Natural and Moral Decay in The Road: Fiction and Film

Natural decay directly influences moral decay in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and John Hillcoat’s film adaptation by the same title. The end of the world in this narrative is so severe because of the loss of nature. When humans see the end of their natural environments, something in them is changed; by severing their ties to the natural world, they also subsequently lose their ties to humanity. This is seen in the contrast between the man and boy versus the cannibal gangs. The writing tool of setting is especially important for this topic because McCarthy often describes where the man and boy are based on natural setting. Throughout the novel we read descriptions of gray skies, fallen trees, and dark oceans—all markers of the earth’s decay. Some scholars have called McCarthy’s novel the first to write from an environmentalist perspective; while there have been other post-apocalyptic novels and films prior to The Road, McCarthy’s is one of the first to include decay of the earth as well as decay of humanity.

The sparse dialogue in the novel is perhaps a visual representation of the dying world; just as the earth has been stripped of its beauty and natural elegance so has human conversation. The scarcity on the page visually represents the scarcity of the world. John Hillcoat’s film adaptation of the novel also focuses on portraying an environmentally decayed world. By using real devastated locations, Hillcoat represents how the real environment and nature have been impacted. The on-set locations are especially impactful. The visual representation of American devastation accurately represents McCarthy’s novel. On-screen, we see the destruction of Mt. St. Helens in Washington, Hurricane Katrina damage in Louisiana, abandoned highways and old steel mills in Pennsylvania, and run down parts of Pittsburgh. Abandoned shopping malls, stranded semi-trucks, and ruined stadiums all visually represent how man-made neglect and destruction has impacted our nation. Marooned ships, dark landscapes, and a lake filled with fallen trees from a Mt. St. Helen’s eerily reveal how natural disasters have destroyed parts of our society. There is even a shot where Hillcoat chose to put real footage of the smoke cloud from September 11th. All of these on-screen representations communicate the devastation which can occur in our world. In addition, Hillcoat makes use of dark landscapes and matching lighting. Grays and browns in the landscape match the demeanor of the characters; from clouds in the sky to burnt trees, Hillcoat ensures that each scene matches the story. Both McCarthy’s novel and Hillcoat’s adaptation are warnings to their audiences: take care of your families; maintain your morals; value the natural world. Don’t let destruction like this happen to you. A likely response to this novel and film would then be to spend time with your family as you see families ripped apart and a father/son draw closer than ever in order to survive; to explore what it means to be the “good guy” and “carry the fire” in today’s society; and to spend time appreciating the value of our natural environment, realizing how vital it is to our survival. By examining the setting in the novel and the mise-en-scene in the film, we will discover how natural decay leads to moral decay.

In the film and the novel nature is linked somehow with morality. When nature decays and is destroyed, so is our morality. While natural disasters are out of human control, humans still suffer during them. During these natural disasters, human morality is tested; we hear of people stealing and looting, but we also hear of heroic rescues. In The Road we also see two sides: those who are the “good guys,” trying to maintain morality and “carry the fire,” and the bad guys, those who have forsaken their morality and have turned to violence and cannibalism.

The novel describes many scenes of nature’s decay. The second sentence of the novel reads: “Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before” (McCarthy 3). From the start, our characters Man and Boy are in a very dark, very bleak world. As we continue, there are more signs of destruction: “The city was mostly burned. No sign of life” (McCarthy 12). It is important to note that “no sign of life” includes animal and plant life as well as human life. In this post-apocalyptic world, not even animals or plants have survived. Later in the book we learn that the Boy doesn’t believe birds exist in real life; he has only seen them in books. The most eerie aspect of this world is its barrenness; it is utterly lifeless. Countless times as the man looks out over the landscape, all he sees is “everything paling away into the murk” (McCarthy 4). He looks out “among the dead trees” hoping to find “anything of color. Any movement. Any trace of standing smoke,” but he found nothing (McCarthy 4). The nature of this world is made up of dead trees, clouded skies, and bleakness. There is no bright light of the sun, only gray and lighter gray. The earth is deteriorating, and as it does, so is the humanity of the people still living.

Next to starvation and hypothermia, the heartless cannibal gangs are the Man and Boy’s worst enemy. They encounter them along the road, and they come across their houses multiple times in the book. Halfway through the novel it says, “The world soon to be largely populated by men who would eat your children in front of your eyes and the cities themselves held by cores of blackened looters who tunneled among the ruins and crawled from the rubble white of tooth and eye carrying charred and anonymous tins of food in nylon nets like shoppers in the commissaries of hell” (McCarthy 181). As these people have lost touch with the natural world, they have also lost concern for any sort of morality. Cannibals are seen eating a baby over a fire and spit in the woods, holding starving naked humans in a basement as a food supply, and stealing from anyone who they could benefit from. These people are ruthless and heartless. They are not the good guys, as the novel describes, and in fact, there are very few good guys left.

The film also holds up these themes. Setting plays a large part in John Hillcoat’s adaptation. The elements of design, as described in the Looking at Movies text, are very important in this film. In order to communicate the sense of decay and despair, Hillcoat made sure that the setting was as bleak and bare as possible. One aspect of the mise-en-scene is lighting, and Hillcoat used lighting to his advantage. In Looking at Movies, it says regarding light: “Often, much of what we remember about a film is its expressive style of lighting faces, figures, surfaces, settings, or landscapes” (Barsam 185-6). In the opening scene of The Road, lighting portrays emotion to the audience. As the movie begins, we see a brightly lit outdoor shot of a home and flowering trees. By minute 1:51, there is a jarring switch from this brightly lit scene, with Charlize Theron’s clean, soft face, to a dark scene showing Viggo Mortesen’s dirty, bearded face. The quick lighting change shocks the viewer, and subtly we realize that this brightly colored scene was a dreamed memory. Throughout the course of the film, lighting continues to play a large role as there is no sun in this world but only a dull gray light. Lighting effects were used when the sun came out during shooting, and sometimes scenes had to be shot multiple times if the sun shone on the actors. Another very important aspect of the film is the on-location filming which was expertly found by Hillcoat. Most of the scenes were filmed in real disaster locations. Mt. St. Helen’s, Katrina aftermath, abandoned highways in Pennsylvania, dark and dreary beaches in Oregon, run down parts of Pittsburgh and other places as well. This effect brought a truth to the screen; by knowing this seemingly trivial fact, the viewer is able to understand that this imagined world isn’t so imaginary after all.

