The Road Cormac McCarthy Book Review
Through hell, cemented with desperation
The Road is a novel written in the year 2006 by Cormac McCarthy, an American novelist. It is a story of a father and his son who were on a journey for a period approximated to be seven months across a landscape that has been deprived of its livelihood by nuclear bombs and ravaged by chaos of big magnitude and confusion. The sky is filled with dust and toxic particles and the seasons have evolved to varying periods of winter and dampness. “The road expresses that paradox that lies at the heart of all serious pessimistic literature: its literary passion defies the very emptiness that it proclaims” (Bloom, 2009). McCarthy is a renown writer who dropped out of school to concentrate on matters of importance to him, “ McCarthy permanently dropped out of college in 1961 and moved to Chicago for a short spell, working at an auto parts warehouse while writing his first novel” (Hage,2010). In this book, McCarthy explores on the determination and courage of a father and the son in a world full of despair since everything has been destroyed by a catastrophe and there is hardly anything to eat. At some point, the father almost gives in but rejuvenates the courage for his son’s survival. Therefore, the determination of both the father and the son is a catalyst to their survival.
The novel begins in a rather traumatizing mood in which the two main protagonists, the father and his son, are sleeping outside in the cold since all households and the landscape had been destroyed by a catastrophe. The man is said to have been dreaming while walking on a cave, his son leading the way, “like pilgrims swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast” (p.3). It is widely believed that the father and his son are the only remaining “good guys” who managed to survive the catastrophe. The wife of the father and also the mother of the son is said to have committed suicide after the situation became too heavy for her. The wife is seen to have lost the will to live in her conversations, “we used to talk about death she said. We don’t anymore. Why this? It’s because its here. There is nothing left to talk about.” (p. 34). This however does not derail these two and her determined to walk their way to safety.
There is a pervasive danger involved in their journey but they are always alert and walk through a land full of ashes. Normally in such journeys, you need proper preparation and all that is required availed. However, this is not the case with these two as they have at their disposal only a grocery cart that contains all their belongings. This is a demonstration of their unwavering determination and desire to travel to safety despite the dangers staring at them.
The journey takes a direction to the south where they travel for days and weeks with little or no break during their monotonous adventure. They are forced to bear with a “nuclear winter” characterized by snow, rain and extreme cold. They are forced to scavenge for food and any other useful items in any place including remains of abandoned gas stations. It is here that they get some motor oil which comes in handy for their only lamp. As they travel, they encounter a landscape which is abandoned, charred and ‘dead’. “The shape of a city stood in the grayness like a charcoal drawing sketched across the waste. Nothing to see” (p. 7).
The father’s desire is evident. Despite his health’s condition where he is very weak and afflicted by a cough, he is not deterred and what is of importance is that he and his son survives. “My job is to take care of you. I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you.” (p.65). He is concerned about the basic needs for their survival and some unnamed danger which the writer later discloses as the survivors who have turned into cannibals and hunting fellow human survivors for food. They had an unparalleled courage in view of the fact that they were only armed with a single gun with three bullets as protection from such cannibals.
Through their encounter with fellow survivors, whether barbaric, pathetic or desperate, the son and his father are hardened and are kept going by their strong will to survive and of more significance was their love for one another. They trek over mountains, through roads and forests reduced to ashes and most intimidating a nearly killing cold accompanied by a chilly rainfall. In their journey through abandoned charred towns and ransacking partly destroyed groceries and shops, the two struggles to remain hopeful. The father’s love for his son has turned him into an amoral survivalist who can not stand the sight of other survivors though he contrary assures them that he and his son are good people.
The unnamed father and son are subjected to scaring sights, everyday is characterized by scavenging for food and protecting themselves from the survivors turned cannibals who maraud the weakest of the survivors and eat them for lack of any other food. They manage to do all this with zeal and their ever burning desire to reach warmer areas keeps them going. However, in their rare encounters with fellow human beings, the father results into primitive methods for survival, refusing any kind of help, living only to the world of him and his son.
