‘The Road’ By Cormac McCarthy Plot and Analysis

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‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy was published on the 26th of September 2006. The novel is based in a post-apocalyptic world within which the main characters, ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’, who remain unnamed throughout the novel, struggle to survive in the harsh weather with little food, supplies, or shelter. In addition to this, they must also try to escape from bandits who seek to steal what little they have or to even kill and eat them for food as many people turned to cannibalism after the unknown apocalypse due to the shortage of food.

‘The Road’ was Cormac McCarthy’s seventh written novel, however, it soon gained international recognition and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The novel can be seen from an environmentalist view due to the ‘Barren, silent’ landscape that is represented throughout the novel. An example of this is when ‘The Man’ walks out into the ‘gray light’ to see the ‘cold relentless circling of the intestate earth’, we get an impression that the world has suffered total destruction; even though the cause of the apocalypse is unknown throughout the entirety of the novel.

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Ecocriticism is the study ‘of the relationship between literature and the physical environment’ . The use of setting is vital in highlighting environmental concerns that many environmentalists have, such as Cormac McCarthy. The abandoned setting of ‘The Road’ is shown through the mention of old possessions such as newspapers: ‘The curious news. The quaint concerns.’ By drawing the reader’s attention to old newspapers, McCarthy could be suggesting that the world’s lack of attention to the news has led to this catastrophic post-apocalyptic environment, by not keeping up to date with the news about our environment, we have effectively neglected it.

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Thereby, McCarthy is suggesting that our knowledge about our environment is essential in preventing its destruction. Even though a large amount of eco-critical novels have been published, critics such as George Monbiot, an environmentalist campaigner, praise ‘The Road’ and even believe that ‘It could be the most important environmental book ever.’ This is due to the representation that Cormac McCarthy gives us of this colourless and lifeless landscape, for example, nights are described as ‘dark beyond darkness’. The darkness could represent a lack of hope at the beginning of the novel or could be a summarised definition of the emptiness of the landscape. However, the novel does not just consist of bleakness and darkness, the reader also gets to experience bright colours such as the description of fire: ‘blue flame…burning incandescent orange in the coals’. Despite the bright colours associated with fire, it could be argued that the significance of the description of the fire is to highlight the destructive nature that this unknown apocalypse has created and as a result has caused a setting which is totally bereft of life, any sign of life that is found is often individuals with malicious and selfish intentions such as the bandits who ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’ try to avoid through the entirety of the novel. It is also suggested that the fire is a symbol of hope, as ‘The Man’ tells ‘The Boy’ that they are ‘carrying the fire.’ The common noun ‘fire’ has connotations with light which links to keeping faith, therefore it could be argued that ‘The Man’ is telling his son to keep having faith, faith is ideal in such a harsh and menacing environment where it is easy to lose motivation and hope in surviving.

Soon after its publication, ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy became a widely acclaimed novel and propelled McCarthy to higher levels of success, critics such as Harold Bloom considered McCarthy as one of the four major American novelists of his time. As a result of this, critics have offered a wide range of interpretations of the purpose of the novel, spanning from religious theories to environmental. Janet Maslin, an American journalist, describes the novel as a ‘parable’ meaning that the novel is a simple story used to represent a moral lesson. This could suggest that Maslin is referring to the environment in ‘The Road’ as a future representation of the world we live in today if we do not take considerate action such as preventing global warming as Maslin believes that McCarthy was ‘fuelled by the force of a universal nightmare’ . This ‘nightmare’ that McCarthy is fuelled by is represented through the setting, for example, when the main protagonists cross the ‘ashen scabland’, they come across ‘Black water’ which is running under the ‘sodden drifts of ash’. The adjective ‘black’ evokes negative imagery as it can be associated with darkness or evil.

Religion seems to be highlighted a various amount of times throughout the novel, mainly by ‘The Man’ who highlights his doubts in religion. Throughout his childhood, McCarthy was surrounded by religion as he was brought up as a Roman Catholic and attended a Catholic High School in Knoxville, Tennessee. Despite this, McCarthy does not consider himself a religious man and it could be argued that McCarthy and ‘The Man’ share similar characteristic traits as they are both doubtful in religion. Therefore, ‘The Road’ could be seen as a way for Cormac McCarthy to portray his uncertainty on religion as both he and ‘The Man’ are unsure about their loyalty to their faith. ‘The Man’ may be uncertain about his faith due to the unknown apocalypse as it has killed a large quantity of the population on Earth. Therefore ‘The Man’ might question God as to why he would allow such a disaster to happen and is unsure if there even is a God.

McCarthy’s style of writing sets the tone of the novel and also captures the destruction of the environment and the havoc this unknown apocalypse has caused. An example of this is the lack of punctuation that McCarthy uses throughout the novel, by not including punctuation, McCarthy is portraying the emptiness of the apocalyptic setting as the lack of punctuation creates a bare narrative. There are also no quotation marks used in the novel when the main protagonists talk to each other, this could be because McCarthy does not want to distance the characters from both the story and the environment as including quotations marks would break up the text. It could also symbolise how McCarthy does not want us to distance ourselves from nature, as by doing so, we are neglecting our duty to take care of it, not only for our sake, but for the futures as well.

To conclude, in ‘The Road’, the bleak and bare landscape captures the lack of humanity and how all hope seems to be lost. Even the opening of the novel starts on a negative tone by using adjectives such as ‘cold’ and ‘dark’ to describe the eerie night that ‘The Man’ woke up in. However, as the story continues despite all odds, the reader begins to see a glimmer of hope for the protagonists. This is evident through the use of fire. Despite ‘The Man’ highlighting to ‘The Boy’ that the fire represents that they are good people, an in-depth analysis could suggest that the fire represents The Man’s hope that him and his son will make it out alive of the savage wasteland, this is evident when ‘The Man’ tells his son that the fire is not always a visible object: ‘Its inside you’ which suggests that the internal flame has connotations with hope. Another interpretation of the fire could be the hope that the two main protagonists share for nature, hoping that one day the world can go back to the way it was before the apocalypse. Nonetheless, this hope has motivated both ‘The Man’ and ‘The Boy’ throughout the novel and the reader gets to see a development in both of their characters. This hope eventually pays off even know ‘The Man’ dies, he pushes himself to the absolute limit in order for his son to stay alive. The novel has an uplifting ending as ‘The Boy’ is able to find a group who eventually takes care of him, therefore giving the reader satisfaction as ‘The Man’ was able to achieve his goal.

Updated: Feb 24, 2024
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‘The Road’ By Cormac McCarthy Plot and Analysis. (2024, Feb 24). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/the-road-by-cormac-mccarthy-plot-and-analysis-essay

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