One source on this topic is an article by Kenneth Brandt, who examines the final paragraph of the book. He argues that the ending paragraph “is meant to emphasize the totality of the loss of natural-world experience by the book’s characters and to highlight the dependence of humanity on ecosystems” (Brandt). As McCarthy and Hillcoat call for a return to gratitude and appreciation for family, nature, and blessings, Brandt echoes their message by saying that humankind is indebted to natural ecosystems. There is something about being in the beauty of nature that awakens a deep part of the human soul. The contrary is clearly also true: the death of nature kills something deep within the human soul. Brandt says the concluding paragraph of the book echoes “humanity’s essential need to exist in concert with functioning ecosystems” (64). Humankind and the natural world need each other. Brandt concludes his argument with this final line:

Aptly, McCarthy’s concluding passage spotlights a web of environmental interrelationships and presents a contrapuntal arrangement of images that implicitly conveys the totality of humanity’s dependence on ecological stability (66). Hillcoat echoes this in the final words of his director’s commentary. He says that the film and the book have been sort of a wake-up call to society. That in response people went home to be with their families and to cherish the things that the Man and the Boy had lost. Viewers can learn from these characters and from The Road that humans need each other and humans need the natural world.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,

2013. Print.

Brandt, Kenneth K.1. “A World Thoroughly Unmade: Mccarthy’s Conclusion To THE ROAD.” Explicator 70.1 (2012): 63-66. OmniFile Full Text Select (H.W. Wilson). Web. 3 May 2015.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Vintage International, 2006. Print.

The Road. Dir. John Hillcoat. Perf. Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Robert Duvall, and Guy Pierce. Dimension Films and 2929 Productions, 2009. Film.

The Road to Adulthood

The Road by Cormac McCarthy is a piece of literature that depicts the possible effects of a post-apocalyptic world on a man and his son. From a surface-level reading, the novel portrays the bond between parent and child and the struggle to survive unforgiving scenarios. However, upon closer study, McCarthy’s true intentions to warn humanity of the possible consequences for the world’s development are revealed. This story not only suggests that our fate is a violent and bleak one, but also predicts the self-destruction of humanity. It would be incomplete and insufficient to read this book without considering what it suggests about the evolution and structure of our mortality, representation, and beliefs. Under the clarity of a psychoanalytical lens, The Road can be read as a novel about the development of the individuality of a young boy in a post-apocalyptic world. The insights of fear, loss, and personality theory brought to light by psychoanalysis are prominent components of the boy’s path to becoming an individual and distinguishing himself from his father. It is through these ideas that it becomes apparent that “the road” is not just the literal one that the man and son walk, but the figurative road that the boy takes to become who he is at the end of the story.

Psychoanalysis, which explains much of how McCarthy’s novel operates, is a study founded by 20th century psychologist Sigmund Freud. This field explores the unconscious mind, instinct, repression, desire, and sexuality. The concealed part of the mind, which Freud called the “unconscious,” is a dimension of the mind that is consciously inaccessible, yet in indirect ways influences our behavior and components of our personalities. Part of this unconscious includes the personality theory of Freud’s work in which he explains the movements between our instinctual and moral decisions: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the site of the uncontrollable instincts in the mind, the ego is the part that controls the id to keep our behavior in line with what is appropriate socially, and the superego has a moral influence on the ego. These parts that influence morality act symbolically in The Road, as manifested in the characters themselves. Another of the central features of psychoanalysis is Freud’s idea of fear, which he defines in his A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis: “the occasions, the objects and situations which arouse fear, will depend largely on our knowledge of and our feeling of power over the outer world” (Freud, 4). The boy’s fears prove to be compatible with this definition as we study their manifestations. His knowledge of and control over the outer world is weak due to the nature of the devastated and unforgiving world around him. He initially feels no power over the outer world and clings to his father, but then gradually develops his own voice and influences their path during the novel. The fear that the boy most clearly expresses is that of being alone, which is explained by Freud as originating from the separation of the child from his mother’s womb at birth. This fear is then expressed throughout life as the fear of being alone (Freud, 5). This fear is intensified for the boy because he loses his mother a second time, to death, which is more powerful than the separation at birth because the boy is conscious of the situation. These parts of psychoanalysis allow the reasons for the boy’s behavior during his maturation to become clear and comprehensible.

Fear of separation is immediately apparent in the first conversation of the novel, when the boy wakes and calls for his father: “hi, Papa, he said. ‘I’m right here.’ I know” (McCarthy, 5). This shows that the boy needs reassurance that his father is still with him after having woken up one morning to find that his mother has left (58). It is evident that the two need each other, and this interaction comforts the boy. As revealed by Freud’s work, the first fear that people experience is an initial separation from mother at birth, which reverberates throughout life. The boy is a more extreme case of this because he experienced such a crisis twice: once at birth, and once with his mother’s death. This puts him in constant separation anxiety and affects his behavior during the novel. This behavior gradually reveals that his fear of being alone overpowers his fear of death. This is most intensely evident when the father asks the boy if he wants to die as a result of seeing someone else die, and the boy responds with “I don’t care, the boy said, sobbing. I don’t care” (McCarthy 85). This complete submission to his anxiety is powerful because it parallels his mother’s suicide. Having both severances from his mother so close together (a disruptive occurrence in Freud’s theory) caused the boy to reveal some issues he may have as a result of the apocalypse. After this behavior, the father becomes concerned and tells his son that he “musn’t say that.” The way that the father quickly becomes calm in order to comfort the boy reveals that this reminds the father of his wife; he fears that the same suicidal idea may be manifest in his son. This is the first occurrence which shows that the boy has a separate mind from his father’s, launching the boy’s development of his own path.

The id, ego, and the superego appear in The Road in a way that is symbolic and extremely important to the boy’s role in the novel. Rather than these components of the unconscious being significant in the boy himself, they are significant to the relationship between the boy, his father, and the world around them. As the boy matures, he is shown to recognize the importance of morality in this new world. He often questions his own father’s decisions to keep him tethered to his values. A simple example of this is when the two are sharing hot cocoa and the father pours more into his son’s cup. The boy catches him, playfully reminding his father of his promise:

I have to watch you all the time, the boy said.

I know.

If you break little promises, you’ll break big ones. That’s what you said.

I know. But I won’t. (McCarthy, 34)

By keeping his father in line, the boy acts as a reminder of his father’s principle of not breaking promises, despite his father’s initial motive to give his son a larger share. This is symbolic of the interaction between the ego and the superego. According to psychoanalysis, the job of the superego is to be like a parental influence on the ego and counteract the innate instincts of the id. With the boy’s role as the father’s superego, he serves as a constant keeper of their morality. When the father abandons these morals in order to keep himself and his son alive, the son refuses to speak to him (52). However, as he grows up, the boy learns to rationalize with his father rather than keep silent. He shifts his tone from questioning to pleading: “just help him, Papa. Just help him” (259). The repetition in this phrase underlines the boy’s realization of his ability to sway his father’s thinking. This shift is parallel with the boy’s growing separation from his father.

