Supernatural and Mythological Impression in The Road by Cormac McCarthy - Book Review

Published: 2021-07-07
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Sewanee University of the South
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The Road is a text written by Cormac McCarthy. It tells an expedition of a father and his child when people were in distress and devastated by hunger that has turned them wild. The misery and famine created desperate circumstances such that people started scavenging on each other. The parents later died and left the son to learn the new ways of life. Lydia Cooper's article evaluates the mystery surrounding the society described in McCarthy's text and attempts to elaborate its relationship to the quest for the Holy Grail. Cooper's article uses literary devices to describe the events occurring in the text and justify the horror elements happening in the book. In this essay, I will try elaborate McCarthy's effort to use symbolism, imagery, simile, and metaphors as literary devices to provide a narrative with a spiritual and mythological impression.

Text Summary

The book begins with the description of a challenging journey of a boy and his father. They have to brave the challenge of avoiding the trap of road agents. The road agents are actively hunting for humans to feed on across the land and the father is fearful of losing his son. The father packs a gun with only two bullets and hopes that his son will survive. The two escape numerous attempts by the road agents to kill them. The father convinces his child that they are the only real people remaining the rest are human savages preying on fellow humans. The father later dies from disease even after he successfully fended off the "road agents" that had mutated into human beasts hunting down fellow humans for food. After the death of the father, a new family took in the child where he came to learn new ways of life.

Supernatural Powers

The text heavily uses mythological imagery to explain the events that happened in the troubled society that the child and father lived. The author uses simile at some point to describe the road agents as appearing like ruined aviators (Cooper, p. 218). McCarthy uses this simile to describe the road agents passing by, wearing masks, and goggles. The simile sets the stage to illustrate the distressed appearances of the people living as road agents. They were dressed poorly, and their clothes appeared torn and worn out like masks. McCarthy uses symbolism to describe the need to preserve the Holy Grail. On the other hand, it is related symbolically to the desire to protect the child and ensure his survival to provide a continuation into the future.

McCarthy uses symbolism in the instance where the father describes the son as a chalice. This symbolic reference is an immense attribution to the notion that the child is possessing supernatural powers (Cooper, p. 219). McCarthy uses descriptive motifs in his text to reiterate the need for change in the troubled society. Wasteland in the book depicts the hopelessness and anguish faced by the people and the depression prevalent in the society. The man and child are on a trip to search for a better place to experience an improved life (Kunsa, p. 74).

The dying Fisher King in the book aptly describes the desolation of the society where the peoples livelihoods decline while they are unable to stem the degeneration. The use of the chalice as a metaphor shows the effect of supernatural powers in causing destruction to the earth surface in a manner that makes the earth unable to re-engineer its existence. The presence of supernatural powers is demonstrated in the text, where the land is degenerating as the people look on without pursuing any viable human intervention.

Fertility vs. Sterility

McCarthy also uses his text to draw a comparison between fertility and sterility and their general perception in society. McCarthy uses the Grail as symbolism to represent hope held by the person that keeps the Fisher King as continuity for the nation. This concern and desire for continuity communicate fertility that would create the next generation. The survival of the child after the death of his mother and father depicts continuity for the society. The child is expected to sire on a new generation, symbolizing his fertility in propagating a new civilized generation.

The author describes the blasted landscape as a wasted country, symbolizing barren lands that can no longer support plant growth. The author also describes the stocking of rivers with dead reeds with the use of dead reeds symbolizing the "sterility" of the wasted land that can no longer support the growth of weeds in areas that were once fertile resulting in dead grasses (McCarthy, p. 4).

The description of the impasse and hopelessness in the society shows its inability to redeem itself from slipping into the abyss. McCarthy used the symbolism of state roads to communicate the extent of destruction in the troubled society. The "state roads" are remnants of what was once a functioning state, but as the father explains to the son, there is no state anymore.

Ruins of the World

McCarthy depicts the earth as ruins destroyed by fire into ash. The narrators wife at one point says, [w]ere the walking dead in a horror film, signifying a horrific and tense scenes on earth (p. 57). These words voiced by the narrators wife imply that the future of the society looks bleak and hopeless. McCarthy uses symbolism to depict the idea of the boy carrying fire inside him. It thus meant to make the father to view the kid as a source of redemption. Cooper argues that McCarthy uses the Grail narratives patterns to make it possible for the reader to see the child as the equivalent of the grail in those narratives. The author uses imagery by making similar comparisons with a grail as a way to depict the child as a source of redemption.

Additionally, the author uses symbolism to create a scene where the birth of the child happens after the death of human civilization in the society. This is meant to signify a promising rebirth of a community that was rotten and had experienced suffering in the past. In addition, the author also uses metaphors to depict the possible redemption of a corrupt society through the child. When the father and his child approach an elegant house, the child feels uncomfortable and cautions his father against entering the room. The father at one point describes the son as a "troll comes in the night, meaning that the son was finally seeing human civility that had escaped the fathers existence for some time. The author metaphorically uses the troll to illustrate the promise of future civility held by his son (McCarthy, p. 222).

McCarthy also demonstrates the ruins of the world through the character of the boy's mother. The boy's mother falls into anguish that causes her to die of fear of the imagined trouble awaiting his son on earth. The author uses imagery to show the mothers thoughts on the horrible deaths they will all come to, including rape and torture. The author uses symbolism when he chooses the Sun to depict a downtrodden mother. When smoke appears on earth, it symbolically foreshadows the grim future awaiting the entire society owing to the indecent behavior of people living in the land.

Disease and Hopelessness

The Road depicts people growing increasingly hopeless due to the ravaging diseases in the society. The boy's mother shows this in her description of the devastating plague. She appears to have lost hope, only counting on the potential of her son to bring continuity into the future. Ely later reiterates the situation of persistent plague and accompanying hopelessness in the troubled society. McCarthy makes good use of imagery to hint to the readers of the possible events that would happen later in the text. Other than the disease, people living in the troubled society have grown hopeless from many other life circumstances. The narrator illustrates the fathers fruitless quest, especially after the son asks the father about his long-term goals (McCarthy, p. 191). The fathers response to his son depicts that the father has lost the battle and is only seeking to reconcile his fate to his sons future.

In conclusion, McCarthy successfully uses symbolism, imagery, simile, and metaphors as literary devices in to create a story with a spiritual and mythological impression. He manages to create an impression of a society that had degenerated into a man-eater society and had the hope of reviving into a more civilized modern society with new positive values. At some point, the boys father and mother die. Their deaths are used symbolically to signify a transition from the old order of things into a better society. McCarthy made good use of literary devices to develop his themes in The Road, where new leadership takes root after previous rot in the society.

Works Cited

Cooper, Lydia R. Cormac McCarthys The Road as Apocalyptic Grail Narrative. Studies in the NovelVol 43(2) 2011: 218-236

Grindley, Carl James. "The Setting of McCarthy's The Road." The ExplicatorVol 67(1) 2008: 11-13.

Gray, Richard. After the fall: American literature since 9/11. John Wiley & Sons, 2011. Print.

Kunsa, Ashley. "Maps of the World in Its Becoming: Post-Apocalyptic Naming in Cormac McCarthy's The Road." Journal of Modern LiteratureVol 33(1) 2009: 57-74.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. London: Picador, 2010.

Wielenberg, Erik J. "God, Morality, and Meaning in Cormac McCarthy's The Road." The Cormac McCarthy JournalVol 8(10) 2010: 1-19.

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