Emily Minzel, April 2, 2014 (view all comments by Emily Minzel)
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is not what I was expecting. The novel follows a father and his son in a post-apocalyptic world, travelling to the southern coast. Their struggle to survive dominates the story. The somber tone of the novel is depressing throughout and never wavers. McCarthy’s decision to abandon the readers with an unhappy ending was intentional, leaving them wanting more. The boy and his father’s fight for life in McCarthy’s The Road is brought on by the post-apocalyptic, dull world they live in. The unchanging and relatively uneventful plot portrays a devastating journey that turns readers off.
The setting of The Road is dreary to say the least. Ash covers all. Everything is described as black, filthy and lifeless. Each night is “dark beyond darkness” (3) so nothing is visible. McCarthy describes everything in this way to emphasize the horrible conditions the world is in. No specific information is given throughout the entire book. Readers remain unaware of the names of characters, where exactly they are located and how long the world has been in ruins. The boy is most likely a pre-teen, but no age is ever included. One bit of information provided is the boy does not remember the previous world at all because he was too young. The father does everything he can to keep the boy alive. Hunger becomes a constant reminder of how he cannot provide for himself or his own son. While it pains the two, many “bad people” resort to cannibalism. The boy sees a “charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit” (198). This would scar any normal child, but the boy is almost resilient. Feelings of hunger, cold, and sadness are always present; sometimes they come in pairs. In the tragic end, the father finally dies, but the boy lives on, “carrying the fire” (283).
Many novels are full of literary elements that provide interesting detail, but The Road excludes most elements to showcase its uniqueness. McCarthy’s choice to eliminate important literary devices is intentional, but lacks purpose. The missing punctuation and terrible grammar is careless and overrated. McCarthy notes, “he drained away the filthy water he sat in and laved fresh warm water over him from the pan and wrapped him again in a blanket”, proposing a run-on sentence. The act is very common in the novel. If it was a way to show the toll the world has taken on the characters, it failed. Characters, as mentioned, remain nameless, which are in need of personal connections. Readers do not respond as well to the characters because all they have to call them is “the boy” and “the father”. They want something personal to latch onto, even if it is just a name. Also, the plot remains anticlimactic. The only major event happens in the very last pages of the novel when the father dies. The boy is left to fend for himself until someone comes for him. He joins a group of people, the group he and his father were looking for the whole time. Although it presents itself like a hopeful ending, it is just the opposite. The story focuses on the father protecting the son, but in the end, he cannot even protect himself. The tone of The Road is constant throughout. The depressing, heartbreaking tone feels like a burden on the soul. Dialogue is another omitted component. Though there is a little of it, the dialogue is not very prominent. It stays in the background, not playing a key role. The author does this to communicate that speaking is not everything. The fears and thoughts that go on in a character’s head is just as important, if not more than dialogue between them. Overall, McCarthy’s novel is missing key elements of literature.
When considering the book as a whole, it is still intriguing even though it lacks action. For the majority, the father and son are only walking. The road they travel is bare, dark and cold. The same ideas are regurgitated over and over again. Hunger comes up in so many instances that it is odd when the pair are not speaking of it. For me, it was obnoxious to be told multiple times that the same thing was happening. I wanted more twists and turns in the plot. I found myself to be bored with the storyline, wishing for excitement. At the same time, McCarthy’s artistic choices left me in awe. He was very specific with the relationship the father and son had. The son’s backlash against his father illustrates his coming of age in a confusing world. The major issue deals with lack of hope. The major theme is when hopelessness sinks in, there is not a lot to do about it. Their journey to the coast is filled with hope that better life will be waiting. Without hope, the son and father give up. The man proclaims, “hope is for eternal nothingness” (57). Readers are aware that he does not have the energy left to hope. When their dreams are shattered, the story takes a turn for the worse. The unpleasant death of the father is McCarthy’s way of getting under his readers’ skin. He does not give them the happy ending they desire, but instead writes their worst fear. The major complaint about the novel is the shortage of surprises.
The Road by Cormac McCarthy is mostly uneventful, but it has its moments of pure artistic genius. The novel is overwhelmed by the struggle for life. The depressing thoughts are extremely prominent and carry a somber tone. The hope the boy and man share dies off, followed by the loss of life. McCarthy’s novel proves that a person can only hang on to hopelessness for so long before he must give up.
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Sue Bond, January 1, 2013 (view all comments by Sue Bond)
Simple and powerful prose that made me read the novel all the way through in one go. The Road is the first novel of Cormac McCarthy's that I read, and I came to it with my partner's strong recommendations for his other books, particularly Blood Meridian. It is a tough story of the end of human civilisation as we know it, told through the characters of a father and his son, and I was right there with them in the blackened remains and the frightening encounters with other humans mostly stripped bare of their humanity. Absolutely devastating; I will never forget it.