While at the beginning of the novel we saw the boy and the man as one agreeable pair, we now see individuality in the boy. The final separation of the two occurs at the most powerful instance of the boy’s development: the father’s death. Despite his previously evident fear of being left alone, the boy shows acceptance of the fact that his father is dying. He asks his father if a little boy who is lost will be okay, and his father responds “goodness will find the little boy” (281). This exchange is the boy’s way of asking his father what will happen to him personally when he is left alone rather than what will happen to another little boy. He is no longer crying and pleading with his father to not leave him, but instead understands that he can receive reassurance in his father’s final words. It is in this moment that the boy takes responsibility for himself as an individual and completes his development. Now that his father is gone, he is expected to make his own moral judgements and speak for himself with the lessons that his father taught him. In truth, the boy has progressed immensely as an individual since the beginning of the novel. With this final separation completing the boy’s formation of his superego, he can battle the post-apocalyptic world on his own.

The Road is not simply a story about a family’s struggle in the apocalypse. Under the insights provided by psychoanalysis, it reveals itself as a symbolic novel about overcoming fears, defending morals, and creating a new path. The boy’s development throughout the story is directly correlated to psychoanalytical ideas about the result of growing up under various conditions that suggest the importance of understanding humanity’s values. We can use this lens to inspect our own paths and discover the roles they have in deciding our principles and values. It is important that we know how we became who we are as a society so we can prevent becoming as barbaric and merciless as so many of the characters in The Road. Such analysis, furthermore, poses many more questions about how the story could have changed. What if the man had lived? Would the boy still eventually detach himself from his father? What if the mother had lived; would the boy have experienced his separation fear much less intensely? An interesting exploration would be to use this criticism to reveal why the father acts as he does throughout the novel, and why he did not become savage like the others. The incredibly bleak and hopeless nature of the apocalypse poses more questions about what it means for the boy as he grows into adulthood. These are just some possible analyses to pursue, since McCarthy leaves the novel open for many future debates. Yet regardless of future critiques, it is safe to say that The Road serves as a symbolic tool for decoding the mysteries of humanity: how we develop personality individually and why we do the things we do.

Works CitedMcCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.Rivkin, Julie, and Michael Ryan. Literary Theory, an Anthology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. Print.Freud, Sigmund. “XXV. Fear and Anxiety. Sigmund Freud. 1920. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis.” XXV. Fear and Anxiety. Sigmund Freud. 1920. A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis. Web.

Imagery and Themes Establish McCarthy’s Views in The Road

Cormac McCarthy uses a variety of literary techniques in “The Road” to establish his views on a wide range of themes.First, the manner in which McCarthy describes the scenes throughout the novel distinctly conveys the bleak world he has created. Punctuation is notably scarce as simple grammatical rules are ignored (such as the use of commas, hyphens, etc) – this keeps to the minimalistic style of the novel, stripping the content down to the bare essentials. McCarthy seems to play around with this style, as he experiments with the use of contractions – for example, on page 2, he uses an apostrophe in “there’d” but dismisses any possibility of regularity of this in “hadnt”. The use of this literary device creates a somewhat ambiguous response in the reader, as the author’s intentions are unclear and misty, similar to the atmosphere of the setting. It is also noted that McCarthy avoids using quotation marks, thereby integrating dialogue with exposition, perhaps portraying the feelings of the characters in the novel; these details are considered unimportant and perhaps even trivial in the post-apocalyptic world. Likewise, occasionally indentations are not used to distinguish the beginning of speech, instead bleeding into the prose – this is shown on page 9, in the lines “His face in the small light streaked with black from the rain like some old thespian. Can I ask you something? he said”. Additionally, the fragmentation of this text portrays the broken world that the author is trying to describe, thus strengthening the impact of the scene.In addition, we are immediately made aware of an indistinct sense of timing; for instance, we are told that the man “thought the month was October but he wasnt sure. He hadnt kept a calendar for years.” McCarthy hereby skilfully informs the audience that time is irrelevant in this world, as the novel begins in the midst of action, after ruin has taken place. Although the novel is structured chronologically, timing is purposely presented as vague, seemingly unimportant and somewhat trivial in the current world, where only a bleak, foggy atmosphere of the past life remains.McCarthy forms a strong sense of the scenes he is describing through imagery; this technique is introduced in the very second line, showing the significance of epitome (“Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before.”). This ominous description instantly sets the scene as an incredibly grim one; this idea is reinforced further as the novel evolves (“Cars in the street caked with ash, everything covered with ash and dust. Fossil tracks in the dried sludge.”) The repetitive use of dull and demeaning adjectives to describe the remains of the city emphasises the effects of an urban tragedy on society, leaving but only broken remnants of the once ‘whole’ world. The vision McCarthy has created is almost a real-life representation of hell, possibly provoking fear and deterrence within the reader. The word “ash” is used repetitively through description to support these ideas, so as to persuade the reader to consider these thoughts and perhaps develop their own interpretations and understanding of death.Arguably the most common references featured in “The Road” are those with religious connotations – these are introduced from the start of the novel, which gives an insight into the depths of these ideas. For example, McCarthy personifies light in connection with “pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast”. This clear biblical reference showcases the journey the man and boy are undertaking, like that of those on a pilgrimage. On the other hand, the journey could also symbolise the religious journey one takes to lead them to the afterlife, which could be seen as means of avoiding, or perhaps even cheating, death.Furthermore, death is personified on page 20, in the line “How else would death call you?” The author’s use of language here conveys death to be crafty and sinister, perhaps suggesting that in order to beat death, ‘he’ must be befriended. Although not physically possible, this description provides juxtaposition between the concepts of living and death, in allowing the reader to consider other solutions to the inevitable happenings of death. The prospect of death is indeed brought to the forefront of the scene throughout the novel; it is even present in unconsciousness, as shown on page 17 (“He said the right dreams for a man in peril were dreams of peril and all else was the call of languor and of death”). This detail highlights the role of death in the current world, perhaps in an attempt to reassure the characters – for example, if death is frequently spoken about, it may not seem so patronising or terrifying as the time draws closer. Another key reference to death is given on page 29, as we are given a heart-warming insight into the relationship between father and son – “the boy was all that stood between him and death”.The relationship between the father and boy is portrayed as a loving, protective one; this is shown from the very beginning of the novel as the man awakes to “reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him”. This instantly establishes the intense bond between father and son through protection, a subconscious reaction towards a loved one – McCarthy presents this relationship in such a way that the audience find themselves able to connect with the characters, as they will most likely be able to relate to this relentless feeling. Yet another recurring theme throughout the novel is the destination to which the father and son are travelling; the repetitive use of the word “south” (pages 2, 8, 9, 12, 13 and 24) establishes the destination to both the reader and characters. The man almost appears reassuring as he confirms that they are “still going south”, perhaps in an attempt to persuade the boy that their journey is not wasted or worthless. He is also described as having “studied the country to the south”, indicating that plans have been made in preparation, thus confirming that the direction is certain and necessary. On page 29, we are told that “everything depended on reaching the coast” – this detail is more specific than previously mentioned, as a precise destination is given. Moreover, this quote can be compared to the myth of Odyssey, as, like in “The Road”, a journey of hope was undertaken. The journey throughout the novel symbolises life in whole (life is a journey, in which one may have to face seemingly impossible tasks).To conclude, McCarthy is able to convey his views of death, religion, and relationships through the use of many literary devices, including structure, language and imagery, thus strengthening his vision. This proves to be very effective, as the audience is invited to connect with the characters throughout the novel, provoking both thought and feeling.

