Cormac McCarthy the road

Topics: Novels

In McCarthy’s The Road, the reader is exposed to a frightening nightmarish situation of what might become after a disastrous event. My essay will focus upon the confrontation between good and evil which is so wonderfully dramatize throughout the novel and finally answer what Cormac McCarthy ultimately suggested about good and evil?.The ‘scorched earth’, ‘ashen drift’ and the ‘Blackness’ are all examples of the vivid language used by McCarthy to convey a very unique and desolate view of what the world quickly became after whatever apocalyptic event occurred.

The reader is only given a glimpse of what cataclysmic event brought the world to its knees, which occurred years ago, just before the boy was born: “A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions.” Afterward we are given a haunting vision of the early days: “People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate and smoking in their clothes. Like failed sectarian suicides”. Then just how quickly the age of humanity ceased to exist giving way to a malevolent society: “within a year there were fire on the ridges and deranged chanting.

The screams of the murdered. By day the dead impaled on spikes along the road”. The world that McCarthy portrays in the Road has simply disintegrated, leaving a clear divide between good and evil. Whatever “good guys” still exist, are at risk of becoming food for the evil cannibals. McCarthy has simply brought an end to civilization. The culture and history of millions of years of evolution and civilization is now extinct, the rules and laws that were set in place to prevent such evil behaviour is no more.