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Vschoen, March 30, 2012 (view all comments by Vschoen)
“The Road”, written by Cormac McCarthy is a novel that tugs at the harsh reality of the outcome of a destructive society. In this post-apocalyptic novel, two protagonists struggle to survive as they embark on a seemingly never-ending journey. As a reader you will be introduced to the conflict of good vs. evil and what is justifiable in the midst of ‘life or death’ situations. The audience will discover the definition of perseverance and will be able to visualize the depth of a father-son relationship. The novel was a wonderful novel that taught me many life lessons. I would recommend you read it although you must be aware that the novel is very depressing and is quite violent in some scenes.
The novel ”The Road” begins with a father and a son in the midst of an extremely horrific setting with “Everything paling away into the murk. The soft ash blowing in loose swirls over the blacktop,” (McCarthy, 4). The novel progresses as the man and the boy travel the country on foot in order to escape unfriendly people and unwelcoming situations. Along their journey they encounter cannibalism, hypothermia, and extreme malnutrition. Not only is their journey significant for how it reflects modern-day society, but their journey also gives the reader a strong appreciation for shelter, food, water, and clothing.
“The Road” reflects society as a ‘dog eat dog’ world; everyone looking out for themselves or their loved ones and caring little about those who they don’t affiliate themselves with. A secondary theme is the conflict between determining who is ‘good’ in the world and who is ‘bad’. The struggle between good and evil is utterly difficult. Is the man who steals their clothes in order to stay warm an evil person? Is the group who kills a dying man in order to eat his flesh to fuel their hunger a bad group of people? You as the reader have the liberty to decide what is justifiable in a twisted world. You may also begin to question the actuality of human nature and how one will do anything to survive including putting someone else in misery. Where is the line drawn and how does our society in the 21st century reflect these selfish motives?
It is important to take notice that there are no chapters in this novel, nor are there any sections. McCarthy chooses to organize different thoughts, the changing of scenery, and t coming of a new day through page breaks. There are also no quotations in the dialogue. For example,
Please, Papa. Please.
No it’s not.” (McCarthy, 134)
Although, the story is still very easy to follow and very rarely does the style inflict confusion. The story is told chronologically although flashbacks do occur causing the plot to bounce around a few times. The flashbacks take the reader to a time that is still post-apocalypse; leaving the reader with no insight into how the world came to perish. One can identify this novel with other futuristic novels. For example, Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, and Fahrenheit 451, written by Ray Bradbury, also showcase a distorted future occurring as a result of society’s materialistic desires, narcissistic motives, and warped morals.
Overall, this is a wonderful novel that will give you a gripping vision into the world’s possible future. The novel will teach you many new and important ideas into the harsh reality of our society in this day in age. The comments on egocentric personalities and the difference between good and evil is a heart-quenching story that will force you to question life’s current state. If you enjoy reading about futuristic novels and are not threatened by the depressing themes the novel centers around, then “The Road”, written by Cormac McCarthy, is most definitely a novel for you. Enjoy your reading!
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Captain Cook, March 30, 2012 (view all comments by Captain Cook)
Suffering, terror. Hopelessness. Good and Evil. Cormac McCarthy's The Road embraces all of these as the reader delves into the painful lives of an unnamed man and his son. This pair traverses the wasteland in hopes of salvation, when it is uncertain that salvation exists at all. In the meanwhile, they do their best to survive in their caustic and danger-riddled world where some messy issues are brought up. In my opinion this book is a must-read; It is incredibly tense, the next step is never certain, and the novel bears an important theme for the reader to ponder. This novel is, however, very graphic and disturbing, so I would not suggest it for younger readers or the faint of heart. If you can bear with it though, absolutely read this book.
McCarthy's story is very bleak, taking place in the near future after the apocalypse. As the pair travels westward across what was once the US they encounter horrors, obstacles and regrets that would never be seen today’s world. All of these things happen in the hope that the man and his son will discover salvation once they reach the west coast. The Road is a dystopian novel, but given this categorization is limiting, as this story is very different from others and cannot be directly compared to many novels in the genre.
The Story begins with a premise which is key from beginning to end. "They were moving south. There'd be no surviving another winter here"(4). Immediately readers are thrust into a frantic migration for survival. Near the journey's beginning they encounter a dying man, the boy's first view into reality's severity. Soon thereafter they face one of many problems: the so-called bad guys who rove the wastes preying upon unfortunate survivors. In their dwindling chance for survival, they enter the heart of their worst nightmare. This isn't initially clear, as they hope to scavenge food behind a locked door in a house. "There's a reason this is locked"(91) the man claims, and he is right. Behind the door isn’t salvation, but something much more sinister. Their travels continue and they struggle against the past and their hunger until questions like "are we going to die now?"(74) become commonplace. The road these two travel holds many more winds and bends, both literally and figuratively, but nothing that happens could be predicted.
