The Road

During a recent re-read of The Road, I was struck by a theme that, on previous readings, had simply been overwhelmed by McCarthy’s evocation of a blasted landscape, in much the same way that an inconspicuous note gets lost in Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction.” I’m talking about the gift of death. And I don’t mean this in a sloppy-seconds Derridean kind of way. No, I mean a practical, real-world advantage is won through death. During their blind pilgrimmage, the man routinely thwarts the boy’s desire to belong with others, first a little puppy (which his dad says avoid), then another little boy (which his dad says avoid), and lastly other people, in various states of need, want, and degradation (which his dad says avoid, as they’re potential cannibals). Living on the edge of survial, the man is simply unwilling to risk his son’s life in a world fraught with danger and menace. But once the man dies, the boy has no choice. He has to risk his life, and in doing so, he gains community with others. In that sense, the man’s death, although painful, is a gift to the boy outright.

5 Responses to The Road

  1. Interesting way of looking at it. I really liked this book – loved it’s poetic rhythm, the way language like life is stripped to its elementals.

  2. Kevin Neilson says:

    Hello, Whisper. Just now read your most recent post with pleasure. Have you read Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas? I ask because he “self-consciously,” as you say, deals with allegory, history, and the stories we tell ourselves. In the Luisa Rey Half Lives vignette, there’s an interesting riff on actual history vs. virtual history, and how virtual history is far more important, even though it’s less likely to be true, etc. Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about D. Mitchell and C. McCarthy because they have some intuitions in common when imagining a post-apocalypitc world, with this key difference: Mitchell is more optimistic about our prospects of retaining our past through story-telling, while McCarthy thinks that a sharp knife, good shoes, and a plastic tarp will be a hell of a lot more important than words. I’m in a chatty mood; forgive the long reply!

  3. Yes, I have read Cloud Atlas, but a few years ago now so I can’t remember the details as well as you … but what you say makes sense from my memory. I do recollect it being more optimistic than McCarthy… though what did you think about that last para in The road? The one, as I recollect, about some life-forms stirring. (Or have I remembered wrongly?) Don’t worry about chattiness – I can get a little long-winded too.

  4. Dear Sir,

    It’s odd, because I found _The Road_ profoundly optimistic in precisely the way you have identified. There is life after the death of even one very close. If you have been taught to fear the world and everything in it, and still can find the courage to enter community, you’ve overcome a built-in prejudice/handicap.

    Indeed, of all McCarthy’s books, I found _The Road_ haunting, chilling, and relentlessly, if very, very subtly optimistic. Life does continue.

    Truthfully, if McCarthy wanted to live out the supposedly pessimistic premise of the book, the boy, upon his father’s death would immediately have become yet another fixture in the cannibal’s larder.

    Also optimistic is the fact that there are those who are not like the father–pointing out that the father’s approach may have been relentlessly wrong-headed from the beginning.

    Interesting notes.

    Thank you.



  5. Kevin Neilson says:

    Hi Steven, it’s strange, isn’t it, that a sparse story as bare as the world McC depicts, can be as opitimistic as it is. A weird departure, for sure. Have you read Child of God? A wonderful read. I’ll be posting on Lester Ballard as soon as my thoughts fall in place. Cheers, K

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