The Ethic Tragedy in John Barths The End of the Road



John Barth (1930- ) was born in Maryland and became a college writing teacher in the early 1950s and has been labeled as the new novelist with absurd factors in his fiction. The majority of the scholars hold the opinion that there has no close relationship between John Barth and other novelist like Joseph Heller, Thomas Pynchon, Kurt Vonnegut Jr. for they regarded John Barth as existentialist and absurdist. With the spread of modern literature in America, some American writers stopped their focus on consciousness and directed toward self-reflection and self-definition. According to Barth, he believes that self is the foundation of understanding the world; he uses his protagonists to represent the emptiness behind the social humbugs.

The new American novelists including John Barth show their crazy towards Einsteinian Relativity and quantum physics. In John Barth’s The End of the Road, Barth’s characteristics have sunk into the absurd dilemma of finding the absolute meaning of the universe and they turned the blind eyes to Einsteinian Relativity. Influenced by European writers like Camus, Beckett and Sartre, the existentialist factors are obvious in John Barth’s first two woks: The Floating Opera and The End of the Road. The “Epistemic Trauma” in modernism has been presented to readers through the dilemma of Jacob Horner who has been caged in the cosmopsis. Cosmopsis is the key word in The End of the Road, which means that one who has the broad view of things can think of nothing to do that accomplishes anything. But cosmopsis also means the realization that nothing is worth doing and no human act has any value, thus ethics is not properly a discipline for human study (Tharpe 1974).

  In his novel, The End of The Road, the characters have lost in the dilemma of defining themselves in the absurd and unstable world. For them, nothing has the rational and logical reasons and this is the representation of Sartre’s existentialist ethics. The majority of the previous literature just gave out the general argumentation that The End of the Road belongs to the existentialist novels but scarce literature has explore the reasons behind the dilemma of the protagonists. In addition to this, they just categorized the ethical tragedies of the three protagonists into one kind but the author of this thesis argues that they are actually three different ethical tragedies: 1, the totally loss of the subjective initiative; 2, the loss of independent subjective initiative and identity; 3, excessively strong subjective initiative to the extent that to compel others to obey one’s own subjective value system. Furthermore this thesis extends the exploration for the deep reasons behind the position of ethical tragedies. The author of this thesis gives out the hypothesis that Barth’s characters’ disability to balance the relationship between freedom and responsibility; the objectifications of women are the reasons behind their ethical tragedies.


 Key words:feminist ethics; objectification; existentialist ethics; freedom; responsibility

























Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………………. 1


Chapter One  The Identity Crisis: Existentialist Ethics…………………………………. 10


Chapter Two  The Objectification of Woman: Feminist Ethics………………………. 19


Chapter Three Freedom and Responsibility: Existentialist Ethics ………………… 32


Conclusion……………………………………………………………………………………………… 45


Works Cited……………………………………………………………………………………………. 48














John Barth was born, with his twin sister Jill, on May 27, 1930, in Cambridge, Maryland, to John Jacob Barth and Georgia Simmons.       In wd wq  Ini 撤消修改Barth’s The Floating Opera (1956) and The End of the Road (1958) in the early stage of his career can be classified as philosophical and ethical novels, which display that he has been influenced by existentialism. In The End of the Road, Jacob Horner has been provided with extreme objectivity and just waits for things to happen. He is a lonely soul without any family ties and tends to depend on no matter what and who comes along. In order to get himself rid of the dilemma, he seeks help from a black doctor who serves as the role of surrogate father to him. In this novel, there are two contrasting views: Jacob Horner believes that “nothing has intrinsic value” and does not have pretense of rationality. His opposite side, Joe Morgan is a cheerful nihilist called by Barth, while Joe notices that nothing has intrinsic value, he acclaims that men must act as if values were absolute. The use of these particular types of men tends to confine Barth’s use of philosophy to ethics. 

  (Scholes xvi) describes John Barth as “the best writer of fiction we have at present, and one of the best we have ever had.” A large amount of critics have been impressed by Barth’s work: the Sot-Weed Factor is been labeled as the twenty best American novels since 1945; the American Library Association voted Giles Goat-Boy one of the Notable Books of 1966; the National Book Committee nominated his first novel, The Floating Opera, for its 1956 award; it nominated him again for his 1968 collection of short fiction, Lost in the Funhouse, and it awarded him half of its 1972 fiction honors for his collection of novellas, Chimera; Giles Goat-Boy attracted enough readers to become a best seller. The sequence of the novels of John Barth represents how he developed as a famous novelist in the later twentieth century. Like many other fledgling peer writers, when John Barth was writing the first two novels of his earlier career, The Floating Opera and The End of the Road, in 1955, he was influenced by the French Existentialism, which plays a significant role in the American intellectual stage of 1950s. As an artist, however, Barth is able to maintain the attempt to reconcile philosophy and literature and no sacrificing one to the other. His work The Sot-Weed Factor makes Barth to be an excellent heir of the European literary tradition but he soon has the feeling to transcend this tradition. 

  With Barth’s books we cannot get a fully understanding of what is going on in one novel until we have read his other novels and tried to achieve a coherent view of them by putting them together. All of his novels are philosophical and been regarded as a history of philosophy when combined them together. The Floating Opera and The End of the Road focus on ethics, especially with the existentialism that exerted a great influence on Barth. As a group, these two novels present an absurd universe that everyone failed to find an intuition of his/her purpose. His next two novels, The Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goat-Boy, are histories of human culture and thereby also histories of philosophy. Barth becomes more interested in ethics and believes that Giles Goat-Boy is an anatomy of epistemology; Lost in the Funhouse and Chimera are with the theme of ontology and aesthetics that made Barth into a existentialist novelist who exploring for the world culture.

   The absence of value and meaning in human life and the exploration for new identity and definition to replace the old has become an obsessive theme of contemporary literature. The reasons behind this phenomenon can be traced back to the end of the nineteenth century, when Nietzsche announced the death of God (Noland 47-56). Another source is Sartre’s theory about the rational and irrational possibilities such as, the negative relationship between the losses of identity and unmoral choices. In the literary history, a large amount of writers have implemented philosophical theories into literature, this is because literature can help the writers to turn the abstract and unremitting philosophy into more easily grasped certain issues, which are easier for common readers to understand. 

  For Barth, it is futile to write traditional realistic fiction because, firstly, all possibilities of plot have been exhausted, and secondly, realism does not exactly represent reality but a kind of true representation of the distortion that people make of life. John Barth was the first to announce that the traditional novel is dead, and that traditional novelistic resources have been exhausted. His short stories, novellas, and novels are focusing on the interaction between reader and text as well as the more fundamental questions of personal identity and the innate absurdity of human existence.

The characters in John Barth’ s The End of The Road are living in the chaos and absurdity, for they cannot find the meaning of themselves and the world. By using ethic theories, this thesis will explore the ethical problems the characters are face with this novelJean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist ethics will be applied to the discussion of the ethic tragedy of Barth’s characters. The feminist ethics of Simone de Beauvoir will also be used to analyze the suffering situation of the female characters in this novel, for the women in Barth’s The End of The Road have became the victims of the game between the male characters. Based on Sartre’s theory on freedom and responsibility an exploration of the causes of this condition will be carried out. 
















Literature Review


   Actions have consequences, and to avoid pain the consequences should be weighed before taking action. Morgan, too thoughtful; Horner, too thoughtless (Morrell 23). (Stubbs 33) claims that although many existentialist factors have been represented in John Barth’s works, nevertheless, he has reinvented the traditional philosophical theories into the modern ones. “Existential innocence” is the key factor in John Barth’s fiction, (William 49-56) mentioned in his literature that the characteristics in the novels of John Barth are in an existential dilemma. “Rational action, therefore, is nothing more than the logical pursuit of goals established by an individual’s irrational nature […] The contradiction inherent in the basis for action only serves to acquaint Barth’ s heroes better with their identities as irrational men” (Stubbs 76). Furthermore, (Hierl 67-69) believes that John Barth can be regarded as a black humorist and satiric nihilist, who is always in the pursuit of excellent literary technics and existential theories as well. (Noland 56-58) holds the opinion that John Barth has the affinity with the moral nihilism in his fiction. The core theme of John Barth’s fiction is “the problem of existence and identity” “The essential problem of the existential hero is the establishment of identity: not only who am I? But also How Can I Be? And How Do I Continue to Be? It is really a problem of freedom; having earned a great price the courage to be, what does one then do? What does one choose?” (Tranchtenberg 12-23). 

   The early novels were written in the wake of Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, the fiction of Samuel Beckett, and such American works as Saul Bellow’s Dangling Man (1944), Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead (1948), and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), which showed strong existentialist influence (Ziegler 1987). Joe is a devout existentialist, whose activities neatly introduce the question whether an “as-if” philosophy is in fact different from the real thing (Majiak 3-5). According to (Smith 110), he has mentioned that learning about death or old age or questioning God’s existence would appear sufficiently traumatic. But Barth describes somewhat more specific and more elaborate experiences. Some scholars believe that Barth is concerned with the theme of illusion and reality–the question of truth. This argument has been approved by (Richard 23), who mentioned that in Barth’s view, the point is no longer to try to find reality because an attempt to discover truth is no more than making distinctions among illusions. (Tharpe 56-57) argues that “Jacob’s useless activity throughout his narrative leads to the death of Rennie and Joe’s despair, the Doctor prescribes Sciptotherapy to Jacob. Jacob then writes The End of the Road, which deals with the story of a Doctor who prescribes various therapies including Scriptotherapy and with an English teacher who knows the articulation and an incipient theory of what life-story means as a gigantic double metaphor suggesting an ethic, an aesthetic, and a metaphysics. Jacob then relives the story that he writes.” Regarding to Barth’s view about cosmopisis, (Times 89 23-26) has wrote about the opinion that Barth is a genius comedian who makes comedy of the universe by describing inconsistency, limitation, relativity and paradox. (Tharpe 12-14) argues that all things in the world fall between the ridiculous and the hilarious but they will eventually fall between ultimate valuelessness and uselessness. 

