I have decided to talk about the calling in two parts, Or else this post would be too long. I doubt this post contains spoilers. There are spoilers, but I believe they are not the kind to ruin the story for you.
What is it? What does it do or how does it affect the characters? Why did Macxermillio call it “father”? Well, this is a complicated answer. I sometimes get confused by it myself and I created it, this is because it has gotten so complex. To try and make this answer easy I will answer this question in the following sections:
- A Metaphor
- An Entity
- Influences and Relations
- A Worldview
The calling is, as alluded to in Cheryl’s notes, a metaphor of clinical depression and other mental illnesses that may come with it. Think of all the symptoms of depression, that is what the calling is. So every time in the book when the character’s say “the calling is getting stronger” or “can you feel the calling” what they are saying is that their mental condition is getting worse. Here is a list of the depressive symptoms prevalent in this book and are constantly referred to in different ways, sometimes indirectly by characters suddenly changing behavior:
- Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness.
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep changes
- Loss of energy
- Concentration problems
- Crying spells
- Extreme sadness and pain
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death and suicidal/homicidal thoughts (should be noted that homicidal thoughts are very rare)
- Neglecting hygiene
- Delusional thinking
I feel there is much more than the list says, but I think you get the point. With self-harm, it is interesting to note that the characters use it so they may feel better for a while(to dispel the calling) but this act is nonetheless a symptom of mental illness. Self-harm can only get worse as it did with Calvin which the trinity refer to when advising Sandy about using self-harm to curb the “weight of the calling”(the psychological pain).
The calling is also a personification of clinical depression and the mental illness that may come with it. In the novel Sandy speaks to the calling, the calling is described as some enigmatic abyss-like creature when it kills Macxermillio. They refer to the calling speaking to them and they do not know whether they should trust it or not. They wonder if it is their guide to the home or it is a product of the universe that is rejecting them since they consider themselves not belonging in this universe.
They did all the homicidal experiments as a way to test if the calling was to be trusted, but that came to no avail that is why they tried therapy. More on this on the fourth section of this essay.
Influences and Relations
So Macxermillio calls the calling “father” when it reveals itself to him right before killing him. This exchange reveals that there wouldn’t be Macxermillio or Macfearson if it wasn’t for the calling. How so? Well, remember the chapter 4 when Sandy meets Mafearson and Macxermillio for the first time? In Chapter 4.2 Macfearson tells him a story of “how it starts”. Read that and come back here if you can’t remember. What Macfearson is telling Sandy or what that reveals is how the depression started and the sense of alienation. The depression made him weird and, as a result, his peers, family, and others rejected him or forgot him. Maybe because he was already in the process of alienating himself as people with depression often do.
As a result of Sandy’s loneliness and alienation (depression) he creates “imaginary friends” or the “imaginary friends” come to him. Therefore the calling (depression) twisted and warped his brain and life until Macxermillio and Macfearson came out of him. In a sense, this makes the calling the father to who Sandy, Macxermillio and Macfearson end up becoming because it shapes their feelings, bombards them with thoughts, distorts their perception and filters their experience. A child who grows up depressed or with depression is very much molded by the illness(the illness influences their identity and what it becomes) if it is left untreated and that is what is being insinuated in the book.
In Chapter 11.5 Macxermillio calls the calling “father” when this insight is revealed to him and the calling calls him “son”. Why did he apologize to the calling? Because he hasn’t been a very good son, he tried his best not to listen to what the calling/depression orders out of him. Since the calling is the stronger force in the book it eventually beats common sense and rationality, aka Macxermillio, and kills him. This alludes to ways in which delusional thinking and some of the ways depression can affect our thinking, often killing rationality, distorting perception and keeping us delusional. That is why Macxermillio goes in the end, because depression, left untreated or not treated quickly enough, only gets worse and more powerful.
If you haven’t read Before the Cult you can find it on Amazon here .