"The Road" by Cormac McCarthy
Updated: Jan 3
"A father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. The sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food- - -and each other. "
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If the world ended, could you keep your morals and values? Imagine that you're a father, with a young child in a burned-out world, barely surviving out on the road, and there are cannibals and murderers out to get you. Over time, you would watch your child become thinner and thinner, and every now and then you're lucky enough to find some canned or jarred food here and there, but it's only a matter of time before you can't find anymore. Soon, you would both be too weak to move - - - would you murder someone if they had food? Yet, most people out on the road are just like you, with no food and searching for more - - - in that case, could you kill and eat a person to survive? Or would you let yourself and your child starve, keeping your morals and values intact?
This is a scenario people may have to face one day, especially with the shape the world is in today. Even now people are faced with sticking with their morals and values, from helping our fellow man to the decision of holding a door open for a stranger. The Road, Cormac McCarthy's Pulitzer Prize winning novel, brings the very question of humanity to the forefront, as well as how hard it is to hold onto it.
The father, The Road's main character, takes us on a journey through the mountains in a burned-out America, but the fires that took over are never explained and they didn't need to be. Apparently having been on the move for a couple of years, he wants to take his young son South to survive the winter months that are very close by. Readers get glimpses of what happened the night the grid went down from the father's point-of-view, but so many years have passed that the memories are few, the facts aren't completely straight, and any type of life before the fires seems to have been just a dream. So the two begin the story heading South, dragging everything they have scavenged in their travels inside of a metal shopping cart, and the father isn't sure they'll make it out of the mountains before winter. He only has tattered pieces of a map that they have carried for a long time, having numbered each piece with a broken crayon they had found, making it hard to estimate how far they need to travel.
While traveling, they very rarely run into other people, at one point, when they run into a very bad man, the father realizes he hasn't spoken to another person (other than his son) in at least a year. This is mostly because the majority of people that are still alive are the type of people that would rather kill you and take whatever you have than speak to you. Even most of the houses they come upon are burned and abandoned, but the father sees these buildings as a chance to find food and supplies: "The roadside hedges were gone to rows of black and twisted brambles. No sign of life. He left the boy standing in the road holding the pistol while he climbed an old set of limestone steps and walked down the porch of the farmhouse shading his eyes and peering in the windows. He let himself in through the kitchen. Trash in the floor, old newsprint. China in a breakfront, cups hanging from their hooks. He went down the hallway and stood in the door to the parlor. There was an antique pumporgan in the corner. A television set. Cheap stuffed furniture together with an old handmade cherrywood chifforobe. He climbed the stairs and walked through the bedrooms. Everything covered with ash. A child's room with a stuffed dog on the windowsill looking out at the garden. He went through the closets. He stripped back the beds and came away with two good woolen blankets and went back down the stairs. In the pantry were three jars of homecanned tomatoes. He blew the dust from the lids and studied them. Someone before him had not trusted them and in the end neither did he and he walked out with the blankets over his shoulder and they set off along the road again. " The young son is usually left close by outside because he seems scared that either there will be bad people or dead people inside.
Throughout this incredible, heart wrenching novel, the father slowly becomes more ill with what seems to be a case of pneumonia, possibly caused by all of the ash that is in the air from the fires; this makes him cough uncontrollably. Yet, he doesn't focus on that he may not live too much longer, instead he tries everything to get his son as far South as possible without too much of a plan of what to do when they get there.
The horror of this book is brought to light by the realism of what could happen if the world were to end, when people lose their humanity and begin to kill and eat their fellow humans. It leaves us wondering if we could hold onto what we are today when the basic need for shelter and food become more important than another person's life. But the father and son are examples of the few individuals who are able to hold onto their humanity during the end of the world: they share supplies if they can, they don't kill humans or animals to feed themselves, and they live by one rule: if a person is still alive, they take nothing from them.
The struggle these two go through is very real and believable, and McCarthy's writing is so well done that this book is hard to put down. Even while reading, most won't notice that there is only one character in the entire story that is given a name; our two main characters are never addressed by anything other than Papa or son/boy. The father's worry about keeping his son alive and unharmed is heartbreaking, for instance, one scene where he believes that he and his son are going to be found by cannibals, he quickly goes over with his son on how to shoot himself with the pistol, so neither of them will be taken alive. As a parent, I choked up in quite a few scenes, including this one - - - and as with the film adaptation, I cried heartily at the end.
This emotional, dark novel is an amazing book to read. The Road is bound to leave readers questioning what they would do in the same circumstances as the father. I highly recommend this book to people who love dystopian novels, but beware, this is a story you won't be able to forget.