   In addition to this, (Ziegler 34) mentioned that Barth, in fact, tend to use the existential novel in order to create a self-reflexive issue; he tries to use a strong protagonist as an author who lives beyond the limits of Jacob’s nihilistic world, but turns out to be a paradoxical challenge for literature. With the purpose of emancipating contemporary literature from the existentialist paralysis, he finds out that it is necessary for all protagonists in his novels to find their essence as the precondition of life. (David 56) mentioned that the existentialist is about as absolutist as Christian doctrine or any other that rests on the concept of a superior power. Therefore, either Jacob or Joe presents the weaknesses of existentialism.







Theoretical Basis


In this thesis, the feminist ethics of Simon De Beauvoir will be used to analyze the woman’ s problems in The End of the Road. In her first volume, A History of Sex, Simon de Beauvoir pays attention to the ways in which women have been avoided from obtaining independent identities and destinies for themselves. Simon de Beauvoir argues throughout her work that women’s suffering is due to the acceptance of themselves as Other to men. In existentialist terminology, women are constantly in a state of stagnation, as long as social traditions privilege man’s life, allowing them to find transcendence in their actions. De Beauvoir regards this unequal state of affairs as not being predetermined, she states that “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.” Sex may be fixed, but the definition of gender is stable, for as De Beauvoir shows that although the female species is more confined to her biological functions than the male, this dependence on the body cannot give the explanation for their secondary status throughout the history. De Beauvoir further rejects the notion that sexuality is the main determining factor in social behavior. She explains that the development of female is always shaped by fixed identities, such as The Woman in Love, The Narcissist, and The Independent Woman. In her description of the last type, de Beauvoir speculates on women’s liberation and challenges existing notions of “natural” behavior, arguing forcefully that women must have control over production and reproduction, and men and women must regard each other equally as subjects. 

Since this thesis also attempts to apply Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialist ethics in Barth’s novel The End of the Road, it is first of all necessary to give a brief introduction to Jean-Paul Sartre’ s theory of existentialist ethics. In the oppressive conditions of the Nazi occupation and during the embattled years following the war, Sartre insisted that everyone is responsible for what he or she does and for what he or she becomes or “makes of oneself,” no matter what the conditions are. Sartre later insisted that he always believes that “in the end one is always responsible for what is made of one” (Wylie 89-93). One thing for sure is that as the student of Hegel and Marx and as one who has suffered from physical frailty and the tragedies of the war, Sartre has obtained a deeper understanding of constraints and obstacles for human freedom. Sartre believes that his theory is very much concerned with the question of how people create self and how people try to evade responsibility. 

The central question of existentialist ethics is the value and identity of human beings. According to Sartre, the essence of human and the real existence of human beings, is freedom. Furthermore, the self -freedom has no confine and is absolute; living standard in the society is totally determined by one’s free will. But the daily life has deprived our free personality, so we try to infuse our true selves into the existing style of others. That is to say, when one totally follows other’s thoughts and actions, he/she lives in a life that is absent of unique personality. But at the same time, Sartre stresses the point that the freedom can never be isolated from human beings for when one enters into the society, he has to choose his own identity and take obligation for his choices. To enjoy freedom is never an easy task, all of us have to take the heavy package of freedom. Human beings, at least, are wholly defined by their choices, acts, and values, and therefore by their ongoing responsibility.

There are three major arguments in existentialist: the first is that choice is ubiquitous because all of actions of human beings imply choices. Even when people do not choose explicitly, as they may not do in the majority of cases, their actions bear witness to an implicit choice; the second one is that although in many of their actions their choices are governed by criteria, the criteria that they employ are themselves chosen, and there are no rational grounds for such choices; the third one is that no causal explanation of their actions can be given. For Sartre it sometimes appears as each separate action expresses an individual choice, even if one does not choose, he/she has chosen not to choose. It is plausible to hold that one is free to choose the criteria by which they discriminate the true beliefs from the false ones, but only if this contention is restricted to the field of morals and religions. 





  This thesis will have study the ethical tragedies in Barth’ s The End of The Road and will try to find out the reasons behind these tragedies. Structurally, this thesis will be divided into five parts. The first part is the introduction, which includes a brief introduction to John Barth, his works and some relevant studies of The End of the Road. It then gives a summery of theory of existentialism ethics, the relationship between freedom and responsibility proposed by Jean-Paul Sartre and the feminist ethics proposed by Simone de Beauvoir.

Chapter One will illustrate the identity crisis in The End of the Road by using Sartre’s existentialist ethicsThe immobility of Jacob Horner to make choices and define his identity for all possible choices in a variety of situations will be analyzed in detail. The author will give out the argument that Jacob has been overcame by the lost of subjective initiative. Additionally, another character Joe, who is the opposite aspect of Jacob, always claims that he can find the absolute reasons behind all things and established his own isolated subjectivity. The opposite position of Joe Morgan, who is unable to control his over strong subjective initiative will be explored as well. 

  Chapter Two expounds the women’ s problems in The End of the Road through analyzing the objectification of women by applying Simone de Beauvoir’s theory of feminist ethics. In the process of objectification, which is given by the male characters, the female characters have lost their independent identity and the freedom to obtain transcendence. 

 Chapter Three is devoted to explore the reasons behind existentialist ethic tragedies in The End of the Road. Joe and Jacob are all busy with defining their identities and values system but the same mistake they made is their isolation from the ethics they have to obey. In other words, the author of this thesis will argue that when they freely enjoy the freedom of them, they have damaged the freedom of other’s. And the relationship between the private and public ethic codes has be broken as well. Moreover, they just freely make their choices but do not want to take responsibility for their choices, they are the men who lack the awareness of responsibility and public ethics. The author of this thesis believes that this is the reason behind their dilemma of defining themselves and the world around them. 

The conclusion will present the key points and the limitation of this thesis in a logical way, which might be the useful indication for future studies.



























Chapter One Identity Crisis: Existentialist Ethics


The most typical representation of Sartre’s theory of existentialist ethics is moral nihilism. Sartre describes this mental position as everything is meaningless, thus no one can conduct action as long as being a rational being. The ethic tragedy as the consequence of this position is one will continue to sit and to ponder over the reasons behind everything until being moved away physically (Kalin 56-77). Indeed, this is corresponding with the dilemma of Jacob Horner, who is the protagonist in John Barth’s The End of the Road. At the beginning of the novel, Jacob Horner sitting on beach at the train station just because he cannot persuade himself to get up. He lacks the will — power to adjust situations to his existential needs and these needs begin to swallow him. The Doctor passed by said to him: “Jacob Horner, you mustn’t sit idle any longer. You will have to begin work” (5). Barth describes a universe in which people must encounter with all the big issues for which no explanation exists. 

Kerner claims that Jacob has the feeling that he is “In the psychological sense” (Kerner 23). Jacob can be described as an absurdist, nihilist, antiheroic, and dangling. He told everyone around him that he is a vacuum for he is always being in empty of human emotions and feelings, what is worse, he absorbs the feelings and ideas of others as well. Being with too much awareness of finding an absolute value to choose a moral code or an action that can determine who he is, he has lost in the existentialist ethic dilemma. A man is defined by the responsibility he chooses to take, by his firm opinions. But Jacob dose not have any firm opinions, for he cannot find his responsibility and everything for him is apparently permitted, especially conflicting opinions and inconsistency. Jacob described his own situation like this “There was no reason to go to Cincinnati, Ohio. There was no reason to go to Crestline, Ohio. Or Dayton, Ohio; or Lima, Ohio. There was no reason, either, to go back to the Bradford Apartment Hotel, or for the matter to go anywhere. There was no reason to do anything” (73).

  At the beginning of The End of the Road, Jacob expresses his feeling of absurdity by using the existentialist ethics. Jacob has finished his oral exam for his master’s degree and is puzzled by the question of where to pass his vacation and lost in paralysis. Jacob thinks that no choice is significant, because the action of choosing is unimportant. His uncertainty to make any choice is the consequence of this mental position. When he has arrived at the city that he wants to work in he just wandering around and described himself as “Even checking out of the Peninsula Hotel, moving to my new quarters, and arranging my belongings took but an hour and a half, after which time there was simple nothing to be done” (13). He dose not have any orientation in life and dose not know how to act except provide with people what they want. Jacob states that “I drove about aimlessly for twenty minutes and then returned to my room” (13). The key problem of Jacob’s cosmopsis is why can certain matters be so veritably true when so much appears relative? Being different from Joe and Jacob, the Doctor is not struggle with the absence of absolutes, coldness in the pursuit of rational and ethical basis for action. According to his theory system, the dilemma of knowing how to define oneself and make choices can be easily resolved as long as one accepts the belief that “Human existence precedes human essence, if either of the two terms really signifies anything; and that a man is free not only to choose his own essence buy to change it at will” (Sartre 53). 

   However, only the Doctor can control his amorphousness through the artificially designed method that could be applied to anyone. The Doctor plans to give him a series of therapy that is actually a process of establishing an identity to him and presenting it out more rationally and logically. The Mythotherapy used by the Doctor provides Jacob with a way of defining ego in a world that is full of chance, without being narrowly egoistic. Mythotherapy, in short is the deliberate choice of essence through bold resolve, which means that Jacob has to wear different masks under different conditions. This kind of method only makes the situation worse, for this is actually a temporary “real world” filled with a large number of possibilities and illusions. The Doctor may hold the opinion that when Jacob is able to choose from a wealth of possibilities, because of his freedom to choose from various kinds of alternatives, he might find the value of his identity. But Jacob’s condition has not been improved due to the fact that even though men are free to choose among possibilities, they are not free to transcend their responsibility as an individual.