The Journey Motif in Works of American Literature

The journey motif is one of the most widely used elements in American literature. The journey is a powerful symbol often used to represent a character’s adventure leading to an epiphany, or some sort of self-realization. This literary device can be applied in the background, working invisibly alongside the plot, or it can comprise the entirety of the plot itself so that all of the character’s experiences are centered on the journey. There are a number of American works and writers spanning centuries that have applied this device to their characters. Three literary works, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, use the journey motif to illustrate the mental and physical challenges and tribulations that the characters must experience. However, although all of these novels utilize a journey, the type of journey used is extremely varied. The journey is used to represent a mental or physical challenge, often daunting, that the characters in question must undertake as a part of their enlightenment integral to their character development. Usually, journeys represent something lacking within the lives of the protagonists, so they leave their current predicaments in order to find the lacking piece of their character. Journeys can be literal, such as those in The Road and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or introspective, such as the journey in To Kill a Mockingbird. The physical journeys are as suggested by their genre: the character(s) must literally move from one area to another, regardless of destination. However, it is not the literal act of moving through which the journey motif exerts its symbolic significance. Rather, the journey involves passage through unfamiliar areas, and the characters must face and solve problems and hardships encountered along the way. It is these attributes of a physical journey that culture a dynamic character by causing the characters to realize, through introspection spurred by the hardships encountered during the journey, an element either hidden or unrealized within themselves or in those around them.In The Road, as the title implies, the protagonists, named “The Man” and “The Boy,” follow a path from the United States down to the ambiguous “south” (McCarthy 7) after an unspecified cataclysm devastates modern society and leaves these characters ostensibly among the few survivors on the planet. However, the sudden and apocalyptic reduction in population does not shield them from the prospect of danger, for there are nomadic groups of cannibals roaming the scorched land. The Man and The Boy must constantly work to defend themselves from these groups while at the same time foraging for food and resources to refill the dwindling supplies in their shopping cart (McCarthy 3). The reason for their physical journey is obvious: they lack safety in their current situation, and although their situation seems hopeless no matter where they go, they hope that they can find refuge and safety by searching for it. In this case, the author makes no note or hint about a destination, indicating that a journey does not necessarily need to have a definitive end. Rather, it can be seen as an ongoing process. In addition to the search for safety and the need to survive, one of the protagonists, The Boy, who seems to be no older than a pre-adolescent is faced with the imminent death of his father, who chronically coughs up blood. Because the boy has never known independence, he, essentially, faces a “second” journey on top of the metaphysical journey experienced by both characters. To The Boy, it is the journey to responsible manhood, being able to provide for and survive by himself, something he has not had to do because of the presence of his father. Both have to realize their true position in this reformed society (or the absence of it). The father now understands that no matter how much he wants his son to survive, his purpose is to keep his son alive as long as possible, with the slim hope that he will be able to survive and, presumably, procreate. However, the son’s purpose is to reach independence, and the life-or-death experiences faced by these characters merely serve to develop his independence. In this sense, The Road can also been seen as a quasi-Bildungsroman, a genre involving a young protagonist who experiences psychological and moral growth throughout the story. The Boy, who is fearful and fawning at the beginning, slowly begins to exert his independence, as exhibited through certain actions of rebellion against his father. For example, when his father wishes to enter an abandoned house in search of resources, The Boy refuses to enter, citing it as unsafe (McCarthy 13). It is also made known that the boy is silently aware of his father’s illness (McCarthy 28), meaning that he has slowly learned to accept the fact that his father will not always be around to protect and provide for him. By the novel’s end, when the boy’s father dies, the boy fearlessly faces a stranger with his family and, presumably, follows them into safety.The Road ideally embodies a quote by the novelist Don Williams Jr., who said, “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.” In the characters of The Road, the lessons of survival, epiphany, and growth stem solely from the dangers that are experienced along the journey, never from the destination. The destination, in fact, is unmentioned, further emphasizing the author’s desire for perpetually developing self-enlightenment.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is another work in which a physical journey motif is utilized. However, unlike the morose, barren journey for carnal survival as undertaken in The Road, Huck Finn tells the story of an escaped slave and a naïve yet independent young boy on their road to freedom. This freedom is different for each character: the slave, Jim, hopes to achieve freedom from his slave status by escaping north, while the boy, Huck, hopes to achieve freedom from the decorum of civilized society (Twain 32). In a sense, both characters lack freedom in their positions at the beginning of the novel, and they set off to gain it no matter the hardships. However, despite the absence of cannibals as in The Road, Huck and Jim’s journey brings upon them a distinct set of problems, such as being held “hostage” by two quacks (Twain 122), having to life a double life when they stumble upon communities (Twain 145), and escaping recapture (at least for Jim) when they discover that their journey to freedom has taken a wrong turn. In this metaphorical journey, Huck’s story embodies a Bildungsroman, and he is the more dynamic character of the duo. He transforms from a naïve young boy to a slightly more mature, learned young boy, having seen the true colors of discrimination and having learned about the nature of people from the various feuds and plans that snake through the slave-holding community. For instance, before embarking on this journey, Huck maintains the traditional viewpoint that Blacks were to be subservient to Whites and that they were nothing more than cattle in human flesh. However, midway through their journey, Huck learns that Jim, although a slave, is a human like Huck himself, and he even accepts condemnation to Hell for refusing to turn him in (Twain 205). This realization marks one of the most profound turning points in the novel. Despite the epiphanies that Huck himself experiences, his travel partner, Jim, remains relatively static, clinging to his beliefs from the beginning of the story and perhaps only learning that not all Whites are bad through Huck’s kindness.A figurative journey, on the other hand, does not require an actual movement from one area to another, although it does not necessarily exclude one. However, characters who embark on such a journey are far from idle, as they must face a fluid, active, and often powerful society that influences and attempts to mold them. It is this process of being molded that constitutes the hardships that are faced along a figurative journey. One of the archetypal figurative journeys is utilized in the novel set in the fictional town of Maycomb, Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird, in which the protagonists, Jean Louis Finch (“Scout”) and Jeremy Finch, two young children, experience the true colors of society and are forced to face the miseries of maturity beyond their years. At the beginning of the story, the readers learn that their father, Atticus, is a prominent attorney in the town, and that he has chosen to defend a Black man, Jim, in their discriminatory society (Lee 18). Because of this, Jem and Scout become the subject of scorn from many of the town’s characters. Jem is also slammed with a dual lesson of death and courage through his forced community service to Mrs. Dubose, a cranky morphine addict (Lee 103). Of the two, Jem appears to be the most affected by the psychological journey that the two protagonists embark on. During the actual trial, though it is clear that Atticus has made a powerful defense and discredited Jim’s accusers multiple times (Lee 205), Jim is still found guilty and is later shot while trying to escape (Lee 212). Jem is shattered during this ordeal, and his faith in both the utopian society that he had believed in during his years of naivety and the legal system is compromised. Both he and Scout learn that the world is definitely not an ideal place and that stigma can play a large role in determining factors as large as life or death. Although it appears that Jem treks along the journey faster than Scout, by the end of the novel, Scout appears to have actually learned more than Jem. The father of girl who had accused Jim of raping her is bitter about his defeat, and near the end of the novel, he attempts to kill Scout and Jem as they are walking home. However, they are saved by the prompt appearance of Boo Radley, a hermit, about whom Jem and his friends have perpetually spread gruesome rumors, attempting to lure him out of hiding. Scout, however, quickly learns that what Jem was doing was inconsiderate, and she even makes an extremely sharp conjecture about Boo’s desire to remain hidden. During the ordeals of the trial, Scout says that perhaps Boo does not want to leave his house because of how poisonous the outside society is (Lee 231). When Boo saves Scout and Jem, Jem is left unconscious, but Scout finally sees Boo as a real, breathing, kind person, not the monster that her brother and his friends have asserted him to be (Lee 271). By the end, although both Scout and Jem follow a path to the same destination, maturity, both take a different route and experience different events along the way. Jem approaches his destination through enduring and facing the corrupting miasma of a discriminatory, racist society and how society’s judgment can affect people’s lives. Scout approaches her destination through learning of people’s true colors, culminating with her amiable connection with Boo at the conclusion of the novel. The journey is widely employed not only in American literature but in literary works that span the history of fiction. As demonstrated in The Road, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the journey is employed to demonstrate a particular self-realization or epiphany gained through experiencing daunting hardships or problems faced along the way, forcing the characters to reexamine their positions in their surroundings through introspection. In this sense, the journey is one of the most effective examples of symbolism in conveying such a motif.Works CitedLee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1960. Print.McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. Print.Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Collector’s Library, 1912. Print.

