Both Conrad and McCarthy have a way of enticing the reader to feel somewhat repulsed and horrified yet also intrigued. People have a natural tendency to be morbidly curious, for example we become captivated and cannot look away from horrible car crashes. Psychologists and scientists believe that we tend to look at car accidents because the accident provides the observer with a close encounter without being directly involved. Similarly people go and watch tragedies, such as ‘Romeo and Juliet’, despite already knowing the outcome. One could argue that Conrad and McCarthy’s novels contain these same qualities. McCarthy once said, “nobody want to be here and nobody wants to leave” and “you forget what you want to remember and you remember what you want to forget”; which is consistent with people being horrified yet so interested that they have to read on.
In both novels, the protagonists are on a quest in search of some form of hope or enlightenment. However it is journey with complications and the fact that they are looking for something intrigues to the reader and consequently encourages us to continue reading, despite suspicions of that there are dark and horrifying scenes lurking in upcoming chapters. The authors transform gruesome images into irresistible literature. Conrad refers to Marlow’s crew in Heart of Darkness as being made up of mostly cannibals; however, throughout the whole story, true cannibalism never takes place. The members of the crew serve more as a metaphor because they are cannibals in the way that they overstep their rights of another human being; “One of my hungry and forbearing friends was sounding in the bows just below me” representing the Europeans overstepping their boundaries towards the natives. In contrast to this, in The Road cannibalism is reality and an obstacle in the father and son’s quest in getting to the coast and staying alive. One scene where McCarthy illustrates this is when the father and boy discover a cellar and believe there may be food there, but instead there are the decaying corpses and almost lifeless bodies belonging to people who have been captured and imprisoned by cruel cannibals; “On the mattress lay a man with his legs gone to the hip and the stumps of them blackened and burnt. The smell was hideous”. Although the reader is repulsed at this situation, McCarthy keeps us interested as we are intent on willing the father and boy to safety. So that they can avoid that dreaded moment the father has been warning his son “if they find you you are going to have to do it. Do you understand? You put it in your mouth and point it up. Do it quick and hard”. Although in each novel cannibalism has a different meaning, they both captivate the reader because it is such a gruesome topic and one, in our society today, we don’t come across often.
A common theme in both novels is that of good versus evil. Much of Heart of Darkness is concerned with Marlow’s struggle to maintain his sense of morality as power conspiracies rage all around him and the mysterious figure of Kurtz piques his curiosity. Marlow’s desire to do good grows increasingly futile as he is plunged into a world where no absolute goodness exists and the best he can do is choose between a selection of nightmares. The protagonists in The Road sometimes use a private language to describe goodness, "carrying the fire", but goodness merely translates into not eating other human beings and not brutalising those weaker than you. This may seem insignificant but the universe of the novel is so bleak, even small acts of kindness seem heroic. The recurring references to “fire” could allude to the Greek myth of Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods and tried to give it to man. He was consequently punished for eternity. However, man is eternally grateful to Prometheus for donating one of the elements to Earth.
The theme of darkness and lack of light is recurring in