Ultimately, The Road works toward the idea that the line between good and evil blur as the post-apocalyptic wasteland confronts the reader, man, and child with unimaginable horrors, sufferings and sorrows. As the plot progresses, language becomes increasingly important to this theme. Conversation between the man and boy grow more sparse, and almost always end with "okay"(172). They have witnessed so much, done so much that little can be said. McCarthy creates what is perhaps the most convincingly gray tones and environments ever devised (the shade gray is referred to over eighty times in the novel,) and because of this gray world opposing characteristics are highlighted in the man and the boy. The man, having been hardened by the wasteland sees no good in others. Yet, his child is much more sympathetic, even begging "just help him"(218) at one point. After so many things go wrong, he is constantly troubled by the question "are we still the good guys?"(65) Herein a massive gray area arises.
In the end, the reader is left to conclude that the line between good and evil does blur; In order to survive, many characteristics of the good guys are not necessarily good, but in order to survive many things representative of goodness have to be sacrificed. Under such extreme conditions nothing else could be expected. For all of the agony and hopelessness wrapped within, The Road is a very powerful and engulfing novel which I wholeheartedly recommend.
Vintage Books USA -
by Suzanne G.,
Partial spoiler: the part with the cannibals comes out of nowhere and is utterly terrifying. I had planned to get out of bed and brush my teeth before going to sleep that night, but once I had read that part of the book, I was just too scared (to my husband's great annoyance) to do anything so potentially risky.
by Suzanne G.
"Review A Day"
by Tom Chiarella, Esquire,
"It's an adventure, believe it or not — the sort of book that, if only for the relentless clarity of the writing, the lucid descriptions of the grasses, the mud, the thorns, and the very arc of the road that cuts through all that, presents a clear and episodic progress from one small terror to the next. Forget comfort and possession. Postapocalypse or not, it's classic McCarthy....You should read this book because it is exactly what a book about our future ought to be: the knife wound of our inconvenient truths, laid bare in a world that will just plain scare the piss out of you on a windy night." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review A Day"
by Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor,
"The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written, and the strength of it helps raise the novel — despite considerable gore — above nihilistic horror....Fans of McCarthy's brutal world view may not approve, but other readers will welcome the unexpectedly hopeful ending." (read the entire CSM review)
"Review A Day"
by James Wood, The New Republic,
"The Road is a much more compelling and demanding book than its predecessor....The new novel will not let the reader go, and will horribly invade his dreams, too....It is an interesting question as to why McCarthy succeeds so well. The secret, I think, is that McCarthy takes nothing for granted." (read the entire New Republic review)
by Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review),
"Even within the author's extraordinary body of work, this stands as a radical achievement, a novel that demands to be read and reread....A novel of horrific beauty, where death is the only truth."
by Janet Maslin, New York Times,
"The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be."
by Los Angeles times,
"One of McCarthy's best novels, probably his most moving and perhaps his most personal."
by Chicago Tribune,
"I'm always thrilled when a fine writer of first-class fiction takes up the genre of science fiction and matches its possibilities with his or her own powers....[A] dark book that glows with the intensity of his huge gift for language."
by Boston Globe,
"[B]eyond the inherent technical difficulties of concocting the unthinkable, McCarthy has rendered a greater and more subtle story that makes The Road riveting."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"[O]nly now, with his devastating 10th novel, has [McCarthy] found the landscape perfectly matched to his cosmically bleak vision....[E]xtraordinarily lovely and sad...[a] masterpiece... (Grade: A)"
by Chicago Sun-Times,
"The setup may be simple, but the writing throughout is magnificent....McCarthy may have created a world where things are reduced to their essence, but he continually surprises by finding a way to strip them further."
by USA Today,
"The wildly admired writer Cormac McCarthy presents his own post-apocalyptic vision in The Road. The result is his most compelling, moving and accessible novel since All the Pretty Horses."
by Houston Chronicle,
"[F]or a parable to succeed, it needs to have some clear point or message. The Road has neither, other than to say that after an earth-destroying event, things will go hard for the survivors."
Pulitzer Prize Winner
National Book Critic's Circle Award Finalist
A New York Times Notable Book
One of the Best Books of the Year: The Boston Globe, The Christian Science Monitor, The Denver Post, The Kansas City Star, Los Angeles Times, New York, People, Rocky Mountain News, Time, The Village Voice, The Washington Post
A man and his young son traverse a blasted American landscape, covered with "the ashes of the late world." The man can still remember the time before. The boy knows only this time. There is nothing for them but survival — they are "each other's world entire" — and the precious last vestiges of their own humanity. At once brutal and tender, despairing and rashly hopeful, spare of language and profoundly moving, The Road is a fierce and haunting meditation on the tenuous divide between civilization and savagery, and the essential, sometimes terrifying power of filial love. It is a masterpiece.
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