The Doctor’s suggestion, however, is based on the codes of philosophy instead of the one of ethics, the performance that has no intrinsic values but just a means of avoiding stasis and the immobility nearly has no difference from death. The Doctor believes that his suggestions are made with specific purpose, and thus they serve as a more effective way to solve the dilemma of choice. He maintains that the more one obtains knowledge of the world, the more one feels the complexity of realizing the inadequacy of any role. The attempt to find the absolute in an unstable world totally failed due to the death of Rennie and the continuing paralysis of Jacob. In the Doctor’s theoretical system, for a man who lives in a world that is absent of absolutes, when one is lost in the woods of choices and possibilities, the best way to solve this problem is to narrow down the range of choices and find out some kind of certitude, some kind of rules even though they are arbitrary. The explanation given by the Doctor is evidently absurd, according to Einsteinian Relativity, the world is relatively stable; if people cannot give themselves a stable identity, they will be lost in the dilemma like Jacob and Joe. Therefore, we should find a unique identity that is stable enough and belongs to us for a life-long time and can determine who we are. 

The author of this thesis hold the viewpoint that having too many identities is the another extreme of existentialist ethics for if people having two incompatible masks at the same time and if two masks or even more masks have been put on for too long, people will be puzzled by the uncertainty of knowing which one is our true self. Jacob cannot discover identifiable roles and identities that he must perform to function even as a minimally individual in the world. This kind of nothingness is the major point in Sartre’s existentialist ethics, which claims that nothing in the world have any sense or reason. When he awakes up one morning, he gets the feeling that “Perhaps because the previous day had been, for me, so unusually eventful, or perhaps because I’d had relatively little sleep, I must say I take no great interest at all” (36). 

  Jacob’s immobility to discover an authentic identity in these novels leads him to struggle from the state of alienation from himself and people around him. He cannot find the meaning of the world and lives in isolation and estrangement from the rest of society. According to Sartre, there is no essential thing at the heart of us, our upsurge into the world is on the back of nothing and absurdity, it is underpinned or underwritten by nothing. Jacob is too unstable to have a role and identity for himself because he lacks the ability to find the true and inherent identity of himself. He gives himself the conclusion that “On my weatherless days my body sat in a rocking chair and rocked and rocked and rocked, and my mind was as nearly empty as interstellar space” (37). This kind of identity ethics is not uncommon in Barth’s novels, his characters have no definite roles and identities, nor can they make definite choices, or have stable feelings. To Jacob Horner, this kind of dilemma often happens when he finds himself unable to make a simple choice in the situation that all choices for him are the same. That is because for him, all values and identities are irrationally established and he is in the absence of motives and has no project for his life. Jacob describes his situation as “My eyes, as Winckelmann said inaccurately of the eyes of the Greek statues, were sightless, gazing on eternity, fixed on ultimacy, and when that is the case there is no reason to do anything, even to change the focus of one’s eyes” (73). Therefore, it is extremely difficult for him to prefer one choice and identity to another. He believes that the world he lives in is a kind of chaos that is irrational and absurd. People living around him cannot make sure whether he really exists or not, because he consistently changes his identity and values without taking any responsibility. He encounters the vacuum of identity and self and even he himself questions his own being: “I tell it now to illustrate a difference between moods and the weather, their usual analogy: a day without weather is unthinkable, but for me at least there were frequently days without any mood at all” (37). 

Jacob is a typical representation who is lost in the ethic abyss in which he cannot construct completely subjective value and identity. Jacob himself has the feeling of the absence of identity and values that he can find nothing to insist on neither within not outside himself. Jacob thinks that “Women, children, salesmen, soldiers, and redcaps hurried across the concourse toward immediate destinations, but I sat immobile on the bench” (73). When he encounters with a situation that needs him to make the trivial choices, he lacks the subjective initiative to make decisions. The author of this thesis made a rational analysis of the absurd circle of Jacob:

  1. Sartre claims ” Man is nothing else but sum of his actions.” 
  2. Jacob is nothing because he dose not make any choices and take any actions.
  3. Jacob failed to find out the identity of him because he is nothing.

The deep reason behind Jacob’s inability to find his identity is that he dose not have enough subjective initiative to maintain any mood, attitude or a certain identity for a very long time. He dose not have the ability to make any subjective decisions, he dose not belong to him and he is unable to find a stable identity for himself. According to this, the Doctor gives the suggestion to Jacob “Now, everything we do must be oriented toward choice and action. It does not matter whether this action is more or less reasonable than inaction; the point is that it is its opposite” (67). Sartre believes that self-definition is nothing more the roles one plays, the follower of Sartre–the Doctor then gives Jacob the suggestion that “It is extremely important that you learn to assume these masks wholeheartedly. Do not think there is anything behind them, there is not. Ego means I, and I means ego, and the ego by definition is a mask. Where there is no ego–this is you on the bench–there is no I” (73).

 Committed to the masks, which the black Doctor told him to wear, Jacob accepts the fact that he has no real name, identity and he just lives on the periphery of the law and of the community. Because of his unstable identity, he has failed to find a fixed position and role in the society and therefore being isolated from the social system. There is no solid and strong subjective initiative beneath his shifting moods and identities that can give him enough strength to confront himself directly. Since Jacob dose not have the subjective initiative to control his needs to explore for the absolute meaning behind things, this kind of needs have overtaken him. When he recognize himself making love with Rennie, wife of his friend and colleague Joe Morgan, he has the feeling of trapped due to his incapable of accounting for his motives:


One can go a long way into a situation thus without finding the word or gesture upon which initial responsibility can handily be fixed-such a long way that suddenly one realizes the change has already been made, is already history, and one ride along then on the sense of an inevitability, a too-lateness, in which he dose not really believe, but which for on reason or another he dose not see fit to question (78) 


  For Jacob Horner, all possible choices in different situations are the same because all values and choices are the same for a man who lacks of the subjective initiative of making his decisions. His identity is not determined by his subjective initiatives but by the external environment, it is the people who he meets with, the environment he encounters with determine who he is. No motives can be found in his life he just lives like a ghost with the physical body but no soul at all and he said to Rennie: “Where did you and Joe get the notion that things should be scrapped just because they’re absurd? That’s a silly one for you. For that matter, what could be sillier than this whole aim of living coherently?” (55). After Rennie’s death, Jacob learns that nothing in the world is absolute, rather everything is relative and the world is control by accident. Therefore, the project to find the absolute meaning and reason in this world turns out in vain. When the novel is over, Jacob still cannot find the identity of him and the world around him, so the destination of his exploration of identity turns out to be the end of the road. Jacob Horner, leaving responsibility, identity, belongings behind him, steps into a taxi and indicates with one word his condition and destination: “Terminal.” In this novel, Barth has provided us with the opportunity to consider these identity crises in the real life seriously. And we have been convinced of their potential for providing a method of living in the world that is surrounded by arbitrariness and uncertainty.

  The opposite side of Jacob is Joe Morgan, who thinks that he has already found the absolute values for him turns out to be the tragedy of the identity ethics. While Jacob is confused by how to build a recognizable and stable self, Joe Morgan thinks that he can and has the strength to establish a fixed absolute self. In the identity ethic crisis in which the objective values are rare, Joe establishes his own personal value system, which turns into his absolute code for his actions. Joe has a conversation with Jacob:


“Nothing matters one way or the other ultimately,” Joe pointed out.      “The other importance is all there is to anything.”

“That’s what I meant, Joe.”

“What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t consider a value less real just because it isn’t absolute, since less – than –absolutes are all we’ve got. That’s what’s implied when you say you don’t really given a damn” (43).


In fact, like other two protagonists Jacob and Rennie, Joe is in a quite dangerous situation that due to his rejection of objective values and substitutes them by his own overly strong subjective initiatives. In order to find the absolute value and identity in his heart, he just isolated himself from the larger objective value system in which he lives. He is a grotesque because there is no room in his world for compassion and responsibility, for those are the qualities that offer us the characteristics of humanity. He says, “The usual criticism of people like me is that somewhere at the end of the line is the ultimate end that gives the whole chain its relative value, and this ultimate end is rationally unjustifiable if there aren’t any absolute values” (40). His friend Jacob finds that Joe is totally trapped into his subjective philosophical system, when he talks with Joe, Joe just responds: 


“Four things that I’m not impressed by are unity, harmony, eternality, and universality. In my ethics the most a man can ever do is be right form his point of view; there’s no general reason why he should even bother to defend it, much less expect anybody else to accept it, but the only thing he can do is operate by it, because there’s nothing else” (46).


This kind of extremely subjectivity is the other extreme of ethical tragedy and can by no means be accepted by the modern society. Just like Rennie said to Jacob: “Joe’s real enough to handle you and he is real enough for both us” (68). His friend, Jacob, who is the opposite side of Joe does not have his own subjective identity and value system, he totally submitted to the objective value system around him without having his own. The two characters were both lost in a struggle to survive, either physically or psychologically.

