The Road: An Analysis and Thematic Discussion

Published: 2021-06-23
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George Washington University
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Apocalyptic anxiety is an aspect that has been recurring and covered under the dangers of existential threats in various literary texts, prophecies, films, movements, as well as apocalyptic rhetoric. All these have one thing in common because they highlight the fascination and fear of imagining the end of days by envisaging wastelands and brave new worlds. Cormac McCarthys novel The Road is a 2006 post-apocalyptic tale entailing a journey of a father and his son that spans a period of several months across a landscape that has been blasted by a cataclysm that has McCarthy does not specify, which has destroyed the lands civilization, as well as almost all of the Earth. The novel is inspired by part by unattractive images of people in biohazard suits or wearing goggles and masks like ruined aviators (McCarthy 51,24). In fact, the resulting landscape via which The Road winds are an ashen scabland (McCarthy 16), which is sterile, dead, and scorched. The novel provides a convincing exploration of the earth as it withers and dies as it is riven by an unidentified apocalypse. Within the setting, the protagonists lead a life of exhausted and hunted nomads, and in many occasions, they are seen moving from scene to scene in the quest of seeking safety. The father and son travel the road to an ill-defined destination located at the coast, and through the journey, readers identify that it is a journey towards the flickers of hope, which may significantly bring about warmth, thereby ensuring their survival. In essence, this is because their life is in constant exposure to dangers attributed to the apocalyptic event, including starvation, freezing weather conditions, evil intentions of their fellow survivors, or wildfires. For this reason, thematically, it is a novel about love, death, and life. The author presents a world characterized of heartlessness, but amongst the decay and rubble, love exists. As such, The Road is representative of the dying landscape where characters find themselves with little to cling to as the world around them slowly dies, but there is still hope towards survivability as the good guys find means of coping with the apocalyptic event.

Also, the novel can be seen to operate on two stylistic and ideological levels. On the one hand, The Road projects a future that forecloses the possibility of having a regeneration. It can be derived that the relationship between the language and the world that renders it is categorically ruptured because the language does not adequately codify the blasted and barren psychological and physical landscapes of the wasteland that the protagonists, mainly the father and the son navigate. In essence, memories of religion, things, goodness, and culture have been buried beneath the ashes of the no longer existent land. In fact, the end of the world is the end of the word, and thus, a new language has emerged that would mirror the desperate situation that people have found themselves in. Language in the novel no matter how the world is transmogrified works as an ironic stance in portraying how the world once was. Amidst the chaos and degenerated human civilization, the boy and the man somehow manage to maintain a level of moral integrity, thereby enabling them to uphold their humanity, and goodness, which by itself provides hope of a possible renovation. For this reason, it can be noted that McCarthy simultaneously destroys and creates the world through language (Walsh 290).

Various themes can be found in the novel. One of the most recurrent themes is good versus evil. After reading the novel, it can be derived that the good guys are the people who keep trying. They do not give up, (McCarthy 137) and the son and the father confirm that they are the good ones. In fact, as oppose to the bad guys, who are mainly characterized by evil acts, including stealing, murdering, as well as partaking acts of cannibalism, the man ensures that he and his son are on the path of goodness. Essentially, this is revealed by their actions of hope, goodness, and perseverance, which have effectively been symbolized in the fire they possess within. The fire acts as a motivation, and with it, they can strive to survive all adverse situations the apocalyptic event brings, even if it meant living with dystopia.

However, in the novel, the distinction between evil and good is not always clear, and in particular, for the boy. Even though the two do not eat or steal other humans, it is clear from reading the novel that the man has killed before, solely for the sake of his son. In effect, this creates conflict within the boy. Essentially, even though the man and the readers may not consider this as a violent act, the son deals with internal conflicts because it is apparent that the child feels that he no longer is the good guy. In fact, this is evident from the manner that he constantly wants to confirm from the father that the two are the good ones, as well as the need and desire to help others. For this reason, the two, the father and the son are always seeking to help others and to remain the good guys even in the face of the apocalyptic event. For example, they both have the desire to help strangers, such as Ely and also the urge to return to the thief who had stolen from him so as to share the supply with the needy. Although from reading the novel may seem like the world has lost its goodness after the apocalypse, it is not true because it is evident that the two continue showing acts of goodness and kindness. Therefore, it can be derived that goodness continues to prevail with the good guys primarily because it is the man who teaches the son to carry on with the fire. The goodness is also present at the end of the novel as the fire is still in the family that adopts the boy at the end of the novel. It is for this reason that there is hope that the fire will continue, which means that there is a high likelihood that goodness will prevail even when the world continues to face the apocalypse. In fact, the son is representative of the light at the end of the tunnel as the novel nears its end. As the father is dying, the boy is surrounded by light, as McCarthy highlights:

.There was light all about the boy as he brought waterand when he moved the light move with him He lay watching the boy at the fire. He wanted to be able to see. Look around you, he said. There is no prophet in the earths long chronicle whos not honored here today. Whatever form you spoke of you were right (McCarthy 277).

