📚 The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

Read 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Inspired by The Partially Examined Life’s investigation of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, I re-read the book. I remember by left in both shock and awe at the book when I first read it, but the podcast really helped elucidate what makes the text special for me, particularly the idea of landscape as a character and the contradictory nature of characters such as The Judge. This lead me to reading The Road.

I had never seen the film nor read The Road in the past. To be honest, even though I had heard of it, I did not really know what it was about before starting the journey. It is interesting, I am not sure if I would have read the book based on the summary:

A father and his young son journey on foot across the post-apocalyptic ash-covered United States some years after an extinction event. The boy’s mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, committed suicide some time before.

Realizing they cannot survive the winter in more northern latitudes, the father takes the boy south along interstate highways towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and a supermarket cart. The father is suffering from a cough. He assures his son that they are “good guys” who are “carrying the fire”. The pair have a revolver, but only two rounds. The father has tried to teach the boy to use the gun on himself if necessary, to avoid falling into the hands of cannibals.

Source: The Road – Wikipedia

However, the destination does not always seem that important with McCarthy.

Initially, I was left wondering what had happened to the world that McCarthy’s novel traverses. However, it is soon made clear that it is not really the point. I guess when the whole world catches fire that you might not even know the cause is.

What seems to matter is what it means to exist in a world merely focused on survival. What does it mean to be ‘one of the good ones’ in a world where many have to cannibalism to survive?

“There is no God and we are his prophets.”

In part, the book feels like it is about the future and the threat of global warming, but it also feels like it is about the present. Although I have only read two McCarthy books, I feel different after them.


McCarthy’s is an elemental voice. In his voice I hear stone shifting, glaciers cracking open, trees moaning in the wind. The ancient cadences of his prose take on an almost otherworldly quality, a quality that transports you. I’m constantly in awe of the language and recognizing how he’s putting together his sentences so exquisitely.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road May Have the Scariest Passage in All of Literature by Joe Fassler

Though McCarthy’s not afraid to stare into the abyss, he seems to also carefully consider his use of violence. When I’m reading someone like Chuck Palahniuk, I often feel he’s titillated by a kind of gorenography. He’s writing violence in a way that feels excessive and part of some carnival sideshow meant to make people slap their knees and guffaw horribly. When I look at The Road, or a book like Blood Meridian, McCarthy describes every terrible thing that a mind could conjure. But he’ll also pull back. He’ll allow some violence to take place off stage, because he knows unseen acts can be as brutal and affecting as violence that’s shown—perhaps more so.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road May Have the Scariest Passage in All of Literature by Joe Fassler

Joe Fassler explains that what makes McCarthy’s so powerful is his avoidance ‘gorenography’ by leaving so much of the violence off the stage.

The Road is neither parable nor science fiction, however, and fundamentally it marks not a departure but a return to McCarthy’s most brilliant genre work, combined in a manner we have not seen since Blood Meridian: adventure and Gothic horror.

Source: After the Apocalypse | Michael Chabon by Michael Chabon

The existence of a moral structure—the will to do good—is the soaring discovery hidden in McCarthy’s scourged planet.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s new masterpiece. by Jennifer Egan

The way McCarthy sails close to the prose of late Beckett is also remarkable; the novel proceeds in Beckett-like, varied paragraphs. They are unlikely relatives, these two artists in old age, cornered by bleak experience and the rich limits of an English pulverised down through despair to a pleasingly wry perfection.

Source: Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy by Alan Warner

SamuelBeckett #TheRoad #CormacMcCarthy

Which is to say that, deny it as we like, all of our effort and creativity in this world implies an orientation toward some transcendent place or mind outside this world; that human consciousness suggests a superhuman correlate; that, adapting Nietzsche, to believe in grammar is to believe in God. Following from this premise of a link between human and divine creativity, McCarthy inquires what will become of humanity if all of its efforts come to grief, if the divine security is thereby invalidated? On this question, The Road runs both ways: how can the last survivors of the doomed human race retain faith either in itself or in God?

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by John Pistelli

It is to inquire about what purpose our activities have at all, however mixed and marred by violence or oppression they are.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by John Pistelli

The only thing in this world that is divine is us, or, more specifically, whatever in us rises above the merely reasonable. Reason can do nothing but perceive and manipulate the already-given, by definition evil in this evil world, but the divine spark preserves the irrational goodness and beauty of the true Lord.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by John Pistelli

McCarthy is seemingly less interested in exploring the causes of this mass extinction event and its immediate aftermath choosing instead to focus on the dynamic relationship between a father and his son. This relationship, and the uniquely human traits that are exemplified within its bounds, stand in stark contrast to the primeval immorality of the other survivors they encounter on the road.

Source: The%20Road%20-%20Cormac%20McCarthy%20(2006) by Matt Burgess

McCarthy does not say how or when God entered this man’s being and his son’s, nor does he say how or why they were chosen to survive together for 10 years, to be among the last living creatures on the road. But the tale is as biblical as it is ultimate, and the man implies that the end has happened through godly fanaticism. The world is in a nuclear winter, though that phrase is never used. The lone allusion to our long-prophesied holy war with its attendant nukes is when the man thinks: “On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world.”

Source: Review: ‘The Road,’ by Cormac McCarthy by William Kennedy

Although, as expected, the Father makes all pragmatic decisions concerning survival, the Boy is the clear authority on morality, persuading the father to preserve a charitable spirit in McCarthy’s amoral wasteland. He is the bringer of light in the darkness, the embodiment of “carrying the fire” (p. 234).

Source: Survival and Morality in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: Exploring Aquinian Grace and the Boy as Messiah by Carla M. Sanchez

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