The Road- Cormac McCarthy In the novel The Road, the author, Cormac McCarthy, presents a pessimistic and dark view of humanity and its future. His dark words tell of foggy woods late at night and of deserted houses with haunted facades, summoning from the depths of the reader’s mind a world full of childhood nightmares, of monsters under beds, bogeymen in closets, and graveyards late at night. Despite all this, McCarthy does also incorporate slight glimmers of hope throughout the novel.
Through his characters’ belief in themselves, and through their belief in ‘the fire’ that they carry, the reader is emboldened to join the characters’ desperate struggle on their never ending journey. It is this fire that keeps the man and the boy pushing forward on their interminable journey south. It is what the man uses to encourage the boy when there is no more food or clean water left. From the very start of the novel, mental images are given of a world that is decaying and broken, almost unfixable.
The author paints pictures of bleak landscapes coated with ash and marked by fire, and bleaker still portraits of the dead, such as ‘Inside the barn three bodies hanging from the rafters, dried and dusty among the wan slats of light’. The author’s humble words awaken the reader’s imagination, the simplicity of the descriptive language adding to each sentences’ effectiveness, and helping the reader to visualize the events and the setting in the way McCarthy envisioned it. Two incidents in the novel which stick in the reader’s mind are the humans in the cellar and the baby on the spit.
These two references are the epitome of all that is evil and grim, previously mentioned in the novel. There are no traces of compassion or empathy for the people in the ‘pantry’ from those who will later cook and devour them, unblinking, as if they are cattle. There is no concern shown by the mother, for the mere infant that is butchered, skewered and barbecued. Likewise, early in the book, McCarthy writes about an event in which the man and the boy are confronted by a cannibal, who attempts to lure them to their death by asking for their help.
This man appears to feel no guilt for what he must do, no regret or self-pity for the crimes he must commit against humanity. In the desolate world of McCarthy’s imagination, there is no room for such feelings. The graphic detailing McCarthy uses when writing about the first two incidents portrays the levels of depravity that some people sink to in order to maintain their own survival. At this point, humanity has lost its humanity, the very thing that makes it human.
As previously mentioned, there is no compassion or empathy, there are no family ties that cannot be broken (excepting the man and boy), nothing but the savage instinct to keep oneself alive for as long as possible. McCarthy’s mastery of sentence configuration, grammar and punctuation are all hard to notice in The Road, due to his purposeful neglect of it. Throughout the novel, the only means of identification we are given in relation to the two main characters is the ‘man’ and the ‘boy’.
With only these titles, there is an invisible wall that almost holds the reader at arm’s length. This wall allows one to partially understand the two characters, but not fully, making it seem as though the man and boy are missing a part of themselves, as though they are not quite the same as the people of today. Indeed, they aren’t. The glimmers mentioned at the start however, somehow shine through the dark and dismal, depressing even, situation the man and boy somehow manage to survive in.
For every challenge they surmount, there is a metaphorical pot of gold awaiting them on the other side. This is shown best when the man and boy enter a cellar to find other men and women being housed ready for slaughter, and are yet brave enough to face the same a few days later. However, this time fortune smiles upon them, and the bomb shelter they find contains ‘everything’. From food and water, to clothes and blankets, they are rewarded for their diligence and perseverance. Lastly, McCarthy utilizes very little punctuation, which at first seems to be almost a typing error.
It is later on that the reader realizes this is done to convey the meaninglessness of the little things in this post-apocalyptic life. The lack of speech marks emphasizes the blandness and indifference of conversations, the incomplete sentences giving a blunt, short statement instead of flowery phrases. In conclusion, McCarthy’s portrayal of the future of humanity is a bleak one, full of a darkness and desperation that seem never ending, despite the small amount of hope that the characters cling too.