The Road by Cormac McCarthy
- The Road is the story of an unnamed father and son’s several months journey along a road south to the coast, after the world has been almost completely destroyed. The earth has been scorched by fire and no plants or animals are alive. Only a few people have survived whatever devastating event occurred several years ago and some of the people have turned to cannibalism to survive. The father and son, travel along the road, foraging for edible canned food amidst the ruins, and trying to avoid other people. The son had been born after the devastating event and he might be about 8 years old. Ash is everywhere in the air, presumable blocking adequate light for vegetation to grow despite the frequent rain and snow. The father believes it to be October at the beginning of the story, but hasn’t been able to keep track of the days for years now. Ruins of buildings, vehicles, dead burnt trees and dead bodies are scattered across the landscape. Although the father and his son travel for several months in the story, the setting does not change very significantly. They come across some usable stuff and food in various locations, but death, devastation and distrust covered in ash is all that the earth has become. With this setting, the author creates a world seemingly void of all hope. Even when they finally reach the coast, the situation shows no improvement. The boy’s mother had committed suicide around the time of his birth, leaving the father alone with the child. The father considers his son, his only reason to live. “If he (the son) is not the word of God, God never spoke.” Several places throughout the story, the father refers to his son as his only connection to any god if one existed.
- The theme of the novel is a warning that great environmental destruction could befall the Earth, but despite the desperation, we see an example of positive human existence when the father and the boy don’t feel as if they can go on anymore and all is becoming too hard, the father is able to comfort the boy by saying that things will be ok because “We are carrying the fire”. In a world that seems to have illimitable darkness this perception of “Carrying the fire” provides the father and the boy with hope to carry on. This perception of the fire and the hope that it brings is made ever brighter by the fact that they are surrounded by such darkness. The will of the father and the boy to stay alive is amazing. They are faced with many hardships and events where they could have easily given up. The true distinction between good and evil behavior is how people survived in abandoned civilization and how one encountered its hardships. The struggle between good and evil influences the main struggle of survival throughout The Road.
- The tone is overwhelmingly desperate, but the mere fact the man and boy struggle without giving up to stay alive each day is a testament to man’s will to survive and perhaps to a type of faith. We are left to imagine how you could still believe in a god when he has so forsaken the place, but this is always the contemplation of mankind who has free agency. So perhaps we should always be gratefully and hopeful and in being so, some measure of joy or happiness will exist.
- The author uses frequent foreshadowing and the ending is partly expected with the father dying, but a somewhat unexpected twist leaves the boy with a small amount of hope for the future with a new family. The father is frequently coughing. Ash is everywhere in the air so they wear cloth to help filter it. The father’s cough gets worse as the journey progresses and he starts to cough up blood. Other important foreshadowing is that the boy sees another boy early in the book and periodically talks about him. After the father dies, it is this boy’s family that takes the son with them. The father finally gives in to his disease and dies in the end saying he could not bear to see his son die first. The boy and his father struggle to survive through the story, as they are “good” guys “carrying the fire” looking for other good guys. In the end the son is found by other “good” guys “carrying the fire”. Although the world still remains in desperate destruction, the father’s journey is over and the boy has some hope for the future.
- The characters are mostly revealed through direct characterization. I can’t really imagine the world becoming as depicted in the book, but it is not an uncommon struggle to feel desperate and alone even in a world where survival is “easy”. I find it unrealistic that people have survived for years with absolutely no vegetation, bugs or animals. I would think that at least cockroaches would survive. The story is such an ultra-extreme depiction of an earthly condition that I question the sanity of the main character(s). They are able to survive the impossible situation carrying whatever supplies they find in a couple of backpacks and a shopping cart.
- There are only two main characters in this story, the father and his son. They are developed through direct characterization as you learn who they are through their own thoughts, dialog and actions. Both the characters are quite heroic in nature. The father, although he has witnessed the almost complete destruction of the world, he struggles because of his love for his son to stay alive. The son who knows only this totally desperate world and it’s emanate dangers, trusts and loves his father and shows compassion for those they do encounter on their journey. The father in the attempt to keep his son alive keeps him away from everyone, possible even from those who could potentially help them. They are supposedly on a search for other “good” guys but the father is too paranoid and distrusting to ever find them. One person they encounter in the book grabs his son, so the father shoots him. This unfortunately seems justified as the people, they encounter are either most certainly going to die or are the people who are eating other people to survive. This no win situation for the pair only resolves itself with the death of the father. Despite the desperateness of it all, the father demonstrates that he unconditionally cares for his son. For example when the boy forgets to turn off the valve on a camp stove they found, and the gas that should have lasted for weeks is gone in a day, the father does not get mad at his son instead he takes the blame. The son also shows compassion beyond what might be expected for the situation. He encourages his father to give some food to an old man that they met on the way even though it won’t prolong his life much.
- Although the father has many admirable characteristics when it comes to his compassion and caring toward his son, he is distrustful of everyone else, so it would be a little hard to get to know him. The son seems like someone who would be nice to know because he is caring and compassionate.
- The characters resemble people in real life but the situation they are in is so extreme. I think the characters are developed this way to make the point that even in the most desperate situation, you are defined by your relationship and connection to someone else. Even as the father was dying he tried to pass on hope to his son by saying that his son can talk to him in his imagination after he dies. When his son asks about the little boy he had seen on the way, his father says “Goodness will find the little boy. It aways has. It will again.”