Sunday, April 13, 2008

The End of the Road (1958)

John Barth
The End of the Road (1958)


“In life,” he said, “there are no essentially major or minor characters. To that extent, all fiction and biography, and most historiography, are a lie. Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story. Hamlet could be told from Polonius’s point of view and called The Tragedy of Polonius, Lord Chamberlain of Denmark. He didn’t think he was a minor character in anything, I daresay. Or suppose you’re an usher in a wedding. From the groom’s viewpoint he’s the major character; the others play supporting parts, even the bride. From your viewpoint, though, the wedding is a minor episode in the very interesting history of your life, and the bride and groom both are minor figures. What you’ve done is choose to play the part of a minor character: it can be pleasant for you to pretend to be less important than you know you are, as Odysseus does when he disguises as a swineherd. And every member of the congregation at the wedding sees himself as the major character, condescending to witness the spectacle. So in this sense, fiction isn’t a lie at all, but a true representation of the distortion that everyone makes of life.

– John Barth, The End of the Road, chapter 6.

One of your colleagues has reported that in his copy of our prescribed text, John Barth, The Floating Opera and the End of the Road (New York: Anchor Books, 1988), p.355, the opening page of chapter 8, is simply repeated over the page, meaning that p.356 is entirely missing.

If you're in the same predicament, here's the text of p.356 from my own copy:

[...] evening of my last interview with Rennie, Joe had not been to school. Shirley, Dr. Schott's secretary, announced that Mr. Morgan was ill, but was expected to return to work any day. The suspense involved in his absence was torturous, to be sure: was he actually ill, or had Rennie confessed her adultery? What was the specific connection between her confession and his absence? Most important of all, what would his reaction be? These were terrifying questions, but while they made me shrink at the thought of finally coming face to face with him, they also worked counter to any suicidal impulses; I could not kill myself at least until they were answered, if no other reason than that from one very special point of view I would never learn whether doing away with myself had been called for.

On the third day, after lunch, Joe appeared at school and taught his afternoon classes. I paled when accidentally I met him in the main hallway between periods; my nervousness was made more excruciating by the fact that we had time to do no more than say hello to each other. He was entirely calm, but my feelings must have shown all over my face. I've no idea how I managed my last two classes.

At four o'clock I went to my office to grade my first batch of compositions, and a few minutes later Joe walked in. The two men who shared the office had gone home. Joe sat on the edge of the desk next to mine.

"How's it going?" he asked.

I shook my head, aching to tell him everything before he could tell me he already knew; but by this time I was so demoralized and confirmed in my weakness that all I could see was the remote possibility that he still didn't know. As long as this possibility existed I was not strong enough to confess, and yet I knew very well that whatever happened to remove it would at the same time render my confession pointless.

"First batch of themes," I said, keeping my eyes on them. "How do you feel? Shirley said you've been sick."

"I have," Joe said. No doubt his face would have told me how to understand this reply, but I couldn't look him in the face. I pretended to examine a theme paper, and clutched at the hope that he was speaking literally.

End of the Road (1970)
directed by Aram Avakian
screenplay by Dennis McGuire, Terry Southern & Aram Avakian
starring Stacy Keach, James Earl Jones & Dorothy Tristan

Critical Responses:

"The principal difference between the novel and the film is that the novel concludes with a harrowing abortion, whereas the film is an abortion from start to finish." - John Simon.

"I would like to refute many of the negative comments about this film. It is the closest, I believe, that an American film of the period came to emulating the look and sound of late 60s' Godard or Bergman's Persona. End of the Road would be be a perfect companion to a series of films that might include Performance, the aforementioned Bergman, Mickey One (which director Avakian edited), or William Friedkin's adaptation of The Birthday Party. I am a big fan of Barth's novel, but I feel this radical adaptation extends the original in a way that is equally groundbreaking. The novel was more about the fifties, while the film is shaped by the explosive events of 1968 - Tet, the Kennedy and King assassinations, student riots, the rise of Nixon/Agnew - which take the whole idea of the novel's "politics of the personal" to another level. A DVD restoration of this misunderstood landmark is well overdue." - Internet Movie Database.


jtre032 said...

Really Important.

Has anyone else found that page 356 (page 2 of chapter 8) in 'The End of the Road' is missing?

Because my page 355 (page 1 of chapter 8) is just repeated instead ruining a great story.

The Writers Group said...

I'm glad to say that my p.356 is perfectly intact. I can copy it and pass it round if anyone else is in the same situation. - Dr Jack Ross

Anonymous said...

Thanks a bunch for page 356 - the version without it is the only copy my library has, and Amazon was no help, either.

The Writers Group said...

Not at all - glad to be of service.