  Joe Morgan has distinguished himself from his identity and public ethic through his emotional coldness and self-affirmed philosophical or rather existential superiority. Rennie describes her husband Joe as “Joe had no friends, because he would expect a lesser degree of the same kind of thing from a friend – expect them to be sharp and clear all the time” (61). He thinks that he is entitled to play the role of God, judge others and treat them as objects because of their knowledge of the ultimate meaninglessness of anything and, thus, the worthlessness of human life. He said to Jacob: “There’s no sense in apologizing because nothing is ultimately defensible. But a man can act coherently; he can act in ways that he can explain if he wants to” (47). At the end of the novel, Jacob’s manic pose and Rennie’s death on the abortion operation table caused Joe to lose control not only of his own value and identity system but also himself, turning himself into a being without a defensible and satisfying stance, and ultimately, during his conversion with Jacob on the telephone, into a being with nothing to say. In this novel, Jacob and Joe can neither make sure whether or not they really exist nor can they decide what is good and what is evil. They have become the invisible men in the community they live in, where they are stuck in the vacuum of identities. In next two chapters the reasons behind this kind of identity crisis will be analyzed.



Chapter Two The Objectification of Woman: Feminist Ethics


 In Barth’s novel The End of the Road, the female characters have been objectified, simplified and abused. What signalizes the suffering of Barth’s women in this novel is that they are the free and autonomous beings like all male characters around them, but they find themselves living in a community where men compel them to accept the role of the Other. In this novel, the female characters have been stabilized as objects and doomed to be inferior to men since their transcendence is to be overshadowed and transcended. Joe and Jacob’s ignorance of the identity of others is one of the factors, which made them lost in the dilemma of chaos and uncertainty. They cannot live without establishing relationship with other people because the relationship with people around them can helps defining their identities and their attitudes toward the world. 

The absurd behavior of Joe and Jacob not only laid a bomb to themselves but also the life of other people other people. They regarding other people as object and try to find their identities and meaning of the world through the objectification of other people. When Jacob meets Rennie, he describes her as: 


Rennie Morgan, though lively, seemed to be a trifle unsure of herself; her mannerism — like the habit of showing excruciating hilarity by squinting her eyes shut and whipping her head from side to side, or her intensely excited gestures when speaking — were borrowed directly form Joe, as were both the matter and the manner of her thinking (33).


Rennie, who is the central female character in this novel, lies in the conflict between the two male victims of ethical tragedy and been regarded as the inessential object that could be used to be the sample of their ethic experiment. In fact, it is her husband who determines what Rennie should be like, what kind of action she should take and what is her true identity. Rennie once complained to Jacob:


“I threw out every opinion owned, because I couldn’t defend them. I think I completely owned, because I couldn’t defend them. I think I completely erased myself, Jake, right down to nothing, so I could start over. And you know, the thing is I don’t think I’ll ever really get to be what Joe wants – I’ll always be uncertain, and Joe will always be able to explain his positions better than I can – but there’s nothing else to do but what I’ve done. As Joe says, it’s all there is” (61).


Being lack of her own conscious identity and value, she just cannot control herself, her comment on Jacob can ironically reflect her paralysis of defining her own identity and personality, and the imitation of the thoughts, feelings and ideals of her husband, Joe Morgan. Joe Morgan dose not show any respect towards women and he said to Jacob: “What really pleases me is that in spite of your making fun of Rennie you seem willing to take her seriously. Almost no man is willing to take any woman’s thinking seriously, and that’s what Rennie needs more than anything else” (45).

  Rennie believes that she has failed to establish her own value and identity until her marriage with Joe. But the fact is turns out to be she has no choice but to mask her own individuality in order to follow her husband. Jacob once asked Rennie: “Why did he cork you once for apologizing, then – twice, I mean. Just for the exercise? Why wouldn’t you dare tell him you felt sorry for him even if you did?” (55). When taking this into consideration, the readers can find out that Rennie’s condition is worse than Jacob, because losing independent identity and becoming the doll in the hands of other people is much worse than not having one. At least, Jacob can decide whether to have the identity and what kind of identity to have. However, the truth for Rennie is much more complicated than her expectation for she is still doubt about herself and cannot perform her imitated role smoothly. After her encounter with Jacob Horner, she begins to regard Jacob as Satan, who seducing her to abandon her adopted identity. On the contrary, she sees her husband Joe as a god because his value and philosophical systems are consistent, moral, and logically right. Rennie’s dependent subjective initiative is the internal cause of her death for she cannot find a correctly stance in her relation with Joe Morgan, Jacob Horner and herself. One day she asked Jacob: “But you think I am a complete zero, don’t you?” (56). During the process of objectification, Rennie and another female character– Peggy Rankin have been compelled to yield to the lust and demands of their male counterparts, they became the puppet and victim of Joe and Jacob even though they try their best to appear to be liberated. The ethic tragedy that Joe and Jacob brought to other Rennie is because they have failed to find the correct and moral relationship between themselves and the people around them. 

 One day, during his chat with his friend Jacob, Joe tells that he beats up his wife Rennie twice after she made an apology to him. When Jacob asks him the reason behind the brutal behavior, Joe explains that Rennie “Always apologized to other people for not having their point of view. One day she did it more elaborately than usual, and as soon as the company left I popped her one the jaw” (78). Joe is aware of the immoral and inhumane domestic violence from the bottom of his heart, for he performs his cruelty after the company has left. He describes his absurd reasons for beating her wife as “She apologized to me for having apologized to other people. I popped her again” (47). The majority of the readers may have already became raged by Joe’s violence and begin to think about the reason behind it but what is beyond people’s expectation is that Joe hits Rennie a second time. It seems that he wants the readers to assess his actions with more direct attention— the abuse violence on women. For him, women is just the accessory to men and the meaning of their lives is to carry out the command of men and make them happy, so he giving his wife cold punches instead of giving warm hugs and showing solicitude. It is not strange that he cannot find the logic definition of himself and the world, for his own definition of himself is based on the sacrifice of the personality and identity of others. Rennie once told Jacob: “Joe just didn’t feel any need for female companionship in itself: companionship to him meant a real exchange of everything on the same level, and sex meant sex, and I wasn’t offering him either” (57).

Influenced by his over strong subjective initiative, Joe claims that his wife Rennie follows him in living rationally and logically, and he has made her into his value image. Rennie tells Jacob how Joe has consumed her in Morgan’s style: “You’re saying that it’s better to be a real Rennie MacMahon than an imitation Joe Morgan, but that’s not self –- evident, Jake; not at all. It’s just romantic. I’d rather be a lousy Joe Morgan than a fist –- rate Rennie MacMahon” (62). People’s angry to condemn Joe’s justification of violence has been stimulated after Joe gave out his subjective reasons, which are based on his own philosophical beliefs. Joe’s exploration for his identity and the world turns out to be the distorted one because his exploration is based his refusal of speaking out his own consciousness of pubic moral codes. In fact, Rennie is the creation of Joe, while the innocent Rennie continues showing her respect for Joe’s consistently devotion to his philosophical system; Joe fails to give Rennie the same respect she deserves. 

In order to test the solidity of the mental abilities which he has taught Rennie to obey, he propose his wife to ride with Jacob alone, which leads to her unethical adultery with him. To provide himself with the rational reason for his unethical treatment to his wife, he claims to his friend Jacob:


If I straighten Rennie out now and then, or tell her that some statement of hers is stupid as hell, or even slug her one, it’s because I respect her, and to me that means not making a lot of kinds of allowances for her. Making allowances might be Christian, but to me it would always mean not taking seriously the person you make allowances for. (60)


From the absurd statement given above, readers can notice that even though Joe believes that he is showing respect and concerns for his wife Rennie, but what he does is regarding her as the second ego of himself rather than an independent human being. Rennie tries to imitate her husband, to become his mirror image and this kind of blindly imitation turns to be tragedy as she claims: “Jake, you haven’t seen how strong Joe is, I guess. That’s the finest thing of all: his strength. He’s so strong that he wouldn’t want me if anybody could convince me I was making a mistake” (62). In fact, Rennie regards Joe as God and she is more like his creation than his wife, therefore, they do not stand at an equal level when they communicate with each other. Joe believes that the subjective philosophical system he has established is the truth of the universe, thus he always compelling people around him to accept his ideas and motives. When he tries to let Jacob supports his philosophy, Jacob refuses to respond in a manner Joe wants, he does not hit him or strike him as he did to Rennie. Joe treats Rennie as his creation and discovers it is much easier to challenge Rennie to comply with his values and standards, which he thinks is useful for him to strengthen his subjective philosophical system. Even though Barth only uses a few pages to describe the domestic violence from which Rennie suffers, people’s attention has been effectively directed toward the issues of fair treatment of women. But people cannot deny that Rennie’s blind imitation of her husband and her loss of independent subjective initiative is the internal factor for her death in the end.      

  Rennie is the representation of Barth’s women, which means neither of them have fully developed identities of their own, but have become whatever their men make them to be. She just automatically accepted the status the traditional conventions and his husband have attached to her. Her inability to voice her revolting opinions and to embrace her own subjective initiative leads Rennie to her downfall. Nevertheless, Joe’s violent actions are caused by his addiction to his distorted beliefs and abnormal subjective initiative. After knowing Joe hits Rennie, Jacob applied this to his treatment with Peggy Rankin, a woman with whom he intercourses. When Jacob gets the news that Rennie has got a baby, he comes to visit Peggy Rankin for recommendation, but to his disappointment, Peggy Rankin has been obviously confused by his story and could not offer him any help. Then, Jacob slammed her just like he himself explains later “I slammed her as hard as I could and ran out of the place” (47). Peggy Rankin said to Jacob: “You don’t even have a common respect for a woman’s dignity!” (94). The fact that he flees the room indicates that he has the awareness of guilty for his improper violence to this poor woman. He feels puzzled by his dilemma and wants to find an object to let off his suffering, and that object in his eyes should be a woman. This kind of action surely lacks of any consideration about moral and ethical awareness. In fact, Jacob’s failed exploration of establishing his own identity is the complete imitation of that of Joe’s, even though it is unethical and unmoral. Now, readers may aware of the suffering living situation of women, the needed responsibility and concerns for woman has witnessed the breakdown. The physical abuse to women is common to see in real communities even the man who performs the violence may be church — goers or is devoted into the charitable work. 

