The Road

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When you think about the end of the world, you typically imagine the reasoning for it. Whether it’s nuclear war, climate change, or plague; there’s some clear reason why the human race was brought to near extinction. Not so for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Here the bleak, desolate landscape of the Earth is cruel in its ambiguity, callous in its indifference.

The reader is introduced to the main characters with no preamble and little history. The Man and The Boy. They are each other’s entire world, for they are all that the other has left. The relationship between father and son is developed through sparse dialogue and meticulous actions. McCarthy is a master of showing the reader rather than telling. There’s enough information to draw informed conclusions, but much is left up to interpretation as well.

I believe that the two unnamed protagonists represent more than just characters against the story’s barren hellscape. The Man represents humanity’s will to survive, the stubborn tenacity to continue on even when it seems hopeless. The Boy represents the unerring innocence of the young, the wide-eyed and curious wonder that drives discovery. The road that they travel could itself be taken as a symbol of life itself, the twists and turns and impediments that lay before a person and the goal of their journey.

Cormac McCarthy’s prose is succinct and beautiful. He doesn’t waste words, and yet accurately paints a picture of each scene within the reader’s mind. The structure of The Road, and the way that the dialogue is presented, has the feel of a story being told. One could perhaps imagine The Boy, grown and with his own son, telling of his father and their determination to survive. McCarthy is not hesitant to show the horrors of his post-apocalyptic world, but he also allows brief glimpses of beauty and hope through the gray shroud.

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a brutal, grim view of a world to come. A warning, perhaps, against the belligerence of mankind and our abuse of the planet. But it’s more than that. The Road is also a character study of father and son, of what it means to live and have purpose. In these times of rampant pandemic and economic collapse, it’s important to remember that there are always things worth fighting and hoping for.

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