testament books of Jonah and Job, this study seeks to illustrate the importance of biblical intertextuality as a model for analyzing the redemptive aspects in the hell narratives that precede Cormac McCarthy’s renditions of the journey in Blood Meridian (1985) and The Road (2006). Following theories of archetypal analysis set forth by Northrop Frye, I argue that by defining the descent in metaphorical terms, one is better able to trace the biblical origins of the hell journey in later literature. Using the stories of Jonah and Job as a template, this study analyzes the intertextual aspects of the hell narrative in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” Melville’s Moby-Dick, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Linking these three works allows for a clear trajectory of the shifting attitude concerning the redemptive function of hell narratives, which is later reflected in McCarthy. Treating Blood Meridian not only as a logical continuation of the hell journey, but also as reflective of the twentieth century mindset on redemption, I position Blood Meridian as indicative of the unrepentant nature of modern man, who is neither equipped nor willing to obtain salvation. Then, following McCarthy’s continued exploration of the hell journey with The Road, I argue that McCarthy attempts to modify his views on redemption. In allowing the son to survive—the preservation of goodness—I posit that McCarthy’s ultimate intent is not merely the salvation of the boy, but of the world of the iv reader. Finally, this study evaluates McCarthy’s philosophy of the “one-story”—which is founded in Judeo-Christian belief—as indicative of why the hell descent is so prevalent in literature. Returning to the biblical roots, I conclude that the desire for God’s love and salvation—even in and from death—drives the reenactment of the hell journey.
University of Texas Brownsville