The Road: Hope for an Obliterated World?

The post-apocalyptical novel, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, explores the perseverance of a man and his son to survive in an obliterated world. The novel is a modern quest demonstrating faith in man’s power to rejuvenate himself through trust and perseverance. The bitter, hostile setting of the novel is set in a gray world without meaning, without color, reflecting the grave hopelessness of modern times. The novel takes place in the aftermath of an unknown catastrophe: the skies grey, the rivers black, and color only a memory. Perpetual ash falls from the sky, already covering the ground. The only possessions worth having are food and clothes. Corpses, charred or burned, are littered throughout the road, and the dreams of the man and the boy are “ensepulchered within their crozzled hearts.” Their destination is the coast, although they don’t know what, if anything, awaits them there. This destroyed world coincides with the traits of the father and the son; it is difficult for the characters to find purpose in a world with no color or light leading them. The father is an active representation of hopelessness for the future: “With the first gray light he rose and left the boy sleeping and walked out to the road and squatted and studied the country to the south. Barren, silent godless.” The colorless, barren land that the boy and the man travel emphasizes their bleakness within. As the man listens to the “water drip in the woods” and the “bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void,” he says with a trembling voice, “If only my heart were made of stone.” The father establishes his desire not to feel pain, coldness, or death; he cannot bear the sting of this “cold and silence” of this barren, hopeless environment. The father’s existential angst towards his life and the world questions his will to survive. Yet the father does find a purpose, or at least he questions one; in the midst of destruction; the father “knelt down in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day.” Here, he asks, “Are you there? Will I see you at last? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God.” In this bleak environment, the hope in God or a higher being is hard to find. The father can only question why this God has not killed him; if this God had a heart, why is he still living? The lack of punctuation and dialogue between the man and the boy makes some reading difficult, yet it bolsters the confusion of the described world and the loss of identity. The neglecting of commas, apostrophes, quotations, and even names often makes the reading confusing, yet it adds to the uncertainty of the journey. The continuation of the language of the novel emphasizes the continuation of the journey. In this father-son relationship for survival, there isn’t much time for small talk. They discuss deep topics in short choppy sentences: I wish I was with my mom.He didnt answer. He sat beside the small figure wrapped in the quilts and blankets. After a while he said: You mean you wish that you were dead. Yes. You musnt say that. But I do. I cant help it. I know. But you have to. How do I do it? I don’t know. In this passage, the dialogue between the man and the boy can become confusing, as are their thoughts. The man often says “I dont know” or “Okay” when he speaks to his son. It’s this vast emptiness that allows the reader to focus on the relationship of the two characters. These short phrases and fragments emphasize a poignant fatigue in the characters. The characters are mentally and physically exhausted from being quick on their feet to escape danger, scavenging for survival, and on the look out for harmful strangers. Furthermore, punctuation in this novel, besides the occasional needed comma, is for the ending of phrases. Ending punctuation has the ability to set two thoughts apart, rather than connecting their thoughts and words. These periods and questions marks convey how the characters cannot connect their thoughts and memories; they cannot remember the past. Moreover, the abrupt, colloquial word choice is sparse, yet there are moments of sparse poetry. In the last paragraph of the novel, a “brook trout in the stream of the mountains” is described. Their “backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again.” The fine lines of the “world in its becoming” illustrate the subjectivity of man’s reality. Each choice is individual, creating an existential angst and anxiety for the future. This description of the fish, after the death of the father and a new family for the boy, reiterates the existential beliefs. The world, most likely destroyed by humans, cannot “be made right again.” Nameless characters that still maintain a civil virtue in The Road reveal the necessity of maintaining identity in a dying world. The characters are described as “the boy” and “the man” throughout the novel—names are never mentioned. The one man who actually tells the man and the boy his name is “Ely,” yet he later claims this isn’t is name. He told them “I couldn’t trust you with it. To do something with it. To say where I was or what I said when I was there.” This so-called Ely is not capable of giving his identity to strangers, showing the distrust of human to human interaction. Although names are a thing of the past, the father and son are still able to maintain an identity as they “carry the fire.” In fact, one of the only aspects of color in this world is fire. The fire that literally “burned orange and blue in the fire’s heart” is carried throughout the story, representing the continuation of a civilization and goodness of mankind. The literal color, too, is a disclosure; “carrying the fire” may actually give hope that life, an enjoyable life, could be in the future. In the father’s final conversation with his son, he requires him to “carry the fire.” The boy claims he doesn’t know how, yet the father tells him, “yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it.” Although neither of these characters has a name, the boy can still maintain his internal goodness and lack of savagery. In fact, the son is what kept the father from becoming savage throughout their journey. The father’s savage actions for survival depict the aimlessness of the journey in a universe without any moral values. When all of their material goods are stolen, the two search for and find the robber down the road. The father forces the robber to return the shopping cart and take off all of his clothes, literally stripping him of any remaining dignity. The boy begs his father to stop, as this will cause the death of the robber. Yet, “they set out along the road south with the boy crying…” “Oh Papa,” he sobbed. As the man and boy move farther and farther away from the naked man in the road, the boy continues to sob and tells his father, “Just help him, Papa. Just help him…He’s going to die…He’s so scared, Papa…” Here, the boy keeps his father in line, instead of becoming a ruthless savage like many untrustworthy people in their world. After the son convinced his father to stay a good person, “finally he piled the man’s shoes and clothes on the road.” Savagery displayed by the father and by numerous other characters in the novel is partly because of the lack of food. In this world without morals, it is clear that cannibals, who make humans and fetuses suffer a slow, painful death, have lost a sense of human goodness. These actions convey the individual responsibility of existentialism. As Satre said, “existence precedes essence,” meaning