Literature Paper

1609 words - 7 pages

In a postmodern world it is worth contemplating in what we can put our faith. Does culture, religion, or God merit our trust? Or is this a world of mechanical and biological evolutionary processes void of any meaning and purpose? The Sunset Limited, “a novel in dramatic form,” by Cormac McCarthy, is a dialogue between two persons who approach each other from opposite worlds to answer these questions. Black, a born-again believer and ex-con, and White, a nihilistic college professor, attempt to determine whether belief in God is viable in this world and if life is worth living. Despite Black’s efforts to convince him otherwise, White remains a Depressed Self who denies God’s existence, ...view middle of the document...

Then as White and Black continue to dialogue, it becomes clearer which things White does not value. Concerning his family, White shares a time when his mother asked him to visit his hospitalized and dying father. White did not go. Despite his father’s subsequent death, White does not regret his choice because he does not put value in family. White also confesses that he “doesn’t want to believe in God” (McCarthy 53). He thinks that religion is an invention which no longer serves a purpose. Thus, these traditional spheres of life, such as family and religion, that have provided meaning to people, have been abandoned by White. Whereas Black’s response to his poor circumstances is that “sometimes faith might just be a case of not havin nothing else left,” White turns to despair (McCarthy 118). White and others like him rely on “the primacy of the intellect” to make sense of the world (McCarthy 96). White explains this belief as putting the intellect first. As Tyburski argues, the logical conclusion of this reliance leaves faith in only one thing for White, the subway train “The Sunset Limited” (2). For Depressed Selves, only suicidal thoughts can be a response to “the meaningless of human existence” (Tyburski 2).
Furthermore, Percy’s list of different kinds of consciousness is enlightening to better understand White’s character and which he would identify with. First, Percy describes the autonomous self as a “sovereign and individual consciousness,” freed from bondage to cultural institutions such as religion or class structure through means such as education and self-knowledge (13). Similarly, White is no longer suppressed by the value of the cultural goods, but “free to pursue [his] own destiny without God” (Percy 13). However, White is best examined under the lens of Percy’s lost self. Percy argues that the lost self is no longer misled by myths or religion but is “both cut loose and imprisoned by its own freedom” (12). White is cut loose from his faith in the “foundations of civilization,” but therefore imprisoned by the “freedom” of having no meaning. He is set loose to drift meaninglessly throughout the cosmos. Percy adds that every advance in knowledge of the universe sends the lost self further adrift (12). It is because White thinks he perfectly understands the cosmos that he is imprisoned to the realization that life is meaningless.
How does White see the world? In response to Black’s confidence in the goodness of people and the world, White argues for his nihilistic view of human existence: “the world is basically a forced labor camp from which workers – perfectly innocent – are led forth by lottery, a few each day, to be executed” (McCarthy 122). White compares life to the Nazi death camps which imprisoned, dehumanized, and executed humans coldly and without mercy. He would affirm that life is nasty, brutish, and short; pain and loss are just around the corner. White argues that evolution could not avoid bringing intelligent life to a...

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