The End of the Road


The End of the Road

"The End of the Road" (1958, revised 1967) is John Barth's second novel. It follows Jacob Horner as he deals with an extreme case of psychological paralysis.

Plot summary

After some therapy with the extremist Doctor D, Horner gets a job as a grammar teacher at Wicomico State Teachers College. There he meets Joe Morgan, who is an extreme existentialist: he has forsaken objective (also most subjective) values and hopes only to live coherently. Joe Morgan actually is quite like Horner, except altogether humorless, tyrannical, without lightness, or sense of caprice or the absurd. “I've no right to expect you or anybody to accept anything I do or say — but I can always explain what I do or say,” claims Joe. Jacob Horner ends up sleeping with Morgan's wife, Rennie, who finds herself gladly taking on the rigid values and thinking styles of the strongest personality around her, being amenable to her own form of hyper-rationality. This development so startles Joe that he implores Rennie to keep sleeping with Jacob. Though she finds this repulsive, or almost so, she wants to placate Joe by remaining consistent. One can readily infer that Joe Morgan would prefer her to be strong and make a decision on her own. Horner's inability to know his own feelings, however precisely and fatuously he describes them, or, as he prefers, his ability to feel multiple things equally the same, maddens Joe, and Rennie as well. Joe wishes both parties to explain, fully and clearly, why they cheated, one of many futile demands in the story.

The seemingly philosophical maze-wandering all ends darkly, with an abortion (performed by Doctor D) that kills Rennie, gets Joe Morgan fired, and sends Jacob Horner back into his paralysis and reinvolvement with the doctor.

Major themes

In the novel Barth deftly explores important themes: the folly of taking philosophies to logical extremes, and the need to accept and embrace paradox as well as be able to combine, or at least try, various and flexible philosophies to survive in the larger world. Horner the distanced main character is extremely introverted, uselessly selfconscious, helplessly observational. As a critique of self-insight, then (or at least of insight without any vital or meaningful involvement), of bizarre therapies, of tediously self-referential debate and a distinctly academic kind of selfconsciousness, of what it means to live (or strongly attempt to live) without emotions or taking them into account, the "End of the Road" is powerful and effective — especially in having the reader identify with its characters' variously destructive impotences. It also is, some feel, an icily compelling take on the academic 1950s and the disconnect between thinking and feeling.

Tragic images, for example of Laocoon, crop up throughout; Jacob Horner is focused particularly on Laocoon's eyes. Too, his first lover declares ominously, “God damn your eyes, God damn your eyes, God damn your eyes.”

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The novel was made into a 1970 movie. Barth expressed his discontent, calling it "vulgar." The loose adaptation was written by Terry Southern, directed by Aram Avakian and starred Stacy Keach and James Earl Jones. It was savaged by critics on its release and was particularly criticised for its violence, most notably for a graphic scene in which the main female character undergoes an abortion. [Lee Hill - "A Grand Guy: The Life and Art of Terry Southern" (Bloomsbury, 2001)]

In popular culture

Michael Stipe, the singer of American rock band R.E.M., has said that the lyrics for the song "Laughing" on their first full-length record "Murmur" were inspired by Barth's novel.

References

*cite book | title=The End of the Road | last=Barth | first=John | authorlink= | year=1967 | publisher=Doubleday & Company | location=Garden City, New York
* Citation
title = R.E.M. fanzine - Murmur
url = http://digilander.libero.it/remfanzine/murmur3.html
accessdate = 2007-07-02


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • The Spine Hits the Road — Infobox Album | Name = The Spine Hits the Road Type = Live album Artist = They Might Be Giants Released = August 31 2004 Recorded = July–August 2004 Genre = Alternative rock Length = 36:04 Label = Idlewild/iTunes Producer = Reviews = Last album …   Wikipedia

  • end of the road — or[end of the line] {n. phr.} The final result or end (as of a way of action or behavior); the condition that comes when you can do no more. * /He had left a trail of forgery and dishonesty across seven states; he had got out of each trouble with …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • end of the road — or[end of the line] {n. phr.} The final result or end (as of a way of action or behavior); the condition that comes when you can do no more. * /He had left a trail of forgery and dishonesty across seven states; he had got out of each trouble with …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • End of the Road (disambiguation) — End of the Road is a 1992 number one hit.End of the Road may also refer to:* End of the Road ( Thunderbirds ), the ninth episode of the first series of the Supermarionation television series Thunderbirds * It s the End of the Road , a pop song *… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road of Kings —   The Road of Kings by …   Wikipedia

  • The Road to Uruapan — ( Destination Uruapan : The Fantastic Conquerors #01) is a novel by Philippe Ebly published in France in 1971.Serge Daspremont and the two Forestier brothers, Raoul and Marc are kidnapped in the Champaign, Illinois airport because they have… …   Wikipedia

  • End of the Road — Infobox Single Name = End of the Road Artist = Boyz II Men from Album = Boomerang and CooleyHighHarmony (1993 re release) Released = 1992 Format = CD single CD maxi 7 single [ Recorded = ] Genre = R B Length = 5:49 Label = Motown Writer = Kenneth …   Wikipedia

  • The Road to Serfdom — Infobox Book name = The Road to Serfdom orig title = translator = author = Friedrich Hayek cover artist = country = United Kingdom language = English series = subject = Politics genre = publisher = Routledge Press (UK), University of Chicago… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road Goes Ever On (song) — This article is about walking songs from The Lord of the Rings. For the song cycle, book, and recorded music, see The Road Goes Ever On. The Road Goes Ever On is a term that encompasses several walking songs that J. R. R. Tolkien wrote for his… …   Wikipedia

  • The Road — infobox Book | name = The Road title orig = translator = image caption = First Edition hardcover of The Road author = Cormac McCarthy illustrator = cover artist = country = United States language = English series = genre = post apocalyptic… …   Wikipedia


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.