that humans could possibly act in any manner to survive—all before thinking of their actions. These actions define lives—the lack of savagery in the boy and the man delineates their “fire” and goodness still within and their battle against the world’s savagery. In addition to the struggle of maintaining identity, the man and the boy, these nameless people, create an “everyman” hero type and quest. This uncommon hero, devoid of specific traits of individuality, allows readers to imagine themselves in the same situation, while still possessing the same very human flaws. One flaw, such as the sickness that the father suffers with (which ultimately brings his death), creates this abnormal hero. The father does not have any super powers or abilities; he simply struggles to live and, more importantly, keep his son from seeing the danger of the world. The father apologizes to his son when they encounter “a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit.” The father cannot bear to let his son see and experience this savage, unnatural behavior. The father, this hero, is trying to protect his son from the world; he does not want to fail as a parent or protector. He is not trying to save the world; it is already destroyed. There are, however, moments when the father almost “gives up” and makes it obvious where they are. The first is when they found a “brick loggia” house in the country. They stayed at the house four days, eating and resting, but, most importantly, built a large fire in the fireplace. Not only did the man and boy stay in the same area for four days, but they also constructed a fire, making it obvious as to where they were. Although they were never discovered, this fire may have been a signal to someone who was following them. The second time when the two characters let up their guard was on the beach in the South. The father allowed his son to shoot the flare gun in a celebration. This beam of light that he shot over the ocean was clearly a message to anyone around them. The father may have possibly “let his guard up” because he knew someone was following them—someone who could rescue his son when he died. With only one direction of travel and a remote meaning for the journey, an ambiguous goal for the father and son on their quest of survival is created. The only direction for the quest is “south,” there is no specific destination. And when the two characters reach the southern coast, there is not much to be thankful for. The gray sea was “like the desolation of some alien sea breaking on the shores of a world unheard of.” There was a “gray squall line of ash” along the horizon. The father “could see the disappointment in his face. I’m sorry it’s not blue, he said. That’s okay, said the boy.” After the innumerable struggles of the son and the father: the pain, the cold, the lack of food, there was not much at the end of their journey. The beach was “Cold. Desolate. Birdless.” But, at the true end of the quest (when the father dies), there is hope for the future. A new family that “doesnt eat people” and that may have been following the man and the son, has agreed to let the boy travel with them. Although the quest of the father has come to an end, the boy still has the chance to finish his life and create his own path. The Road is hardly fiction—it is an ominous, realistic description of what could be the future. The unknown completion of the quest and the future life of the son questions the point of the seemingly meaningless journey. Yet, maybe this complete destruction could bring about a fertile breeding ground for change; everything that once seemed impossible could now happen on a daily basis. The world would be free of rules, limits, and preconceptions, allowing any individual to shape his own path.

Father and Mother Figures as Two Opposites of the New World: Family in ‘The Road’

In Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road, family becomes the central theme that shapes the world in the novel. A reader follows the story of the single-parent family: the father and his son travel across the post-apocalyptic land and fight for their survival day by day. While the father is a loving and caring person devoted to his child, the mother prefers to retreat and commits suicide. In this dog-eat-dog world, these characters reveal their nature and turn out to be polar opposites through a broader lens. The author contrasts the paternal and maternal roles and presents them as two possible attitudes toward the life hardships. While the mother is the person who cannot stand ordeals and escapes, the father figure is the one who manifests unconditional and invisible love through typical family activities, the new world behavior, and guidance.

The image of the mother is blurred, and a few details suggest that she is the personification of those who are unable to adjust themselves to brutal external conditions and choose to give up. From the first moments of the story, one can see her absence, and there is always some gap that the characters feel deeply. One night, after another coughing fit, the father talks to the boy saying he is sorry he has woken him up, and the boy suddenly admits he wishes he were with his mom. Although the father and the son rarely mention her aloud, they both often think about her. This memory is torturing, but it gives them a chance to keep moving because they have nothing else left. For the father, this memory is a reminder of his inability to take care of his wife and letting her die alone somewhere, and the vivid dreams intensify the suffering. For the son, again, it is natural to dream of her presence, just as any motherless child does, even though he tries to keep face straight. Thus, the figure of the mother becomes the evocation of the past that fuels the characters.

However, beyond the family yearning, there is one more idea associated with the mother figure – the attitude towards struggle and hope. The woman expects the worst – being captured, raped, and killed at some point of the family existence, and she can only seek comfort in controlling her own life via suicide: “As for me my only hope is for eternal nothingness.” It is the lack of faith in the face of no hope that distinguishes the woman from her husband. She is unable to go beyond the present because there is no evidence of future wellbeing. In other words, the maternal role is specific because it implies protection, as the woman actually believes, that objectively has nothing to do with motherly love. By means of the mother figure, the writer pictures the opposite of hope rather than genuine motherhood.

Unlike the woman, the man possesses the best qualities of a father. The multiple situations described in the story identify him as a person of sincere love, courage, and self-sacrifice. The book contains several moments in which the writer exhibits the ideal relationship between a father and son that belong to a normal, untouched by the catastrophe world rather than the post-apocalyptic, hostile environment. For instance, it is a common practice for a father to teach his child how to swim – in the present world. In The Road setting, such events are extraordinary, and their value increases. In this episode, the father acts as a caring, supportive parent who encourages his son and makes sure there is no threat: “The man went back and got him. He held him and floated him about… You’re doing good, the man said. You’re doing good.” This moment proves that the characters’ family bonds are strong, and the simple activity becomes a substantial evidence.

