‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy Analytical Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer

‘The Road’ is a book by Cormac McCarthy that focuses on a post-apocalyptic event involving a nuclear war. Evil is prevalent and man seems to have lost any sense of morality. Theft, murder, cannibalism and all forms of brutality seem to be the order of the day. This quote from the book is a clear indication of how worse things had become:

People sitting on the sidewalk in the dawn half immolate smoking in their clothes, like failed sectarian suicides. Others would come to help them. Within a year there were fires on the ridges and deranged chanting. The screams of the murdered, by day the dead impaled on spikes along the road. What had they done? He thought that in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime but he took small comfort from it (McCarthy 53).

The story is centered on a post apocalyptic event that causes the suffering of humanity. People lack the most basic necessities and live under extreme cruelty. An unnamed man and his small boy are exposed to the brutality. There are incidences of rape, theft and cannibalism all over. When they try to escape from the brutality, they come across one of the ‘bad guys’ who intends to kidnap and kill the boy.

The man shoots him and they escape but they are disturbed by the incidence. When the man and the boy run out of food, they go to a place where they come across some scary scenes. Humans are held captive by some gang, and are kept like livestock to be feasted upon. Such was the intensity of human cruelty. In one of the passages the writer says; “The frailty of everything revealed at last. Old and troubling issues resolved into nothingness and night (McCarthy 24).”

People are prone to hunger and starvation, the man and the boy, for instance, are at the verge of starvation when they come across an apple orchard and a well. This cushions them against starvation. When they run out of their food reserves again, they came across canned food at some bomb shelters but they do not take the same with ease as they fear for their security.

The theme of violence is also brought out when the boy’s mother clearly expresses her fears that they might soon be found, raped and killed, as such had become normal in the society. She even states that in the past they would talk about death but they no longer did as it was being witnessed everywhere. This is evident in her statement:

No, I’m speaking the truth. Sooner or later they will catch us and they will kill us. They will rape me. They’ll rape him. They are going to rape us and kill us and eat us and you won’t face it… We used to talk about death,” she said, “We don’t anymore. Why is that?… It’s because it’s here. There’s nothing left to talk about (McCarthy 93).

All these point to the absence of law and order. The scarcity of resources drives people to steal, kill and even become cannibals. Those who attempt decency try to avoid the vices and are only driven to the extremes out of necessity.

This is evident in the passage, “The man had already dropped to the ground and he swung with him and leveled the pistol and fired from a two-handed position balanced on both knees at a distance of six feet. The man fell back instantly and lay with blood bubbling from the hole in his forehead (McCarthy 102).” In spite of all these, the man and the boy remain compassionate and generous.

The boy, for instance, does not harm anyone, while the man does so only when it is really necessary. This implies that in the midst of all the cruelty, the virtues of compassion and morality can still prevail. The woman however opts to commit suicide so as to escape the cruelty. The man also preserves two bullets in the gun for self destruction incase things get to the extreme. This is evident in the passage:

She was gone and the coldness of it was her final gift. She would do it with a flake of obsidian… and she was right. There was no argument. The hundred nights they’d sat up debating the pros and cons of self destruction with the earnestness of philosophers chained to a madhouse wall (McCarthy 94)

This is a clear indication that suicide seemed a better option under extreme brutality.

On their journey, they come across incidences of cannibalism as evident in the passage, “Coming back he found the bones and the skin piled together with rocks over them…He pushed at the bones with the toe of his shoe.

They looked to have been boiled (McCarthy 110).” In the novel, it is also quite evident that the people are subjected to abject poverty to the level that some do not even have clothing as evident in the passage, “Huddled against the back wall were naked people, male and female, all trying to hide, shielding their faces with their hands (McCarthy 168).”

Such lack is what drives the people to cruelty for survival. It is a man-eat-man society and virtues seem rare. People are raised just like livestock for slaughter, and the conditions under which they are raised are pathetic. The boy is exposed to the world at its worst and the man is not even able to explain the same to him.

Cruelty had become normal and one had to use any means including hurting or killing so as to survive. Someone, for instance, tries to kill them by shooting them with an arrow. The man is wounded on the leg but manages to protect the boy. Before the offender could aim again, the man shoots at him and they all hear him scream.

The Man and the boy seem to be living in isolation from the good people. It almost seems as though even God had abandoned them. In spite of all these, their affection for each other remains strong. Their memory of a better past makes it so hard for them to come into terms with the current happenings. The writer seems to be pointing to the fact that with such cruelty, human are likely disappear from the face of the earth. One of the characters, for instance says:

When we’re all gone at last then there’ll be nobody here but death and his days will be numbered too. He’ll be out in the road there with nothing to do and nobody to do it to. He’ll say: Where did everybody go? And that’s how it will be. What’s wrong with that? (McCarthy 237).

At first the boy is left by the mother, who opts to commit suicide as she can no longer cope with the hopelessness. At the end the boy is also left by the father, who dies and leaves him alone in a world that is so difficult to cope with. People are in a state of disillusion and it is even hard for one to imagine that things will ever get better. The man for instance says, “Well, I don’t think we’re likely to meet any good guys on the road (McCarthy 224).” This is a clear indication of the hopelessness that existed.

The land is unproductive and in desolation. It is quite evident from their conversation that people were hiding from each other. The phrase points to the fear and isolation that had become evident. No one could trust another. The man refuses to imagine that the ancestors were watching and that there would be any form of justice at the end. According to him, they were dead and that was all. It is as though the human history and morality had been eroded by that devastating apocalyptic event.

While asked the purpose of the gun, the man indicated that he possessed it for the purpose of setting others on fire and not necessarily signaling. Such are the extremes that the world had reached so that a grisly weapon is used for signaling and setting others on fire. The society seems to be divided into two, the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys.’ The bad ones seem to engage in acts that demean and even eliminate those that are weaker than them.

They enslave, torture and even kill them while the good ones try not to harm others unless if it is out of necessity as in the case of self defense. The man and the boy fall in this category. He assures the boy that they were still good guys. The man goes ahead to assure the boy that they would not eat a human even if they were starving. This is a basic form of decency that any man is expected to have but it is quite surprising that most people.

Works Cited

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. New York: Pan Macmillan Limited, 2010. Print.

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