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Apart from our protagonists the others exist with no purpose or belief. Simply put now the ‘god spoke’ have left this is what remains, a world where anarchy rules and what the father simply sees as “the nothingness” of McCarthy’s post apocalyptic worldThe once beautiful American climate and landscape is fast becoming completely inhospitable, It is a fact, that if the cannibals do not kill them, the landscape and weather will, (an example of this is when they come across the man that has been struck by lightening or the father’s persistent coughing made worse by the air or when the boy gets a fever.) The landscape itself is an “evil”. The “bleak and temporal winds” as well as the “endless rain” are the reason for their migration south in hope of warmer climates. There is “ashen air” which they actively cover their faces from in an effort not to inhale, and the “cauterized terrain” that causes the father to worry about their shoes. The effect of this is that McCarthy has made a vividly realised setting for our protagonists to roam through.With the dark clouds of global warming gathering over our heads in our own world and the incessant dread of nuclear attack. One cannot help, when reading The Road, but hope that our own world, doesn’t emulate that of Cormac McCarthy if the worse were to happen. If civilization collapses and the world’s economy crumpled leaving the western world in anarchy much like Haiti or Afghanistan, existence in such a world would then become based upon the survival of the fittest.Although the reader is not explicitly told what atrocity left the world in such devastation, we are given clues throughout the book, that leaves it open to interpretation, for example: “cars in the street caked in ash” and “ashed air” both point towards a nuclear holocaust. The mummified bodies our protagonists find along the road seem to indicate a volcanic eruption, much like Pompeii. McCarthy portrays scenes that are not too far-fetched, which keeps it feeling real. We recognize familiar objects such as a can of coca cola. The stores and houses are ransacked, which is a very likely situation after a disaster, for instance, people looting after hurricane Katrina. When people are starving and they will do anything to survive which is also believable. After reading The Road there is a heightened awareness that we mustn’t let the world get to the point where evil overwhelms the good, so that our own world doesn’t succumb to the same plight as those in the roads. The Road is a superb but utterly frightening evocation of what awaits us, if catastrophe were to strike.From the instant the story begins, the narrative is extremely disorienting. an example of this is at the very beginning of the story and we are thrusted straight into the fathers nightmare. The language is often obscure. Because McCarthy omits quotation marks to announce speech and both our protagonists are male, therefore “he” the common pronoun becomes shared by the father and son throughout the novel, so it is difficult to be sure who exactly is being quoted in conversations. Also their voices flow from one to another with minor distinction. For example:”Just wait here, he said.I’m going with you.I thought you were scared.I am scared.Okay. Just stay close behind me.”The narrative is as clear as the landscape and rivers in The Road which is not very. The story is written in the third person, but at times it is difficult to distinguish between the father’s thoughts and the voice. “He watched the boy sleeping. Can do it? When the time comes? Can you?” The language in this extract is eerie. We sense that the father is battling with his conscience and it is almost as if he is pleading with the reader for help. This at times leaves the reader with a feeling of bewilderment and at times makes the novel exhausting to read, which is how our protagonists feel, in their quest for survival and their worry for each other. There are many other things going on with the narration. For example when the father ponders the strangely orange morning light of a forest fire burning away the remains of the old world, he remembers a sacrament from the world that is burning beneath them: “make a list, recite a litany. Remember”. In a way the most of the story is a litany, made up of things the father remembers from the old world.McCarthy’s language throughout gives gruesome detail when describing the evils of the road which could be a reflective of the mentality of the cannibals, for example: “what the boy had seen was a charred human infant. Headless and gutted and blackening on the spit. This use of vivid language and imagery is not unusual in McCarthy novels; there is a scene in one of his previous novels, All the Pretty Horses McCarthy explains how John Grady Cole “jammed the redhot barrel ash and all down into the hole in his leg.” to cauterize his gunshot wound with his own pistol.The language seems like it comes straight out of a poetry book, and it helps us become engaged with the plot and feel like we’re living each day with them.This can be seen in the short, expressive sentences or phases with make up the novel. Which often contain nouns but no verbs for example: “Barren, silent, godless”. This seems to highlight the words importance and goes some way to describing the world seen by our protagonists. The “barren” emphasises the lost of humanity and the infertile nature of the land, which is their reason for hunger. The silence seems to signify the perils of the land and the need to be silent so as not to be notice and also the lack of life in the world and “godless” for it seems that immorality has become the new way of life. Because it is “Barren” and “silent” the world would automatically become godless, hence the order “Barren, silent, godless”. McCarthy also uses elements of poetry when setting a scene “they set out along the blacktop, the gun metal light, shifting through the ash”. He uses a metaphor to describe the relationship between the sun and the landscape. The use of the word gun-metal gives the impression of a cold grey shine making the world seem dangerous and sinister. Also the use of the word “shifting” conveys the sun as if it is trying to enlighten a depressed earth with no success. This is similar to another description of the sun trying to illuminate the earth “By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.” This quote seems to epitomize the fact that the sun never breaks through the grey dust storms of the nuclear winterIn terms of structure, McCarthy follows his own rules. For instance the omission of chapters gives the book a continuous flow. Just like our protagonist wanting to keep moving south, we want to keep reading.The father at times doesn’t seem to harbour much hope. The anxiety that parents already have, has been magnified due to their plight. Everything he sees or hears is potentially evil and derelict buildings and homes are perceived to be death-traps only to be entered when needs must. Apart from his resourcefulness and an ability to remain inconspicuous, his only other weapon is a revolver with two bullets which the reader comes to realize, are already spoken for. Trepidation is the foremost constant of the man’s survival, while the boy lives in a state of unqualified terror. When his father rummages for any morsel of food in abandoned houses, or hunts for firewood or leaves him even for a moment, they go through the same litany of fear:I’m scared.I know.Okay.There’s no one here, the man said.Okay.Are you still scared?Yes.We’re okay.Okay.The boy needs his father to care for him, to socialise and love him, and the father is blissfully aware that he needs the boy to give him a purpose, a reason to keep living in an unreasonable, unimaginable world. “He held the boy close to him. So thin. My heart, he said. … That the boy was all that stood between him and death”. This lovefor his son has come to signify all the possible meaning in his life. The boy is an embodiment of cause and purpose. To his father he is virtually divine and something to believe in: “Golden chalice, good to house a god.” And the man is desperate for that, desperate to have faith in something autonomous of man and eternal even with death. So he believes that his son can restore humanity. So he keeps trying, protecting his son from the desperation, hopelessness and dangers that is now there life. He tells his son: “nothing bad can happen to them” as they are “carrying the fire”. It is the son who instils in him hope for humanity. Because of this the son is able, at times, to influence his father’s decisions even though it is beyond his father’s better judgement. An example of this is when they have reached the coast and they have all their worldly belongings stolen from them by a emaciated outcast from one of the surviving “blood cults”, we read the vengeful reaction of papa to the thief’s desperate act of survival and watch as he is made to strip to complete vulnerability and left for dead. The boy in response to such a callous and inhumane response from his father, pleads with his him for mercy upon the thief, which the father grants and they are soon backtracking to the point where they had left the thief to return him his clothing.Much like a biblical character the father often has dialogues with god that could be compared to those of Job as he is often question gods will: “have you no neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul”.The son has not become disillusioned, despite being witness to misery; barbarism and immorality with had already led to his mother committing suicide. In fact, he has somehow managed to preserve his innocence and belief that “good guys” still exist. In a sense McCarthy is portrays the boy if he where a Samaritan, beset by pity for those the find upon the road an example of this is when they encounter a survivor upon the road, Ely, whom the father is coaxed into feeding by the boy. This epitomizes all the boy stands for. The encounter with Ely also shed lights on reoccurring theme throughout the novel. The existence of good guys upon the road. The conversation with Ely resolves this dispute. Moreover Ely provides the reader and father and son with a more direct answer. When asked by the father, how he has been surviving, and Ely responds that other travellers have been sharing their food with him; an idea that to the father sounds laughable until Ely points out that hr himself has done so.In my opinion the father is a representative from our world into the strange, new and hopeless world of post-apocalyptic horror who must try and digest the fact that the old world is no longer and with it all the things that define what he knows to be life. The boy is a representation of the new world, born into the chaos and knowing nothing about the old world except for stories and facts told by his father.Like wildebeest their sole existence is based on continuous movement, whether it is to find food and shelter or to evade capture from predators. But no cost would they ever resort to the evil alternatives. In the eyes of our protagonists the number of survivors that turn to savagery is completely irrelevant because they have decided to support each other to avoid either one plummeting to the level of the savages.The balance between good and evil in the roads can be summed up by what I believe is two similar but conflicting moments in the book. On one of their previous foraging trips the father had opened a cellar in which the “bloodcults” kept their prisoner, presumably for later consumption. So when they came across another hidden bunker, understandably the boy is terribly frightened and doesn’t want his father to open it out of fear for what they might find, but the father reassures him: “This door looks like the other door he said. But its not. I know you’re scared. That’s ok. I think there may be thing in there and we have to take a look……this is what good guys do. They keep trying. They don’t give up”. And this time they uncover a bunker full of food, clothing, fresh water etc. just as the find there deliverance from death: he’d been ready to die and now he wasn’t going to” and enjoy second helpings of canned pears, McCarthy cruelly and somewhat evilly tell us that they cant stay there long.I those two scenes epitomize the road by Cormac McCarthy as it shows us the fine balance between good and evil. Because the cannibalistic others have lost all humanity they would have never of found that bunker. But our protagonists, with their hope and belief. Keep trying and although all might seem lost, the roads show us that good things will happen to those that are tolerant, believe and never lose faith.Another contrast between good and evil comes at the end of the story with the death of his father. Even though this is widely anticipated, the death of his fathers leaves the boy is a rather precarious position. The boy has lost his only form of protection and is left holding the revolver. it is ironic that is boy saviours comes in the form of “good guys” which the son ever gave up hope in. and the boy is left to go on without his father carrying with him all the things he learned from him.

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Cormac McCarthy the road. (2018, Jul 07). Retrieved from

Cormac McCarthy the road
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