Another illustrative example of the father and son’s closeness is the moment when they encounter a bunker with many useful supplies. Although both of them are on their guard since “bad guys” might appear, it does not prevent them from having a rest. The father shaves and cuts his own and son’s hair, and these seemingly ordinary activities turn out to be a precious moment of the long-hoped-for tranquility and uneasy family happiness. Such episodes prove that the father’s attempts to delight his son are sometimes successful, even though it is a momentary success. On the one hand, the book does not offer anything in the way of escape or comfort. On the other hand, one cannot ignore such moments because they provide a reader with the firm evidence that the man managed to do much for his child.

Further, the father not only engages his son into pleasant activities but also guards him throughout the story till his last breath. Indeed, it is the only possible way of survival for a small child, and the man has been taking care of him since his birth. It is peculiar that he has to deliver the baby when the catastrophe is taking place, and the fact that the clock stopped may be the powerful symbol of the new time marking – now taking into account the son’s presence and caring of him. Since this moment, the appalling conditions and greater responsibility require specific behavior, and it is not always about being heroic or having fun together. Practical affairs, for instance, looking for food, become one of the most urgent activities. In the new world, there are still some opportunities to find forgotten places where cans and other supplies are available. The father worries not about himself – his main concern is about the food for his child. The minor details demonstrate that he catches at every straw when it comes to obtaining food as it happens in the old apple orchid: “He felt out the spaces about the trunks and filled his pockets full and he piled apples in the hood of his parka behind his head and carried apples stacked along his forearm against his chest.” As the man of the new world, he understands that he should use every opportunity because he has to feed his son.

In addition to these prosaic details, the author also demonstrates that the father’s behavior modifies when some circumstances expose his son danger. The most telling example is probably the moment when he shoots one of those bad men who were threatening his son and uses a valuable bullet because, as he tells the boy, his job is to take care of him: “I was appointed to do that by God. I will kill anyone who touches you.” Indeed, the boy is the only reason for the father to live, consequently, he should keep his boy alive no matter how. Overall, it is the new world reality that makes the man use every opportunity to survive regardless of the costs. He is not afraid to go down in his son’s estimation and kill someone because, in his worldview, his son’s life is the most precious thing.

Finally, the father serves as the teacher for the boy, not only in terms of material matters but also shaping his worldview and answering his questions about life. The dialog in the darkness helps a reader scrutinize the father and the son’s relationships:

What would you do if I died?If you died I would want to die too.So you could be with me?Yes. So I could be with you.

In this example, one can see that the man cannot imagine his life without his son, and he tells it him directly. As he sees the son as someone sacred, he tries to shepherd him despite the unavailability of food, home, safety, company, or hope. By his own example, he teaches him to be honest, admits he does not have all the answers, and still tries to provide the explanation why the life is sometimes so hard. As the father feels he is going to die, he reassures the boy and remains a good father until his last moment.To conclude, the novel’s characters, the man, and his wife represent two alternatives. The author illustrates how different they are not only in terms of parenthood but also their perception of the harsh reality. The father figure is the parent-fighter type: despite the challenges the family has to face, he makes every endeavor to protect his child whom he views as his reason for being. He is strong and determined, and love is what gives him the power to continue the way. In comparison with her husband, the woman exemplifies the weakness as she cannot accept the new world in which danger and death lurk in every corner. This feeling is more powerful than the motherly feelings that one could expect of a mother. Thus, the fraternal and maternal roles are notable for their ambiguous meaning: they pertain to real people’s relationships and simultaneously are abstract forms of the worldview.

Breaking the Rules: The Unconventional Punctuation of The Road

If a student tells his or her teacher that adhering to grammatical rules proves unnecessary to acceptable writing, the teacher would in all likelihood balk at the student’s claim and continue reinforcing the need for proper punctuation. If someone asked Cormac McCarthy about the necessity of punctuation, he would probably respond the same way he did in a 2008 interview with Oprah Winfrey: “There’s no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. I mean, if you write properly, you shouldn’t have to punctuate.” McCarthy renounces common punctuation rules in his novel The Road in order to impart the novel’s underlying messages in a simplistic style.

McCarthy’s greatest deviation from conventional punctuation rules exists in his lack of quotation marks in dialogue. In one instance, McCarthy writes, “Can I ask you something? he said. / Yes. Of course. / Are we going to die? / Sometime. Not now. / And we’re still going south” (10). McCarthy’s decision to abstain from quotation marks heavily influences the way the reader interprets the tone. Withholding quotations gives the text a bare appearance, strikingly similar to the novel’s barren setting. The dialogue serves as another channel the reader uses to grasp the desolation of the world. The reader requires as much insight into the world as possible to fathom the stark difference between life today and the atmosphere of The Road. McCarthy’s dialogue also contributes to the audience’s understanding of the close bond between the man and the boy. The dialogue flows in such a way where the reader can almost hear the soft back-and-forth conversation between the two characters. The mood created by the absence of quotation marks reflects the solemn tone of the post-apocalyptic world. In addition, quotation marks do not seem necessary for the audience to understand the verbal communication and differentiate one character’s dialogue from the other. McCarthy not only simplifies his writing, but by excluding quotation marks, he actually expands the text’s meaning.

Although McCarthy places the occasional comma and colon in his writing, he largely keeps his punctuation to a bare minimum. In most cases, McCarthy elects not to place a comma before conjunctions in compound sentences. One example of this can be found in the sentence, “They ate well but they were still a long way from the coast” (McCarthy 213). Generally, a comma would be located before the conjunction “but.” However, McCarthy chooses to simplify the sentence by refraining from using a comma and thus conveying the same meaning with less complexity. Most of the commas in The Road seem to be a part of dialogue attribution. For instance, McCarthy writes, “This is our new lamp, he said” (135). Again on the same page, the text reads, “Come on, the man said” (McCarthy 135). The audience can assume McCarthy includes commas around dialogue attribution to distinguish text from speech, which proves especially useful with the lack of quotation marks. Colons appear more sparingly within the text. When McCarthy incorporates colons, it provides a contrast from the barren nature of the rest of the sentences. The contrast places emphasis on the information preceding and following the colon. One passage states, “In the morning the boy said nothing at all and when they were packed and ready to set out upon the road he turned and looked back at their campsite and he said: She’s gone isn’t she? And he said: Yes, she is” (McCarthy 58). This passage consists of two colons, adding twice as much emphasis to the paragraph’s content. McCarthy most likely intended to place a spotlight on this paragraph because it contains vital background information about the mother that the reader needs to know in order to fully understand the relationship between the man and the boy. McCarthy takes advantage of the aesthetic of incorporating and withholding commas and colons to further enhance his text.