In their adventure towards the coast, they go through unending torture and a lot of hell and the only thing that holds them together is their love for each other which is so immense that when one is ready to give up the other refuses to let him go. To them the past is gone and dead just like the scenery around themselves, the present is the only reality and there is no future, the author says that deep in his mind, the man knows there is nothing to hope for down the road although he leads his son down it in the hope that they survive. One is left wondering why in such a harsh world one would want to survive.
The father dreams of his wife, “out of a green and leafy canopy” (p.15) which is in complete contrast to the black scenery and the ashes that surround their environment. However, he does not believe in his dreams and discards them as, “the call of languor and of death” (p.15). “Listen to me, he said, when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be, and you are happy again, then you’ll have given up. Do you understand? And you can’t give up, I won’t let you” (p. 160).
Our heroes seem to have luck on their side. They one time ran-in into a group of terror gang that was thought to kill and feast on human flesh. They had run out of food and decided to check into a house though it had every sign that it was being occupied. It is here where they came across one of the most terrifying scenes in their entire journey. They found human beings held as captives like livestock to be used as food but they managed to escape without been caught by the gang that lived in the house.
The father was so much determined to protect his son that he saw no reason to live if his son died. He was ready to attack anybody who came in their way. The cart with which they carried their belongings was fitted with a mirror so that they can see anybody attacking them from behind, “he kept constant watch behind him in the mirror” (p. 21). They at one time came across one of the members of the terror gang who tried to take away the young boy but the father was much alert and shot him in the forehead. The father was so alert that when they passed by a mirror and saw their reflected images, he raised his pistol thinking that some people wanted to attack them.
After days of walking in the snow and no food, they come across a house which was padlocked but upon hacking it open they meet many naked people, male and female, who cry out for their help. In the house, they found, “naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands” (p. 93). They come to discover that the house was a trap set by the cannibals to attract any survivors so that they can be locked inside and later used as food. They though manage to escape and the father hands his gun to his son just incase its unbearable and the only option left is to commit suicide.
At one point the son sought an assurance from the father that they will never turn into cannibals no matter how intense they starved. The father assures his son of this but later he starts losing hope slowly by each day as starvation got the better part of him. “The country was looted, ransacked, ravaged. Rifled of every crumb…. He was beginning to think that death was finally among them” (p. 109). At night the father continues to have his occasional dreams, “rich dreams now which he was loath to wake from. Things no longer known in the world.” (p. 111).
The situation in the land was one of desperation and destitution and only the strong hearted had the will to continue living, “Nobody wants to be here and nobody wants to leave…. There is no God and we are his prophets.”(p. 143). In their journey they come across an old man who was surprised to see the young boy alive. According to the old man it is better that every body was dead. “When we’re all gone at last, then there’ll be nobody but death and his days will be numbered too. He’ll be out in the road with nothing to do and no body to do it to” (p. 145-146). This shows that everyone has despaired with the situation since their emotions cannot now be turned to fellow beings, but they see death as their greatest enemy.
The young boy, due to the various scenes he has witnessed, becomes hardened and is not frightened by anything whatsoever. On their way to the sea, they encounter corpses on the roadside which they believed were killed by a mighty fire. The corpses lay, “half mired in the blacktop, clutching themselves, mouths howling” (p. 161). The father tries to deter his son from looking but he is not moved by the sight.
Throughout their remaining journey towards the sea, the father uses his pistol to frighten other people but was much aware that he had only one bullet left. He at one time made wood chips so that his gun always appeared loaded. Before they reached the sea, their last horrifying experience was when they stormed into a smoking house only to find a headless corpse of an infant. “A charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit” (p. 167).
From the scenes in the book it’s now evident that the determination of both characters was vital for their survival in a world that had been rendered almost inhabitable by a catastrophe. Many are the times when one of the characters wished that they had died but the other would not allow such desperation to crop in their journey towards what they thought was a safe place to live, the sea. Their journey through the destroyed landscape was a real temptation of their character. It had so many unpleasant scenes that only the brave could stand. Consequently, the son has reached a point to take the results of the catastrophe as normal and no longer fears the scenery.