Barth uses his excellent command of words to stimulate people’s attention to the repetitive brutality toward women. Because the description of the brutal scene might stimulate many male readers begin to ponder over their own position as men in the real lives. This novel serves as a mirror to provide people with the opportunity to consider about what protective measures should be taken to give a hand to the suffering women and rethink the traditional unjust image, which has been labeled to women for a long time. The repetitive use of physical violence is beyond comprehension for modern and cultivated readers, people’s shock has turned into anger. The readers have a strong feeling that there is a great need for people to consider about what responsibility should take for the violence that surrounds women. The domestic violence and abuse on women are often forgotten as soon as people get a glimpse of on television or on the newspapers. The woman’s problems in The End of the Road make people to give attention to the violence towards women, which is not tolerated by ethics. 

During the course of the novel, Jacob and Rennie have an extramarital affair, which can be explained by none of them. Joe asked Jacob: “Horner, why in the name of Christ did you fuck Rennie?” (107). And the answer of Jacob has put Rennie in tragedy “I didn’t want to do it, Joe. I don’t know why I did it. Maybe obtuse, but not deliberately. I don’t know what unconscious motives I might have had, Joe, but what ever they were, they were unconscious, so I can’t know anything about them. And, I was thinking, can’t be held responsible for them” (108). After Joe discovered the adultery, he forces his wife Rennie to continue making love with his friend Jacob until she can explain the motive behind this action. Rennie has anguished about her sense of guilty and her husband’s command to force her has enforced her feeling of guilty. Rennie says to Jacob that she neither wants to have sex with Jacob nor rebels Joe’s command and she begins to feel like an object of male’ s desire. In the process of the objectification of Rennie, Joe’s dominance is reasserted. Rennie, like many contemporary women, finds that she is caught between the independent individual who wishes to express her own identity and her another self, the self that in accordance with her role as a woman. Women are passive recipients of male oppression, but have no strength to rebel. Rennie has the strong feeling that the forces of her husband and the society pull her apart and make her into the form of an object. 

During this forced sexual relationship with Jacob, she is pregnant without knowing who is the father of the baby. In the end, she decided to have an abortion and died for choking by the food she had eaten before the operation. Before determining to accept the operation, Rennie tries to commit suicide by trying to shoot herself in the presence of her husband Joe and Jacob. Because of his adherence to his own philosophy that there should be a rational reason behind every action, Joe avoids protecting his wife from committing suicide. It is his friend Joe who pushes the gun away from her. For Joe, however, his wife Rennie is only a small part in his ethic experiment. He explains that his refusal to stop her suicide attempt is made due to his love to her. This is ridicules and unfair for his wife Rennie, for her life is determined by her husband instead of determining by herself. Joe just tries to adopt his believes with all his subjective initiative and power, even the cost is his wife’s life.

 When Jacob and Joe seeking for a doctor to give the abortion operation to Rennie, they just telephone the doctors by alphabet order. And in the end, Jacob let the black psychological doctor, who give prescription to his immobility to conduct the operation. Under common condition, people needs to doubt about whether the doctor is a real doctor; secondly, this doctor tells Jacob that he has never give an abortion operation to a woman. But Joe and Jacob just ignored this and accepted the abortion operation. People can suggest that Rennie is doomed to dead because no one really cares about her destiny. From the ethic aspect, people know that abortion can bring harm to women both physically and psychologically. But Joe and Jacob do not want to shoulder the responsibility of being a father, they leave Rennie to suffer from the pains and torments and put Rennie on the hands of death. However, it seems that Joe is indifferent towards the tragedy of his wife, for he regards her as the object to prove his views. He thinks his wife’s death is not a big case, for this is her mission to help men to realize their dreams. 

When people try to watch this tragedy from Rennie’s point of view, her own complete uncertainty about her own choices makes the possibility of changing her painful situation impossible. She is actually the puppet in the ethic game between Joe and Jacob, and she does not have the independent subjective initiative to find her own position. As the product of the male chauvinistic society, she chooses to follow rather than leads and creates and the beat and abuse she suffers from. During a conversation with Jacob, Rennie tells him that “I think of Joe as I’d think of God. Even when he makes a mistake, his reason for doing what he did are clearer and sharper than anybody else’s ” (89). In Barth’s ethic tragedy, Rennie is the victim who has been beaten by her husband for not being strong enough in her convictions; she is the victim who accepts her husband’s unethical order to force her to have sex with Jacob in order to find the reason for her adulterous action; she is the victim who discovers herself completely follow the strong subjective initiative of her husband but still regard him as God. 

In fact, she has discovered her complete conformity to her husband, but she cannot defend him. She always suffers from the conflict between having her own independent subjective initiative and the fear of betraying the one of her husband. Essentially, she seems like a doll controlled by her husband Joe, and when she refuses to accept his expectations and command, he punishes her. For many times, in the patriarchal society, women fail to improve their situation, because there is a huge obstacle in front of them and that is the traditional decayed perception. They have accepted the label of the inferior position, which has been glued to them for a long time. 

When Rennie cannot decides to commit suicide or not, Joe just keeps sitting and waiting for Rennie’s final decision instead of considering about how this choice might destroy his family. The reason behind this is that he does not want to shoulder the responsibility for his decision’s influence on the possibility of Rennie’s suicide. He makes his wife to follow his views, but under this condition, he leaves Rennie alone to have her own opinion independently. After the death of Rennie, Joe and Jacob all refuse to share public accountability for Rennie’s death on the abortion table. During the investigation of Rennie’s death at Jacob and Joe’s college, Joe claims that ” He does not know who the doctor was or where the thing was done. He just says his wife arranged it on her own and he was not there when it happened” (176). He tries his best not being involved in the cause of his wife’s death and put all the blame on his dead wife Rennie. Although the college in which he works compels Joe to resign from his job, but it is clear that this kind of punishment is not based on the moral and ethical foundation. It seems to have more to do with the reputation of the college rather than the real sympathy on Rennie’s tragedy. Because in the explanation of the firing of Joe, Carter who is the chef of Jacob and Joe claims to Jacob: “This explanation has not showed any compassion to Rennie’ s death, but only concerns with how people’s gossip might lead to unpleasantness such as the damage of the college’ s reputation” (189). The woman’s problem has not got people’s attention and they do not condemn the actions of cruelty to women.

In feminist ethics, Simone de Beauvoir claims that in the male chauvinistic society, man trains women as the absolute Other, who is interior to man through various kinds of manners and ways. Men treat women as passive, negative objects without self subject according to their own need, opinions, and will. This has been presented in The End of the Road: Rennie, who does not have her own identity, values and subjective initiative is the extension of her husband Joe. Joe asserts that Rennie will not have her own life and that she cannot refuse his values and desires. He regards his wife as a vessel through which he can accommodate his innermost desires and needs. He beats her if she does not submit or mirror his belief system for in the eyes of Joe, as a woman, her wife’ s mission is to cater and adhere to the principles of the essential man and work out their formula of life. 

In the male dominated society, women are the products to be consumed by men. As people can witness from The End of the Road, Rennie’s unconditional compliance to her husband indicates her transformation from an independent being into an object whose own identity and values have been controlled by Joe. She regards Joe as her God and imitates his principle of life and his values. People can say that the unequal relationship between Rennie, Jacob and Joe is the typical presentation of man as Self and woman as Other. The relationship between Rennie and two male characters is not uncommon to spot within a patriarchal dominated society. Rennie is actually the private belonging of Joe, for Joe, he thinks that his connection with the world is direct, normal and his understanding of the world is objective; women for him, have defects because they are confined and shackled by their inherent physical flaws. 

As a man, Joe believes that he is the absolute standard for his wife and hence she should submit to his values. She must respect him, adore him and regard his philosophy as her code of life. Jacob has already noticed Rennie’s dilemma:


Now for the first time she saw the real nature of her dilemma: she had to choose between going to bed with me, which was repugnant to her, and lying to Joe, which was also repugnant to her, since the third alternative – asserting her own opinion by simply refusing to comply with his policy decisions at all – was apparently beyond her strength (122).


Under no circumstances could she have her own identity and judgment about herself, the people around her and the whole world. In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir claims that “In the male chauvinistic society, men regard themselves as the essential, the first sex; and woman can only be the object, subordination, the inessential and the second sex” (253). 

Rennie is the absolute Other in The End of the Road, for she cannot give herself the rational reason for her own existence, and besides, her existence is not independent, her feeling of existence need other people’s proof. This can explain why she never refusing her husband’s command of her life even by the means of violence. If one exists as the absolute Other, she essentially lives like the objects for she has lost the status and values as the subjective. Rennie seems never have the will or awareness to become the essential and the independent subjective initiative because she gives up her right as a human being to obey her husband. She cannot argue in favor of her existence through her free creative activities, she is lost in the misunderstanding that she can accept and be respected by the society only by her role as the wife of Joe. People can propose that Rennie is in exile, for her desires and belief systems are based on the control of Joe. Within the dominant relationship between Rennie and her husband Joe, however, Rennis is banished from a subjectivity, which could potentially incite rebellion, stir upheaval, and challenge the strong subjective initiative of his husband.

