This Is the Way the World Ends Critical Essays

James Morrow


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This Is the Way the World Ends is a surreal satirical allegory containing black humor somewhat reminiscent of the work of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. It has the same mixture of bitter wrath and lachrymose sentimentality as Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle (1963), but the allegory is more intricate, the moral debate more elaborate, and the climax more heartrending.

It may seem paradoxical, but certain ideas are so horrific that they can be addressed sensibly only through comedy. The stimulation offered by horror fiction is essentially artificial, and there is no need for such artifice when confronting authentic horrors, which are best described in flat and unemotional language. When the prospects in view defy that kind of reportage, they can be grasped only by means of satirical transformation and the evaluative inversions of sarcasm. As in others of his novels, including The Continent of Lies (1984) and Only Begotten Daughter (1990), James Morrow provides a counterweight to the deluge of black irony in the form of a father’s love for his daughter, an elementary expression of human virtue that constantly reemphasizes the pertinence of the vividly decorated central argument. The book is dedicated to Morrow’s own daughter.

The story presents, in passing, a reasonably complete account of the strategy of the nuclear arms race and the theory of deterrence, arguing that both are seriously flawed. There is irony in the fact...

(The entire section is 522 words.)