The Road

April 18, 2010

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.