Rennie’s process of objectification forces readers to give attention to the woman problems either in the novel or in the real life. She is actually by no means born to be inferior to his husband; rather, it is her surrender to her situation that models her to be the possession of her husband Joe. During the process of giving up herself to her husband, Rennie becomes nothing but a mere body, as shape and flesh that presents itself as the object of her husband’s intentions and manipulations. While Joe thinks he can impose his values and desires on his wife Rennie, the fact is that it is she who makes him into thinking he can. Rennie can only get access to life through an adherence to the principles of her husband’s desire. She claims that if she refuses her husband’s philosophy, she has the feeling that she becomes valueless because she obtains value only by relating and bonding herself with her husband Joe. To some extent, Joe is the vehicle through which Rennie can have access to her own subjective initiative. But in this process of action, the thoughts and values of Joe gradually begin to dominate her own even to the extent that she is lost in the immobility to determine from where her own desires and identity have originated.  

Using a feminist ethics approach, people claim that within patriarchal culture, the identification that men experience is impossible for women to experience. Gradually, Rennie comes to mirror the worth that his husband Joe imposes on her and she becomes his private commodity. Her husband has confined Rennie to an objective, immanent being and, then denies her the innate human desire for transcendence and subjectivity. It is not surprising that Rennie accepts her Joe and Jacob’s proposal to have the abortion operation and becomes the victim of and also the agent of objectification. Rennie, as a living being has transformed in to a man-made object by permitting her husband to view her as an object, a commodity, a thing to be possessed. Jacob claims “Reason, or Being; I was the Unreason, or Not-Being; and the two of us were fighting without quarter for possession of Rennie, like God and Satan for the soul of Man” (125). Most may have the feeling that Rennie lives like a caged animal whose own life and happiness is lost. Joe, however, tries as hard as he can to preserve the patriarchal order even by physical violence. 

Rennie’s suffering makes people to believe that man-dominated community is dependent on the unequal relationship between men and women. While Joe can be regarded as transcendence and subjectivity, Rennie is compelled to view herself as object. She has the awareness of her objectification for she says to Jacob she is not strong enough to rebel Joe, which reveals a very real subjectivity in her. In other words, Rennie becomes the absolute Other in the situation created by her husband and the culture in the male chauvinistic society. In the novel, Joe can do nothing when refused by his friend Jacob to accept his philosophy and identity. But when he senses that Rennie feels reluctant to approve his identity and values, he beats her, Joe is a husband who never shows concern and respect to his wife, he turns the blind eyes to ethics for when he has discovered the adultery between his wife Rennie and Jacob. He compels Rennie to discover why she is unfaithful by making her regularly continue the adultery. Jacob thinks Rennie’s situation is worse than his, “Rennie no longer had a position to act consistently with, not even the position of acting inconsistently, and yet, unlike my own, her personality was such that it seemed to require a position in order to preserve itself” (126). This kind of unethical actions stimulated or at least aggravated Joe’s dilemma. In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir expounds that women gradually lost their subjective initiative in the patriarchal culture and become the Other. It is unethical for men to regard women living as physical existence and neglect their transcendence. When Joe makes love with Peggy Rankin, he never cares about their feelings and just regards them as the method to let off his sexuality. Apparently, for Jacob, Peggy’s identity is as much about her body as the implement she uses to contain it. The objectification of Peggy allows for putting the traditional culture code onto her female body for she just loses control of the manner in which she is processed and consumed. Peggy Rankin thinks that Joe never treats her as the equal being as him, and never shows his respect for women.

 In The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simon de Beauvoir claims that human is a kind of being-for-itself, free and transcendent existence. A being can only transcend himself by keeping himself and anyone who make use of the freedom of others to transcend themselves is kind of oppression to others. Joe evidently is not aware of this since he receives his own transcendence by confining the freedom of his wife Rennie and even leads to her death. Jacob treats Miss Rankin and Rennie with utter contempt and he even shamelessly denies his responsibility in the death of the latter at the end of the novel. Rennie, the central female character in The End of the Road, has lost her subjectivity during the process of objectification and consumption given by the two male characters Joe and Jacob. This kind of action has betrayed the ethic principles and leads to the chaos and absurdity from which Jacob and Joe are suffering. 

  Ethics plays a crucial role in people’s community by helping people regulating their behavior and finding their appropriate positions and roles in the society. Whoever turns the blind eyes to it will find him being isolated from the society and lost himself. This fiction offers an opportunity for the readers to have a seriously consideration about the ethic issues they have encountered with in real social life and have a deep insight into the beliefs on social obligation towards women in the contemporary society. 



























Chapter Three Freedom and Responsibility


The author of this thesis assumes that the real tragedy of the characteristics in The End of The Road is not existentialism itself but the tragedy that they have got used to living with this position. Although Jacob has tried to seek for the help from a passing doctor who offers him the treatment of  “myththerapy”, but this is just the strategy of living with this moral tragedy not the way to solve it, therefore, the therapy itself is some kind of nihilism.

According to the existentialist ethics, nobody can live beyond the solar system, which means that the consequences of people’s subjective initiative not only has connection with themselves but also has a inseparable relevance with the collective identities. At the time of establishing people’s individual identity and value system people must take the obligation towards others and the society as a whole into consideration. People are born with the absolute free margin to make choices, even though people cannot offer the rational justification for our choices. But one’s final value for always lies on the duty for his life, which means his responsibility makes up his utmost freedom. Therefore, it is without doubt that people must shoulder the responsibility for the consequences of their actions whether they are negative or positive. 

People cannot have rational logic for all their choices, but one thing for sure is that the end of their alternatives and operation must be morally and ethically fitting. The subjective initiative performed by people must be kind instead of evil, unfair, harmful to others. A man consists of two parts: the perceptual one and the rational one; rational actions are most clearly moral and under the control of balanced initiative. Although, under most circumstances, people are controlled by physical lust and abuse their subjective initiative, but people should not let the lust flow out like the river, instead, they must set up a rational and ethical direction for their decisions. Nobody can claim that in the social activities, however, one’s action is meaningless and without goals because as a member of the interconnected social network, their choices are to some extent determined by certain moral and social codes and regulations. 

In The End of the Road, Joe and Jacob are lost in the moral and ethic dilemma in the attempt to establish a completely subjective or objective philosophical system. Their mad attempt to find their own private identities has brought tragedy to the people around them while made their own dilemma worse. The dilemma of Barth’s characters in The End of the Road is caused by their ignorance of the social responsibility they are bond to shoulder. When they cannot give a clear identity for themselves and the logical reason for their choices, they just abuse their freedom to make decisions, which either damaged their lives or those of people who have been involved. When they perform their actions, they never consider whether the performance is ethically and morally good, which is the basic universal code in conventional ethical judgment. When people are facing certain kind of situation or when they have no ideas of how to make choices, the ethical and moral forms should serve as the guidance. When Jacob Horner and Joe Morgan are making their choices, they have not restrained by the moral and ethical opinions, therefore, their actions are neither appropriate to themselves nor to others. Joe’s tragedy gives out the clue that anyone, who abuses the freedom to choose any set of values without concern about the ethic codes that he has to obey as the social member will put him potentially in conflict with the society. 

In Barth’s The End of the Road the character Jacob Horner lives in a vacuum of ethics and responsibility, he cannot find anything to depend upon neither within nor outside himself and has the awareness of the absence of a luminous realm of values. Jacob once said to Joe after Joe found his adultery with Rennie: “Nothing comes to mind. You don’t accept it when I take full responsibility for everything that happened, and you won’t accept it if I don’t take any responsibility. But in this business I don’t see what’s in between” (114). After finding out the endless possibilities of being and truth, Jacob has lost in the situation of no emotion, no attitude, no self and the moral sense. This kind of immobility also paralyzed his ability to distinguish the black from the white and obscured his ethical line. His mind just becomes empty and emotionless for he cannot define his own identity and the corresponding moral obligation he should shoulder. In fact, Jacob and Joe cannot find their values as individuals until they began to take responsibilities because the exploration for the absolute meaning only leads them from some link of unknown value to another series of unknown. When Jacob is awake, he always being surrounded by the feeling that “As though there was no Jacob Horner today” (38). For his inability to give a definition of his own, he cannot give himself a role to keep it, which leads Rennie to claims:


You know what I’ve come to think, Jake? I think you don’t even exist at all. There’s too many of you. It’s more than just masks that you put on and take off–we all have masks. Bur you’re different all the way through, every time. You cancel yourself out. You’re more like somebody in a dream. You’re not strong and you’re not weak. You’re nothing. (71)


They have just complicated their situation, because since people cannot find out what the absolute reality is, they should simply create one to serve, which is called responsibility. According to Sartre, when one has made choices he must take responsibility for the consequences. For the characters in The End of the Road, conclusion can be made that their paralysis of making choices is caused by their fear of shouldering responsibility. 

According to Sartre, in the modern society, one must take responsibility for his own actions and his destiny and this is because people has the absolute freedom to create himself, therefore, one must take great care of his own selections. Jacob and Joe’s irrational imagination could not help them to find the most appropriate role or identity they could apply to the people involved, including themselves. Jacob Horner and Joe Morgan always facing the guilt over responsibility shunned. As an individual, one should take obligation for not only himself but also the situation he has taken part in. In the world of Joe, he cannot spot the trail of morality and ethics, his sexual relation with Peggy Rankin and his adultery with Rennie are without any purpose or sentiment. This situation leads to the destruction of Joe, Rennie Morgan and Peggy Rankin, who at the same time put Jacob in a more serious state of paralysis. We can say that Jacob is ignorant about his subjective initiative and because of his innocence, he committed adultery without considering the ethic codes. Due to his innocence of having the knowledge of his friend Joe Morgan, he encourages Rennie to peek through the window to see how Joe is like when he put off his masks. What is beyond Rennie’s expectation is that Jacob is threat proves to be true, Rennie sees her husband, who she regards as idol putting his face closely to the mirror and making faces. He also puts his finger in his nostril and at the same time is doing the disgusting sex activities. Rennie was totally destroyed and no one can argue that this does not have any connection with her tragedy in the end. 

