‘The Road’ is a dystopian novel, set in a post apocalyptic America where life is merely surviving the elements and human threats. It explores the beautiful but troubling relationship between a father with knowledge of the world before the chaos and his son who’s only knowledge of the world is its current ruined state. Neither of the characters’ names are mentioned throughout the novel, which helps to demonstrate the minimal environment and bleak existence of the man and the boy.

The novel is written in third person, focusing on the perspective and thought process of The Man, these moments are often where McCarthy experiments with writing styles adopted from other authors such as James Joyce, using a stream of consciousness which is evident in the character of the man as the narrator often delves into his thoughts of dreams and death, as well as the fear and anxiety about the health and well being of his son which is shaped by the developments in the boy’s personality and behaviour. The reader relies on the mental and physical changes in the Man to signify his health, the future of the pair and his perspective on situations. The focus of narrator is on the Man so that the reader can develop a closer bond to the Son as the Man shows a strong love for him, which the reader experiences second hand through the narrator. It is an effective way of using third person but also efficiently connecting with the Man and the Boy.

Personally, I find the difficult connection between the boy and his father the most engaging part of the novel as the emotional impact I experienced when reading it actually brought me to tears. It is the sheer naivety of the young boy that makes the situation of the two unbearably sad, he is faced with unimaginable circumstances such as starvation, extreme cold, fire, cannibalism and murder. Everything he faces, he questions in a childish manner to his father, to which the responses are empty of knowledge, and The Man simply says as reassurance. This is specifically seen in the motif of ‘carrying the fire’ a metaphorical motivation, it sparks imagination and hope in the Boy, so the Man uses it to allow them to continue along the road, this small ember of spirit growing stronger and weaker shapes the story and gives it meaning. The importance of items and the loss of it resulting in life or death, many readers will take for granted. This features as a huge part of the story, priorities such as socks and shoes become a serious issue within the novel when they are confronted with wet, cold and snowy environments. These detailed aspects of the novel create tension and the thought of the inevitability that critical issues may occur due to their situation. The weather is actually mentioned often, this is necessary as there are not many other features within the environment to give substance to the story, therefore using weather conditions such as wind, rain and snow gives a higher meaning of discomfort and survival.

The imagery within the novel is often beautiful and horrific, usually describing death or the landscape. This is evident in quotes such as:

“In the draws the smoke coming off the ground like mist and the thin black trees burning on the slopes like heathen candles.”

Comparing the ruined landscape to delicate ‘mist’ and ‘thin black trees’, as well as alluding to the fact that the world is now godless in the referral to ‘heathen’, sheds a different, more romanticised perspective on the post-apocalyptic environment.

“The mummied dead everywhere. The flesh cloven along the bones, the ligaments dried to tug and taut as wires. Shriveled and drawn like latterday bogfolk, their faces of boiled sheeting, the yellowed palings of their teeth. They were discalced to a man like pilgrims of some common order for all their shoes were long since stolen.” 

There are several uses of morbid imagery in this quote from ‘The Road’ through words and phrases such as “flesh”, “tug and taut” and “boiled sheeting”. In addition to this, to reiterate previous analysis, the majority of the quote is made up of complex imagery, metaphors and references to such things as ‘latterday bogfolk’ to describe the details of death, however it ends with the main priority and concern at hand, which are shoes. This highlights that the pair have come to be more accustomed to death, the Man more so than the Boy, but both are more familiar to such situations than many readers will be.

I recommend ‘The Road,’ to anyone who is looking for a relatively easy to read novel in terms of complexity of writing. As the style of writing itself is rather simple and bleak, especially in the use of punctuation and grammar in some parts. However, the emotional impact and imagery that is involved causes the story and characters to impact the reader heavily, this intense reaction to the novel is what makes it so enjoyable.

Buy ‘The Road’ here.

Watch the 2009 film adaptation of ‘The Road’ on Netflix.

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