At first glance, McCarthy’s use of apostrophes seems arbitrary, but upon further study, the reader can see that McCarthy methodically attempted to create a simplified vocabulary. For the majority of the novel, McCarthy does not add an apostrophe to words contracted with “not,” but he does use an apostrophe with other contracted words like “am,” “had,” “is,” and “are.” In order to understand McCarthy’s thought process, the contractions need to be analyzed in written form. One example from the novel reads, “I’m sorry, he said. Dont say that. You mustnt say that” (McCarthy 85). In this example, McCarthy includes an apostrophe with the contraction “I’m” because even in a society decaying in education, the words “I” and “am” still have separate identities. Not only that, but removing the apostrophe creates an almost unintelligible word that leaves the reader befuddled at the sight of “Im.” On the other hand, the words “dont” and “mustnt” have been paired together in speech so much that they almost seem like one word, and the reader can easily overlook the missing apostrophe without pausing out of confusion. McCarthy also combines words like “burntlooking” (49), “roofingfelt” (134), and “coathanger” (135) for arguably the same reason he avoids apostrophes, to reduce cluttered sentences and merge words generally associated with one another. In an effort to show the decaying world of The Road, McCarthy seeks every avenue of conveying the decomposition to the reader in a discernible manner, even to the point of writing words in the simplest form.

Though McCarthy’s blatant disregard for punctuation rules may set most readers on edge, the uneasiness associated with reading The Road may not necessarily be a negative reaction. McCarthy’s decision to break the set mold for writing led him to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. One could argue that if McCarthy included common punctuation like quotation marks around dialogue and commas before conjunctions, then his novel would not have garnered much attention above the sea of other fictional books. Writers should not hesitate to try something different now and again, even if breaking the rules causes a little anxiety. Notwithstanding, before one deviates from the rules of writing, like McCarthy states, one must first learn to “write properly.”

Carrying the Fire: Effective Literary Devices in McCarthy’s The Road

Cormac McCarthy’s novel The Road is a gripping tale of survival in a post-nuclear holocaust world full of marauders and cannibals. A man and his son travel the United States in search of food and shelter, all the while hiding from (and occasionally battling) the marauders. As one might expect, the novel is very dark. The situation for the man and boy is hopeless, and McCarthy uses a great deal of devices to efficiently portray the desperate journey of his two protagonists. An interesting device McCarthy uses is the lack of names or physical descriptions of the man and boy, aside from the boy calling his father “Papa.” McCarthy provides no physical descriptions or ages except when the father describes the boy as thin. The two use no regional dialect when speaking, and no exact description of their location appears. The back cover of the novel says that it takes place in America, but McCarthy never even gives this broad detail within the story. All the reader knows is a broad sketch of their travels: from mountains to coast, and from north to south. One might assume that the two are at first somewhere in the Appalachian Mountains, heading southeast to the east coast of the United States. The author, however, takes care never to reveal definitive locations. All of this lack of description of both the people and their location gives the novel a sense of anonymity – a sense that if such a nuclear holocaust were to happen, these two suffering people could be anyone. All people need the basic essentials in the face of such an apocalypse, and previous identities are meaningless. Another important device McCarthy uses is sentence fragments and lack of proper punctuation. Sentence fragments occur early in the novel and continue throughout. Often, sentence fragments extend from a single short sentence, as if they should be connected with commas, such as “In the dream from which he’d wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some gigantic beast” ( McCarthy 3). Later, McCarthy writes, “Standing there he felt the hull of the ship lift and slide. Just slightly. Tide coming in. Slapping along the rocks of the jetty down there” (228). These are just two examples of sentence fragments that are used throughout the novel. The author uses fragments to illustrate the figurative fragmentation of the world in which the man and boy live. Proper punctuation also occurs infrequently in The Road. Quotation marks are never used in dialogue, and contractions often lack apostrophes, such as in “Cant you, Papa?” (7). Apostrophes are used in contractions, but are just as frequently not used, and their usage doesn’t seem to form any pattern. The author seems to be using the lack of punctuation and proper sentence structure to show the futility of all the rules of the English language. In a world where nothing matters but finding food, shelter and clothing, punctuation and sentence structure do not matter. Along with comments about material possessions such as cars and electronics being left roadside because they are useless, McCarthy uses these language errors to show that all of society’s conventions and cares are worthless.Last but not least, McCarthy uses religious language and references to light throughout the novel when writing about the boy. The child is referred to as “God’s own firedrake” (31) early in the novel, and Biblical references to the child continue as the novel progresses. Later, when the father and son meet a man named Ely on the road, the two adults have an interesting conversation about the child:“When I saw that boy I thought that I had died. [Ely]You thought he was an angel? [Father]I didnt know what he was. I never thought to see a child again. I didnt know that would happen. [Ely]What if I said that he’s a god?” [Father] (172).This apparent deification of the child is developed even more before and after this section. At one point, the father plays with his son’s hair as he sleeps, thinking to himself, “Golden chalice, good to house a god” (75). He begins referring to the child as Christ or God later in the story. He does not ever directly say that the boy is God, but the author always follows the man’s references to God with a glance at the boy, or a touch. For example, McCarthy writes, “Christ, he said. Oh Christ. He turned and grabbed the boy” (110), then goes on to say, “Christ, he said. Run. Run” (111). Not only does he speak to the boy as if he were Christ, but the boy eventually begins to answer to this. When they find the bomb shelter full of food, McCarthy writes“Oh my God, he whispered. Oh my God.What is it Papa?Come down. Oh my God. Come down.” (138). It seems as though the father is addressing the son as God, with the child answering. This type of dialogue occurs again on page 253. If these Biblical addresses aren’t convincing enough, the boy actually says, following his father’s statement that he is not the one who has to worry about their situation, “Yes, I am… I am the one” (259). This short statement brings to mind Jesus’ Biblical affirmation that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.” The boy is also associated strongly with light. In Revelation 21:5, it says, “They will need no light or lamps from the sun, for the Lord God shall give them light.” The man constantly tells his son that they are “carrying the fire,” something which provides light for their dark world. The father, on his deathbed, watches his son and thinks to himself, “There was light all about him… when he moved the light moved with him” (277). The boy’s strong ties to divinity seem to be used to shed some form of hope and light on his novel of darkness, reinforced by the ending in which a seeming miracle occurs – the boy finds other people who are “carrying the light” after his father dies. McCarthy’s novel The Road is full of hopelessness and danger. The author uses anonymity, lack of sentence structure, and incorrect punctuation to demonstrate this sense of despair. On the other hand, he effectively uses Christ-like references to the boy to show a vague sense of innate good in the world – or perhaps simply desperate hope – even in the face of an apocalypse.