According to existentialist ethics, in the real life, no people exist alone and everyone lives in a certain society, which is made up of different kinds of people beside himself. Except for the object things, the society in which people are living also includes other people who enjoy the same freedom like themselves. The relationship between one and other people is not one of comprehending and being comprehended, not choosing and being chosen but the relationship between existence and existence. Like Joe and Jacob, Rennie is also the independent existence, which has the freedom to define her and make her own choices. She is not the object for them to find their own identities, the freedom of Joe and Jacob to make choices has deprived the equal freedom of her to choose. When Joe and Jacob making their choices, they have at the same time making choices for Rennie, for example, Joe’s choice to compel Rennie to have sex with his friend Jacob, which made Rennie became pregnant. The two men’s fear to take the responsibility to be a father stimulates them to make the choice to let Rennie accept the abortion operation. In the end, Rennie has no choice but to struggle between committing suicide and having the abortion operation. Rennie’s freedom of making choices like Joe and Jacob has been expropriated by them. 

In fact, the relationship between one and others can be balanced, it can only be like one is the subjective and others be the objective. Therefore, one’s choices can never be separated from others and the whole society, one’s freedom and the freedom of others objectively coexist in the larger freedom of the whole community. In the later part of the novel Rennie complains to Jacob that “I do not recognize myself anymore,” and Jacob answers, “That is nothing, I almost never do” (137). He accepts that the universe is irrational and absurd because of his lack of plans, values, and the sense of certainty, people around him raise the question that whether he really exists. Rennie Morgan calls him the Devil, principle of “Unreason” and “Not-being” (129). She says, ” I think Jake does not exist at all […] He is nothing” (67). Even Jake himself has the doubt of his own existence:” For me […] there were frequent days without any mood at all. On these days Jacob Horner, except in a meaningless metabolic sense, ceased to exist, for I was without a personality. I had to be colored with some mood or other if there was to be a recognizable self to me” (36). Before Jacob has lost in his first paralysis he already has the feeling that there was no reason to make one choice instead of another, and with his eyes “sightless gazing on eternity, fixed on ultimacy […] there was no reason to do anything–even to change the focus of one’s eyes ” (74). Subject to attacks of paralysis, Jacob finds himself lost in a vacuum of personality and lives in a meaningless metabolic sense, he can only giving definition by using external forces. This kind of dilemma has eventually destroyed Morgan’s strong subjective idealism as well, his exploration of his own identity and philosophy is based on the lost of responsibility. He never considers about his own choices, which have connection not only with himself but also the people around him. 

According to Sartre, men are condemned to be free to carry the weight of the whole world on his shoulder; he is responsible for the world and for himself as a way of being. The free choices are the choices with responsibility instead of choosing at one’s owe will, but Joe’s choices have led Rennie to die and betray the social moral and ethic codes. Furthermore, this absolute responsibility is like what happens to me happens through me, and I can neither affect myself with it nor revolt against it nor resign myself to it. Everything that is presented to me is mine in that this represents me and symbolizes me. From this, the reasons behind Joe and Jacob’s immobility to make choices and define themselves become clear: they do not have the sense of responsibility, no wonder they can not find their own positions and roles in the society. If they have taken on the responsibility they deserve to take, it is not that difficult to understand themselves, for every kind of responsibility is in accordance with one role. 

 John Barth also explores the absence of duty ethics through the characters of Joe Morgan. He says “I feel both men don’t think that because a value isn’t intrinsic, objective and absolute, it somehow isn’t real” (48). Joe Morgan is anguished by his paralysis to give reason and explanation to his own actions. In the pursuit of order, he abuses the subjective initiative in order to conduct rational and consistently act. Joe gives his explanation that his dilemma is the due to the fact that “Nothing matters one way or another ultimately,” and that “one should not consider a value less real just because it is not absolute, since less-than-absolutes are all we have got” (42-43). He declares that these are not logical but can form the basis for a logical system that makes sense for him alone. “That is one reason why I do not apologize for things […] it is because I have no right to expect you or anybody to accept anything I do or say, but I can always explain what I do or say” (47). Joe Morgan claims that the establishment of value must based on the relationship between our desires and the actions, which means people can ever expect to understand or be certain their point of view or their relative values. He maintains his absurd opinion that one’s choice of action and identity should based on one’s desire, it is useless for him to find the order and the logic of the world, because only his own viewpoint and relative values are within his comprehension. 

  Unlike instability of Jacob, Joe is the presentation of stability both mentally and morally. Joe has given up the traditional morality system, he made his best to give the utmost explanation for his action and thought in order to build his own moral system. Joe compels all people around him to cater for his own moral standard with a vigorous attitude, his self-established philosophical position has became the block for him to having any responsibility to others. This kind of activity is nothing but self-serving, for he judges everything by his own subjective code and neglect the feelings and needs of others. He also turns a blind eye to the beliefs of other people by compelling others to live by his code, he just ignore the negative influence he has exerted on those around him. After Rennie tells Joe her adultery with Jacob, Joe neglects the suffering of her wife and tries to explore the logic behind this behavior.  Any normal husband will become raged and desperate when he finds that his loved wife has illegal sexual relation with other men, but for Joe Morgan, who has been addicted to find the rational reasons behind every action, has unexpectedly commanded his wife to continue making love with Joe until he finds the real reason of the adultery. Therefore, it is obvious that Joe’s attempt has ironically become the cause of Rennie’ s death on the abortion table, Joe’s refusal to accept irrationality reveals that his own philosophical views is based on the cost of his wife’s life. 

But to his disappointment, Joe cannot give him the answer he wants. Under his husband’s seduction, Rennie has to meet with Jacob several more times for she has no idea about whether she likes Jacob or not and she wants to find out the answer. The tragedy finally came, when the Morgan couple came to visit Jacob to tell him the news that Rennie has got a baby but no one knows who is his father, the two men’s irresponsible action made Rennie in a dilemma of making choices between committing suicide and having abortion. Jacob never possessing the sense of responsibility, he persuaded one local doctor to give Rennie the abortion operation by telling lies. In sharp contrast to Jacob, Rennie refuses to lie when asked by Jacob to use a false name and story, she tells Jacob she would rather commit suicide than lie. Even as a woman, Rennie chooses to take on her responsibility for her adultery instead of hiding from it and takes people’s disdain and mock as the punishment to her improper actions. The author of thesis believes that she has made atonement for her sins even though the cost is her life and this reveals that Rennie has found her independent initiative. 

Jacob does not make enough preparation for this, and in desperation, he asks the Doctor to perform an abortion at the expense of giving the Doctor all his savings to slink to Pennsylvania together. The Doctor wants to be away from the center of this tragedy and not involved in the punishment of God as well. The Doctor is an unrealistic role in The End of the Road for he is actually not a doctor at all, but he is the only character who has not been overtaken by the suffering of nothingness. He takes other people’s lives as a game and gives prescription to his clients at his will,he has been trained professionally, which is necessary for a doctor. At the end of the novel, he even gives abortion operation to Rennie, which became one of the objective factors behind Rennie’s death. But he also proves that taking ones own responsibility is a sensible way to find identity and that is the reason why when Jacob comes to him for advices, he proposes Jacob to find a job as a grammar teacher. The Doctor advises Jacob to try to maintain his life as simple as possible in order to minimize the number of choices to be made. It is also the Doctor who suggests Jacob that people make sense of their experiences by assigning roles to themselves and others. But the identity does not exist, and the ego is only a mask and they use masks as a seemly perfect way to evade responsibility. 

It is has been universally acknowledged in Sartre’s existentialist ethics that once a person has ascertained his role and choices he must take the responsibility which is in accordance with this role. But Barth’s heroes in The End of the Road maintain the absurd theory that since people are living in a rapidly changing world, it is impossible to insure one mask to be useful in different circumstances. Therefore, each individual should have a variety of masks and identities in his life, and he should choose the right mask, which can best serve his purposes. At the end of the novel, Jacob decides to bring Rennie to the Remobilization Farm but in vain, because Rennie’s unexpected death on the abortion table. Jacob wants to be far away from Rennie’s death for his fear that Joe may call the police. Being suffered from the anguish for several days, Joe decides to give him a call to inform that he will take care of everything. 

   Joe and Jacob have been overtaken by the sense of guilt for their hide from their duty. Joe feels confused and hopeless, he then visits Jacob to ask him to give out an explanation but Jacob himself has lost and desperately knows nothing as well. When encountered with reality, their moral innocence and ethical nihilism have become a demon for them. Joe struggles with the fragmentations of his life and plans to reconstruct his life; Jacob chooses to seek for help from the Doctor because he is still unable to assume the duties in life. Joe Morgan and his wife Rennie have once believed that they have hold the meaning of the universe and are always adherent to moral and ethic standard, but the destiny turns out to be ironic. They have both claimed that they had learned the regulations of the world and had a consistent identity. But what Joe has embraced is nothing but the philosophy of his own while Rennie has no independent one at all. 

