Depiction Mortality in Terms Of Cannibalism And War in The Road Novel
Generally considered one of the finest books by Cormac McCarthy, ‘The Road’ explores the theme of mortality in explicit detail. Throughout the whole book, the author uses a plethora of language techniques to demonstrate to the reader the silent monstrosity that the world has come to accept in its post-apocalyptic times.
At the beginning of the novel, McCarthy uses sentence structure and imagery to represent the theme of mortality – “Behind them came wagons drawn by slaves in harness and piled with goods of war and after that the women, perhaps a dozen in number, some of them pregnant, and lastly a supplementary consort of calamites illclothed against the cold and fitted in dogcollars and yoked each to each.” This quote showcases the theme of mortality because it uses connotations of war and cannibalism. Since there is no actual physical fighting between two armies, the word ‘war’ symbolises to the reader the constant struggle of humanity against death, and just like during the actual war, people accept any way, ethical or not, that can guarantee them the survival. Therefore, the expression “piled up with goods of war” suggests to the reader that this caravan of people assume that they won their today’s battle against the death as they found supplies that they could use to prolong their living. However, since there is no electricity to run supermarkets and no animals to hunt, this quote makes the reader assume that inside those are actually chopped up corpses of children that the leaders of the caravan are planning to consume. This interpretation is supported by the expression “some of them are pregnant” in reference to women as during a war women are usually used for physical satisfaction and producing basic supplies like sewed up clothes. Nonetheless, in this post-apocalyptic version of war, people are more concerned with the existence of clothes rather than its quality and that suggests to the reader that women have other use – producing food supplies. This grotesque imagery demonstrates how mortality forces humanity into degradation and forgetting the basic guidelines of morality. The degradation is further supported by the use of “calamities,” “slaves,” and “dogcollars” as it demonstrates how people are going back to the medieval Roman times and men are being maddened by their physical superiority over the weak. Finally, the structure of the sentence reminds the reader of a marching phalanx as the food supplies, women and the wagon, are marching first followed by sexual entertainment, the calamities. This shows that the fear of death has such a manipulating influence on humans that they become slaves of their own fear as they don’t just walk like the man and the son, they walk in phalanx prepared to be attacked or attack in any moment.
Towards the middle of the book, the author uses diction and symbolism to portray the theme of mortality – “Huddled against the back wall were naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands.” Since the dictionary meaning of the word “huddled” is to crowd together, the expression “huddled against the back wall” symbolises fear and unity to the reader. Contrasting to the constant isolation of characters throughout the book, it is surprising for the reader to see that in the face of danger those naked people are crowded in one place seeking each other’s protection instead of hiding in different corners and only relying on themselves to save their lives. This implies to the reader that maybe in the end the consuming fear of death would bring the humanity together to create a new world, in which the mankind will never repeat the mistakes that led to the apocalypse. However, “huddled against the back wall” can also be interpreted as selfishness of the people because when you are in a large group there is a less chance of you being selected to be eaten than when you are alone hiding in a different corner. In this case, this shows that the mortality is a god’s punishment for the people’s selfishness – nowadays people drop atomic bombs without considering how it is going to affect others. Therefore, this reference to nowadays context suggests to the reader that if people won’t change their selfish ways, the mortality will be our punishment. The idea of mortality being a punishment to the humankind is further supported by expressions “naked people” and “male and female”. This is because the diction makes the reader think of the concept of Adam and Eve being punished by the God. Since Adam and Eve are the origin of humanity, they are represented by the male and female. Therefore, the nakedness of the people indicates to the reader that the God can see all the secrets and the deeds the humanity did no matter how hard people try to hide them. As a result, this representation of the theme of mortality shows that death is the punishment that people receive after the day of doom. Lastly the fact that people are “shielding their faces” demonstrates their vulnerability and fear. They are seeking for protection but, since they are stuck in the cellar, it suggests to the reader that there is no escape from the punishment that they will face. Therefore, the theme of mortality is portrayed as an inevitable, final penalty that every character in the book will face.
Lastly, in the end of the novel Cormac McCarthy uses narration to demonstrate the theme of mortality – “What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening in the spit”. This quote shows the continuous symbolism of carrying the fire in the new point of view. For example, the fact that the human baby was “charred” means that the infant died from the fire. Throughout the whole novel, the father told the son that he was carrying the fire and, since the child was the only motivation for the father to live on, that suggested to the reader that the fire was the symbol of hope and warmth, the things that this post-apocalyptic world lacked. However, now the idea of fire is represented in the negative way, hence it implies to the reader that sometimes the things you think are good for you might actually end up badly for someone else. Relating to the theme of mortality, it could mean that the death throughout the whole novel was caused by the people acting for the ‘good reason’ like cannibals are eating people because it’s their sole source of food. Moreover, the word “gutted” represents to the reader that the fear of death causes people to lose their soul and morals as if they are “gutted” – they just stop being a normal and complete human being, and turn into an immoral beast. Lastly, throughout the novel children were used to portray the innocence that is left of the ‘old world’ – for example, the boy is used as a device to remind the morals of our world to the readers- and the fact that the human infant is “blackening in the pit” symbolizes that the fear of death is so consuming that it has the power to cause defilement to the last hope and innocence of humanity and bring the real apocalypse, where everything is dead, to action.
As a conclusion, the author successfully uses a plethora of literary techniques to portray the theme of mortality in terms of cannibalism and war, religion and fear, and morality and fire. The theme of is vividly conveyed throughout the whole novel to demonstrate to the reader that if the humanity won’t fix its selfish ways and start to care about each other, then we will bring our world to the apocalypse and live the nightmare we though would never come.
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