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The Road


The Road Cover

ISBN13: 9780307472120
ISBN10: 0307472124
Condition: Standard
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Reading Group Guide

1. Cormac McCarthy has an unmistakable prose style. What do you see as the most distinctive features of that style? How is the writing in The Road in some ways more like poetry than narrative prose?

2. Why do you think McCarthy has chosen not to give his characters names? How do the generic labels of "the man" and "the boy" affect the way in which readers relate to them?

3. How is McCarthy able to make the postapocalyptic world of The Road seem so real and utterly terrifying? Which descriptive passages are especially vivid and visceral in their depiction of this blasted landscape? What do you find to be the most horrifying features of this world and the survivors who inhabit it?

4. McCarthy doesn't make explicit what kind of catastrophe has ruined the earth and destroyed human civilization, but what might be suggested by the many descriptions of a scorched landscape covered in ash? What is implied by the father's statement that "On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world" [p. 32]?

5. As the father is dying, he tells his son he must go on in order to "carry the fire." When the boy asks if the fire is real, the father says, "It's inside you. It was always there. I can see it" [p. 279]. What is this fire? Why is it so crucial that they not let it die?

6. McCarthy envisions a postapocalyptic world in which "murder was everywhere upon the land" and the earth would soon be "largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes" [p. 181]. How difficult or easy is it to imagine McCarthy's nightmare vision actually happening? Do you think people would likely behave as they do in the novel, under the same circumstances? Does it now seem that human civilization is headed toward such an end?

7. The man and the boy think of themselves as the "good guys." In what ways are they like and unlike the "bad guys" they encounter? What do you think McCarthy is suggesting in the scenes in which the boy begs his father to be merciful to the strangers they encounter on the road? How is the boy able to retain his compassion--to be, as one reviewer put it, "compassion incarnate"?

8. The sardonic blind man named Ely who the man and boy encounter on the road tells the father that "There is no God and we are his prophets" [p. 170]. What does he mean by this? Why does the father say about his son, later in the same conversation, "What if I said that he's a god?" [p. 172] Are we meant to see the son as a savior?

9. The Road takes the form of a classic journey story, a form that dates back to Homer's Odyssey. To what destination are the man and the boy journeying? In what sense are they "pilgrims"? What, if any, is the symbolic significance of their journey?

10. McCarthy's work often dramatizes the opposition between good and evil, with evil sometimes emerging triumphant. What does The Road ultimately suggest about good and evil? Which force seems to have greater power in the novel?

11. What makes the relationship between the boy and his father so powerful and poignant? What do they feel for each other? How do they maintain their affection for and faith in each other in such brutal conditions?

12. Why do you think McCarthy ends the novel with the image of trout in mountain streams before the end of the world: "In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery" [p. 287]. What is surprising about this ending? Does it provide closure, or does it prompt a rethinking of all that has come before? What does it suggest about what lies ahead?

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Hannah Mueller, September 1, 2011 (view all comments by Hannah Mueller)
Some books are remembered for their complexity. Cormac McCarthy chilled me to the bone because of disturbing simplicity. The Road is an odyssey story, following a man and his boy across the wasteland that was once a familiar and 'civilized' nation of wealth and promise. McCarthy doesn't need a government conspiracy or a trail of riddles. His narration trudges on just as the two characters do, urged on by the greatest driving force life or literature can capture: survival. Guillermo del Toro-style monsters are not required as the most terrifying of creatures calmly converse with the protagonists on the road, their true intentions only clear in their starving eyes.

The movie isn't necessary for this kind of visual. The Road is a relatively 'easy' read in that the writing style is simple and broken up into short, manageable segments of narration, day by day, hour by hour, as the man and his boy make their way to the ocean. But wait. Why the ocean? McCarthy evoked the cynic in me, but also the fellow human being who can't help but pray that the emaciated pair somehow, someway, make it to their destination (whether or not salvation is actually there). But this novel is not to be confused with the fluff that rocks you to sleep after a long day when a novel that would rival Tolstoy doesn't look appealing anymore. After finishing The Road for the first time I sat quietly and thought for a good 10 minutes before moving. The thoughts and emotions it evokes vary from person to person, probably, but all I wanted to do once I came back to the land of the living was to walk out on that road, find that boy, and hug him until the world was right again.

As that wasn't possible, I just picked up The Road and read it again.
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Suprbee, January 21, 2011 (view all comments by Suprbee)
This is the darkest novel I have ever read, and McCarthy's descriptions did nothing to assuage my fears. It was horrifying to imagine how far humanity can fall, but McCarthy masterfully wove hope into a world where no hope would usually be found. If it was any other author, the story may have become too bogged down by the surroundings, but this focuses so completely on the father and son that you don't get lost in the details. They are the focus, and they are the hope.
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Maria DeLeon, April 1, 2010 (view all comments by Maria DeLeon)
Most of the time when you read the word' "post-apocalyptic America" on the back of a book a few things flash through your mind. Mostly cheesy sci-fi movies from the 80's right? Well Cormac McCarthy's vision will forever huant you, if you dicide to give it a try. His display of the simple love of a father, and the greater gumption of humanity, will bring you to tears. I felt i was in the torn burned america, the father and son's small and great victorys were mine too as well as there heart breaks. From the first words to the last i was captivated, Cormac McCarthy writes with a dark poetry that flows of the page and sticks in your mind long after you've closed the book.
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Product Details

McCarthy, Cormac
Fathers and sons
Voyages and travels
General Fiction
Edition Description:
Mass market paperback
Vintage International
Publication Date:
Grade Level:
7 x 4.25 x .8 in .325 lb

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Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

The Road Used Mass Market
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Product details 304 pages Vintage International - English 9780307472120 Reviews:
"Review" by , "His tale of survival and the miracle of goodness only adds to McCarthy's stature as a living master. It's gripping, frightening and, ultimately, beautiful. It might very well be the best book of the year, period."
"Review" by , "Vivid, eloquent . . . The Road is the most readable of [McCarthy's] works, and consistently brilliant in its imagining of the posthumous condition of nature and civilization."
"Review" by , "Illuminated by extraordinary tenderness. . . . Simple yet mysterious, simultaneously cryptic and crystal clear. The Road offers nothing in the way of escape or comfort. But its fearless wisdom is more indelible than reassurance could ever be."
"Review" by , "No American writer since Faulkner has wandered so willingly into the swamp waters of deviltry and redemption. . . . [McCarthy] has written this last waltz with enough elegant reserve to capture what matters most."
"Review" by , "There is an urgency to each page, and a raw emotional pull . . . making [The Road] easily one of the most harrowing books you'll ever encounter. . . . Once opened, [it is] nearly impossible to put down; it is as if you must keep reading in order for the characters to stay alive. . . . The Road is a deeply imagined work and harrowing no matter what your politics."
"Review" by , "We find this violent, grotesque world rendered in gorgeous, melancholic, even biblical cadences. . . . Few books can do more; few have done better. Read this book."
"Review" by , "A dark book that glows with the intensity of [McCarthy's] huge gift for language. . . . Why read this? . . . Because in its lapidary transcription of the deepest despair short of total annihilation we may ever know, this book announces the triumph of language over nothingness."
"Review" by , "The love between the father and the son is one of the most profound relationships McCarthy has ever written."
"Review" by , "The Road is a wildly powerful and disturbing book that exposes whatever black bedrock lies beneath grief and horror. Disaster has never felt more physically and spiritually real."


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

The searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece.

A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged foodand each other.

The Road is the profoundly moving story of a journey. It boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which the father and his son, "each the other's world entire," are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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