   Joe and Jacob have lost sight of the collective identities and the social criterion, they are living in a lie, which is knitted by themselves in order to escape from the obligations they have to take. He says that “A man can act coherently; he can act in ways that he can explain, if he wants to” (40). Giving out the subjective explanation to justify his actions logically is the foundation for Joe to take actions. Joe tends to believe that “The most a man can do is be right from his point of view; there is no general reason why he should even bother to defend it, much less expect anybody else to accept it, but the only thing he can do is operate by it, because there is nothing else” (46-47). In the pursuit for order and values, he tries to define a private world within which he may act consistently and logically. For Joe, the value of his marriage to be the subjective equivalent of an absolute, he seeks to assume absolute control over the philosophical system he has established. Influenced by his strong subjective initiative, he regards himself as God and compels to create his wife into his own image by testing her obedience, punishing her physically and psychologically when she demonstrates her subjective initiative. 

The author of this thesis claims that this is a groundless statement, for nobody can do whatever he wants in the collective community just because he can give his personal explanation for his actions, his actions must be able to be explained by social moral codes. According to Sartre’s existentialist ethics, people are bound to other people by the fact that at one level our consciousness are revealed to us through the very recognition of other consciousness. The term that bridges the subjective and the social in existentialist ethics, and which colors all discussion of freedom and responsibility, is ethics. Neither the Doctor nor his client Jacob Horner has a clearly moral and ethical precept as their guidance. They do not have the conscious to try to bring fresh blood to their status quo, they just keeping adherent to their passive attitude towards himself and people around them. “The things simply are,” and the Doctor quotes, “without attribution the world is everything that is the case.” In their eyes,the world, including human existence, must be accepted as it is for we can do nothing to make a change. In this sense, both the Doctor and Jacob have accepted the already existed absurdity of their dilemma and confronted with it by getting rid of the responsibility. Sartre tells people that there is the idea that when one choosing actions for himself, he chooses for people around him as well, and therefore that everyone has the absolute responsibility for his actions that must respect one and all: 


When a man commits himself to anything, fully realizing that he is not only choosing what he will be, but is thereby at the same time a legislator deciding for the whole of mankind– in such a moment a man cannot escape from the sense of complete and profound responsibility […] Certainly, many people think that in what they are doing they commit no-one but themselves to anything and if you ask them:” what would happen if everyone did so?” they shrug their shoulders and reply: “everyone does not do so.” But in truth, one ought always to ask oneself what would happen if everyone did as one is doing; nor can one escape from that disturbing thought except by a kind of self-deception. The man who lies in self-excuse, by saying “everyone will not do it” must be ill at ease in his conscience, for the act of lying implies the universal value, which it denies. (Sartre 47-49)


The End of the Road can be regarded as an exploration of solution to the ethic issues of the characteristic: freedom and responsibility cannot be separated from the other at anytime and at any places. According to existentialist ethics, when one makes his choices, he has the absolute freedom to make his choices, but this kind of freedom is based on taking other’s equal freedom into consideration. The key argument in Sartre’s theory is that when people respect the freedom of others, this will guarantee their own freedom as well. The deep definition of responsibility is that one’s freedom depends entirely upon the freedom of others and that the freedom of others depends upon his as well. “Obviously, freedom as the definition of a man does not depend upon others, but as soon as there is a commitment, I am obliged to will the liberty of others at the same time as mine” (Sartre 87). Ethics, ontologically, as definition of man, it is confined to man and thus to the individual freedom of others. The real freedom is the one that obey to moral obligation.  

However, Barth’s heroes are stuck in a dilemma in which they have lost in an absurd and paradoxical world where the absolutes to guide and define their actions and choices do not exist. This kind of dilemma is to some extent engendered by themselves, for they try their best to avoid taking the responsibility they have to take, therefore, they can not find the identities and stable roles for themselves. Because every identity and role has its relative duty, if Joe and Jacob refuse to shoulder their respective duty, it is not strange that they cannot find their own identities. Although, they enjoy the freedom to make choices, they have become estranged and depersonalized by the external factors, which means that they must shoulder the responsibility for their choices. A wrong choice will result in the alienation from understanding of him and the truth. Jacob’s immobility to keep an identity, Joe’s almost extreme subjectivity, and Rennie’s nightmare-like loss of independent subjective initiative blackly presents the lack of moral and sense of duty in this novel. 

If Joe takes on his role as a responsible husband instead of being the role as God who crazily explores the rational reasons of everything and deprives the independent identity of his wife, the tragedy of Rennie may be avoided. As a member of the modern community, everyone should find his responsibility, but Jacob cannot see that existence precedes essence in any way that makes it reasonable or even possible for men to choose responsibility in a universe that appears to be both deterministic and erratic. Through the literary technic of John Barth, readers have witnessed two men who refuse to take the responsibility in the social community and whose sense of social involvement has gone without any trace. Joe cannot maintain his civic peace through a respect for lives of other community members, which indicates that he has distorted his role in his society. Joe and Jacob try their best to avoid being involved in any responsibility in order to escape the risks for taking responsibility. However, this kind of not to choose has already become a choice and this choice to some extent has turned to guilt, for everyone should command their subjective initiative in a proper way. 

But at end of the novel, Jacob has sensed the value inside his heart, for he found himself passionately cares about Rennie and protecting her from getting Joe’s gun (146). Jacob began to take care of other people, tried to establish relationship with them and taken the responsibility of a friend or a husband. When taking this into consideration, Jacob has successfully getting rid of his paralysis by taking responsibility he has to shoulder. Therefore, even people cannot resolve the ambiguity in the world; they should embrace the ambiguity that is at the root of their existence, not in a way that would be a negative acceptance of despair and absurdity, but positively so that they take them out of futility of a desire to make the for-itself coincide with the in-itself.

  After having a deep insight into the dilemma of Jacob and Joe, readers can make the conclusion that when people attempt to establish their identity and value system, people should try to avoid the extreme choices like Joe and Jacob. What people should do, however, is to find a balance between being totally devoted in the subjective value system without considering the larger objective one and blindly following the objective one at the expense of losing oneself. In the modern society, when one finds that his value system is in conflict with the one of the public around us, he should however, go along well with the outside one while keeping the unique inner one. Only in this way can the identity, which people have established be the whole and harmonious one.








The awareness of the isolation from social ethical issues in the interpretation of literary works makes scholars to interpret Barth’s novel The End of the Road from the angle of ethics. After reading this novel, Barth’s exploration into the ethic issues of Jacob and Joe, then the apparent abuse of women, the chaos and randomness of identity and the absence of responsibility have been clearly presented in front of the readers. The description of women’s suffering in this novel provides the readers with the opportunity to have the insight into their perceptions of women: in relationship with the male characters, the female characters are the Other who are consumed by the men and just live as the physical being. However, when Joe and Jacob who represent consciousness and activity in the world (what Beauvoir calls transcendence or the pour-soi, for-itself), what Peggy and Rennie represent is being (immanence or the en-soi, in-itself) and are therefore have the absence of their own subjectivity (Beauvior 134-138). 

Rennie and Peggy do not have the independent subjective initiative, what they have, however, is the self-sacrifice to the male characters. The external circumstances and the male characters in their lives have overtaken their identities and values. They are compelled by the male characters to accept their philosophical systems, Jacob and Joe try to obtain their transcendence through the self- transcendence of women. Rennie and Peggy have been avoided from establishing independent identities and destines distinct from men’s. The objectification of the female characters leads to the death of Rennie, which is not only the tragedy of women, but also the tragedy of social ethics.

John Barth’s The End of the Road is also his exploration of existentialist ethics, and the ethical issues represented by Jacob Horner, Joe Morgan, Rennie and the Doctor indicates that nothing in the world has rational, intrinsic value. All of them are lost in the vacuum of identity and the immobility of making choices. Living in the world, which is full of flux and absurd, Barth’s characters cannot establish the identity value system, what they have establish is either lack of subjective initiative or been surrounded by extremely subjective value system that is isolated from the larger one in the society. Jacob’s philosophy is that his paralysis of using subjective initiative and defining his own identity. For him, all the choices are the same, so he has no reason to choice one instead of another. His friend Joe has the manic pursuit of the absolute reason of everything and compels people around him to accept his philosophical system. His exploration of the rational reason behind the sexual affair between his wife and his friend Jacob is actually a manipulation of his own philosophical testing.

Judging from the respective of duty and public ethics, people embrace the concept of individual responsibility that ethic accountability and human equality are crucial to the survival of any modern society. In this novel, however, the two major characters Joe and Jacob enjoy their absolute freedom to make choices and take actions while refusing to shoulder the responsibility for the consequences for their choices and actions. Kalin has mentioned in his literature that the reasons lead to the false of moral nihilism can be concluded as follows: “ (a) relative values are possible even if absolute ones are not, (b) relative values are nonetheless genuine values, (c) because of this, relative values provide persons with reasons for acting, and (d) such values are not the result of arbitrary choices or poses, but rather arise from relations of concern and affection for person and things (Kalin 90).

It is true that in the face of the everyday experiences in making choices and decisions, people are forced to take certain actions without being affected by infinite number of choices. But when people taking actions, the individual responsibility and public ethics into consideration, no one should freely use his freedom by hurting the interest and absolute freedom of other people. Between the private value system and the public one, there is a balanced point, which is the foundation of making choices. If we people failed to do so, they will lose in the same dilemma of Joe and Jacob. John Barth uses literature to mirror the weaknesses in human beings and the ethic crisis in the society. He provides people with the opportunity to ponder on the ethical questions, which people often turn the blind eyes to in the hustle and bustle in the modern life. 

However, this thesis is not perfect and cannot cover every aspect in the study of this marvelously funny novel. The limitation of this thesis is the further research areas of this novel: 1, there exists a close relationship between John Barth’s The Floating Opera, The End of the Road and Giles Goat-Boy, but scare research has study on the relationship of the themes of these sequence novels and the similarities and differences between the characteristics; 2, rare literature try to analyze this novel from the religious aspect.



















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