Another theme that can be noted from the novel is love. Even though McCarthys novel has a devastating setting, it also highlights a love story between a son and his father. In fact, the most of the actions and events portrayed in the novel are mainly fueled by love. Essentially, if it were not for the love that existed between the father and the son, their urge to continue to persevere and survive the apocalypse would be void. For example, when the boy asks the father what he would do if he passes on, the father replies that if you died I would want to die tooso I could be with you (McCarthy, 11). The reply implies that the father loves his son very much. In addition, the feeling of love is mutual between the two. For instance, in another example, when it nears the end of the book when the father is on his deathbed, the boy says that he wants to go with his dad so that they can die together. Besides, as the mother sought death to seek an escape, the father aims at escaping in a different manner, to travel south so that he reaches a safer location with an intent of killing his son so that he could save him from the bad guys. For this reason, it can be derived that both loved each other top the point of not tolerating the idea that one would fall into the hands of the evil. In essence, the paternal love of the father to the son is what ensures that the boy survives because he would otherwise not survive the adversities brought about by the apocalypse and keeping in mind of the ruthlessness of the bad guys. Essentially, the fathers love is evident not only through his actions when it came to protecting his son, but also the manner in which he was patient in the face of the apocalypse. However, even though the man might have acted in a manner that portrays him as a bad guy by unflinchingly killing the evil man from the truck to save the boy, he does not act out of harm or malice, rather just to [provide food and shelter to the boy. In essence, all the actions which could be correlated to violence are usually advanced for self-defense purposes for the boy and to himself. As such, the sacrifices made by the man, as well as the lessons the man gives his son were mainly intended for ensuring that the boy carries on the fire. As such, it can be derived that from The Roads novel, love is triumphant over evil.

At the same time, the novel is infused with death. The descriptions of the landscape, as well as the constant threat of starvation and murder help, present the theme of death. The disaster had destroyed civilization. For instance, cows are extinct, and we get to know that the boy had not seen fish or birds. As McCarthy highlights, on the hillsides old crops dead and flattened. The barren ridgeline trees raw and black in the rain (18). Besides, death is personified as a lover (McCarthy 18) and is also depicted as an entity that will meet its demise (McCarthy 146).

Additionally, the theme of faith and spirituality is also a common theme in the novel. Essentially, the man comprehends and also believes that his main goal is delivering his son safely to a safer place that is free from the bad guys and it seems that he believes that his son is sacred and holy, and should thus be protected from the bad guys. From the novel, it can be noted that the child [is the mans] warrantif [the boy] is not the word of God God never spoke (McCarthy 4). Also, the man also tells his boy that his job is to take care of the boy because he was appointed by God to do that (McCarthy 120). For this reason, his utter devotion to his son can surpass the conventional form of paternal protection and love. Even so, along with the need of faith, there is also some aspect of ambiguity and doubt. In essence, the apocalyptic event brought adversity to mankind so that almost every person was a bad guy to survive the situation. In essence, when the times got too difficult for the man to handle, it is at this moment that his faith with God broke. In effect he curses God. The minor character named Ely also takes this further as he denies the existence of God when he says that, there is no God and we are his prophets (McCarthy 143). However, from reading the novel, it can be noted that the religious implications are not targeted to a single religion because the man is portrayed not to know what to believe in (McCarthy 146). Even so, both the son and the boy have faith in God, and it is this aspect that fuels the two in their journey of survival.

The theme of trust is also common in the novel, particularly related to the mans relationship with his son. The theme is mainly expressed via conflicts between the books protagonists and other people that they encounter on the journey. In an example where a man draws a knife on the boy coaxes the father to join his comrades, but the father does not trust him because the man tries to harm his son seconds later. In fact, the father does not trust anyone they meet or see. As opposed to his father, the son is also capable of extending trust to others, such as when he offers to help Ely and the thief without even determining whether they have ill intentions or not. McCarthy also explores the trust between the boy and his father. The boy relies on the father for reassurance, guidance, and information, but he also notes that his father is...

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