The Road is a chef-d’oeuvre novel by Cormac McCarthy talking about the dangers of human activities to the environment. The main characters are an unnamed boy and his father as they walk on a long road looking for food and shelter after an apocalyptic event has struck. Throughout the novel, the protagonists face episodes of good and bad luck in their quest to survive the chilling weather and the possibility of starvation.
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McCarthy uses this novel to explore different themes such as mortality and violence, familial love, compassion, forgiveness, and faith in the face of adversity. The author also uses different literary devices, such as symbols, imagery, allegory, setting, tone, and style to convey the different themes of the novel. This paper is an analysis of the book, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy to understand its themes and the stylistic devices used.
Summary of the Novel
The opening scene of the novel occurs after an unidentified apocalyptic disaster has hit the earth killing the majority of its inhabitants. In the first few pages, the author takes the reader through an isolated landscape full of ash. Along the journey, the protagonists have their first dangerous encounter after meeting the “bad guys” who rape, plunder, and eat fellow human beings (McCarthy 56). The father shoots and kills one of the “bad guys” as he tries to take the boy. After this escape, the protagonists run out of food and water, and in the process of replenishing their supplies, they discover human beings held in a basement store probably as food for the “bad guys”.
The boy and his father flee, and they are lucky to find food and water. They travel south and east to reach the coastline, but upon arrival, they are disappointed to find a gray and lifeless sea. As they head south through a coastal town, the man is hit with an arrow, and he ultimately dies from the resulting wound. Luckily, the boy finds another family and the book ends with the hope that perhaps the few good people will survive and rebuild humanity.
Summary of Book Reviews
Review in The New York Times
Janet Maslin wrote the book’s review in The New York Times on September 25, 2006. The writer focuses on the poetic nature of the book and McCarthy’s mastery of literary expressions as he conjures brutal images of a quickly fading humanity. Maslin says, “This is an exquisitely bleak incantation – pure poetic brimstone. Mr. McCarthy has summoned his fiercest visions to invoke the devastation” (par. 2).
The writer continues to explore McCarthy’s outstanding abilities to describe how the book is a road through hell, paved with desperation. Maslin also explores the different artifacts that the author uses throughout the book. In conclusion, Maslin insists on the book’s outstanding literary mastery by saying, “The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be” (par. 15). The article is well written to highlight how McCarthy uses his literary skills to warn humanity about the consequences of its actions.
Review in The Guardian
The book’s review in The Guardian was written on November 4, 2006, by Alan Warner. The writer starts by contextualizing the book’s occurrences by saying, “This is a very great novel, but one that needs a context in both the past and in so-called post-9/11 America” (Warner par. 1). Therefore, throughout the review, the author interprets the book’s occurrences within the American context. He says, “The other uncomfortable, tellingly national moment comes when the father salvages perhaps the last can of Coke in the world. This is truly an American apocalypse” (Warner par. 9). The writer argues that the book highlights the real apocalypse that the US has caused in Iraq and other places.
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Student Analysis of Novel
The most outstanding theme in this novel is violence, death, destruction. An apocalyptic event has struck the earth causing unparalleled destruction of almost all living things. The scarcity of resources has turned human beings into cannibals, thieves, and murders in a bid to survive the vagaries of the extreme conditions in the post-apocalyptic world. Land and sea lack the vibrancy of life with only ash and darkness covering the place. Death is a constant factor that the characters have to live with. At one point, the boy’s mother decides to commit suicide, but before she dies, she says, “I’ve taken a new lover. He can give me what you cannot” (McCarthy 57).
This personification of death underscores the hopelessness of the survivors of this brutal world. The novel ends on a sad note after the man is fatally wounded by an arrow. He dies painfully, and the misery is compounded by the fact that the son has to watch as his father takes the last breath. Violence is also another constant feature throughout the novel. The survivors of the apocalyptic disaster have become inhuman. The “bad guys” rape, plunder, and kill anyone who stands in the way. Therefore, the only way to live in this unforgiving world is to fight the “bad guys” or flee.
Another notable theme is the power of love even in the midst of chaos, fear, and desperation. Despite the hopelessness that surrounds the protagonists, the father does all he can to protect his son. He assures his son, “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed by God to do that” (McCarthy 77). Early in the book in the opening scenes, the son asks, “What would you do if I died” (McCarthy 11), and the father responds, “If you died I would want to die too… So I can be with you” (McCarthy 11).
The father’s love for the son is evident throughout the events. He even kills one of the “bad guys” who try to snatch the boy from him. The boy’s mother also offers another form of familial love. She chooses to commit suicide instead of staying alive to be eaten and raped like other people. She also urges the father to kill the boy and save him from the suffering and torture that have visited the world. Additionally, at the end of the novel, the orphaned boy finds another family where he is accepted as one of their own. The boy is strange to the family, but he is accepted, which is an act of selfless love.
Faith and perseverance are also other themes highlighted in this story. Throughout their journey, the protagonists have to persevere through harsh weather and the possibility of starvation by keeping the faith that they would soon find “good guys” and habitable lands. The boy has faith in his father and trusts that they would soon overcome their struggles and defeat the constant evil that has been following them. The man keeps on questioning the existence of God. However, despite his doubts and questions, he has the hope of a better tomorrow. This explains why he endeavors to reach the coastal town and probably escape the harsh weather and violence of the “bad guys”.
The road is the most outstanding symbol in this novel. Most of the occurrences in the novel happen on the road as the protagonists travel towards the coast to find habitable places and escape the cannibalism of the survivors. The road symbolizes the human drive to continue living and searching for purpose despite the many challenges along the way. Similar to the man, people have to keep on persevering and continue living and hope for a better future.
The coke can is another symbol to underscore the effects of the capitalistic consumerism that defines most societies around the world. McCarthy says, “…He withdrew it slowly and sat looking at a Coca-Cola” (23). The father stares at the Coca-Cola can as if he is questioning the role that consumerism has played in contributing to the apocalypse.
The flare-pistol also symbolizes the protagonists’ lost hope and questioning of the existence of God. The man shoots the flare-pistol into the ocean, but he does not have any hope that someone would see it. This act symbolizes the total abandonment that the man and the boy are experiencing.
In the novel, The Road, the author, Cormac McCarthy, paints a picture of desolate earth with nothing but horror, chaos, and lifelessness. Death is a constant factor throughout the novel, and it ultimately consumes one of the protagonists when the father dies from the arrow wound. The Road is a riveting and horrifying account of the destruction that human beings can bring upon themselves through the wanton destruction of the earth and its resources. Coca-Cola can symbolize human beings’ unquenched consumerism and its devastating effects. The significance of this book is to highlight the self-destructive nature of human behavior. The novel is significant in contemporary literature as it contributes to the debate on global warming, pollution, and the exploitation of the earth’s natural resources.
Maslin, Janet. “The Road Through Hell, Paved With Desperation.” The New York Times. 2006. Web.
McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. Vintage Books, 2006.
Warner, Alan. “The Road to Hell.” The Guardian. 2006. Web.