The Developing Communities in Society in The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Categories: The Road

The society of The Road, a post-apocalyptic future, by Cormac McCarthy, and Gilead, a small Iowa town in the 1950’s, by Marilynne Robinson. Both novels explore the changing world, fear for the child after their fathers die, transitioning populations, and how people interact with one another. Yet, both novels have vast differences, as The Road has no racism, a dying population, and a lack of community. Gilead had discrimination, a booming population, and a growing community.

Society in both Gilead and The Road had developing communities.

The world was changing around the characters in these novels, and the characters were reacting to this adjustment. In Gilead, new proactive movements were arising. The Montgomery Bus boycott had just occurred two years prior and sparked the equal rights movement for African Americans. Also, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) entitled equal pay for all citizens ( This law not only set the women’s rights movement in motion but also reduced discrimination throughout the country for everyone who wasn’t male.

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In The Road, discrimination was dreamlike. Every individual was struggling to survive by scrounging for food, water, and shelter, and couldn’t afford the luxury to be picky. Life itself was a minority as the atmosphere in The Road was grim. “The ashes of the late world carried on the bleak and temporal winds to and fro in the void” (McCarthy 11). These foul conditions did not allow the survivors to discriminate, which in an odd way was an old luxury they used to have.

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A fear for both fathers in The Road and Gilead was to leave their sons alone in the new and changing world, and a desolate one.

The fears of the hydrogen bomb during the 1950’s of Gilead, and the fears of bandits in The Road, leave the dying fathers in the novels fearful of change that they didn’t know previously. Growing up, both fathers had normalized lives with no unnerving events in their foreseeable futures. The man in The Road and John Ames from Gilead didn’t experience growing up without this sense of security and had a hard time relating to their sons. They were dying and couldn’t give aid to their children. “I’d find jam and pickles and smoked fish. (One day) I found liver pills. It was a strange life” (Robinson 121). This quote directly reflects that John Ames was dying and it was a relatively sudden change in his life. Now, “… There were barrels on the street corners so we could contribute peach pits to the war effort. The army made them into charcoal, they said, for the filters in the gas masks. It took hundreds of pits to just make one of them. So we all ate peaches on grounds of patriotism, which actually made them taste a little different. The magazines were full of soldiers wearing gas masks, looking stranger than we did. It was a remarkable time” (Robinson 43). The war was directly affecting the town he lived in.

The population of the towns the fathers lived in during The Road and Gilead are polar opposites. In Gilead, America was going through the baby boom. During this time period, young adults rejected traditional values and procreated before marriage, leading to a population spike. On the opposite side of the spectrum, The Road was set during an apocalypse environment in which food supplies lacked and came with risk of being poisoned. Another reason for population drop in The Road was cannibalism, “Oh Papa, he said. What is it? The boy shook his head. Oh Papa, he said. He turned and looked again. What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit,” (McCarthy 198). Survivors would have to have no other options and no morale to be this low. These crimes led to a population drop. Both these population fluctuations are very sudden and were shocking to handle for the main characters in both novels.

As a result of the lack of community in The Road, both protagonists rarely had any interaction with people other than each other. The boy’s only friend was his father while in Gilead, John’s son had a multitude of friends and lived a normal social life. He went to a school with a lot of kids and had play dates with his best friend. The boy from The Road could never relate while growing up in a world lacking this idea of community and friendship. This lack of safety in community and strangers caused the boy to be extremely paranoid of meeting the wrong people as him and his father constantly ran into bandits and murderers. At the end of The Road, the boy was overly suspicious of the man trying to save him. If John’s son from Gilead was in this situation with his background of being around other people he would be able to assess this more clearly.

The portrayals of society in The Road and Gilead have multiple similarities and differences. Society itself is a community with social norms, microcultures, and standards of how people interact with one another. In novel’s author explores the changing world around the fathers, fear for the child after their fathers die, population changes, and how the sons interact with their community. Differences with these novels include no discrimination in The Road, a dying population, and a lack of community. Gilead had discrimination, a booming population, and a growing community. These differences and similarities of the portrayal of society in the novels shape the human’s view of society around them.

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The Developing Communities in Society in The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. (2022, Feb 12). Retrieved from

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