The Road tells the story of a father and a son traveling along a road in a post-apocalyptic world. Whilst McCarthy gives the reader virtually no hope of a better and brighter future, I am certainly glad that I retained a desire to read this novel. The bleakness of the father and sons struggle for survival, with the constant threat of danger and death surrounding them, creates a truly sincere novel that provokes serious consideration of human nature. Because of this, it stands out from the generalizations that are constructed from post-apocalyptic literature. Free from diseased zombie-like humans and creatures, the religious clichés and an escape into a new world ending, The Road is simple and bare, almost poetic in its devastation.
The world McCarthy presents is one that has been entirely burned down. Everything is grey and covered in ashes, destroying nature completely so that only objects from the dead capitalist world remain, hidden in obscure places, usually death-traps. A review from The Guardian states that the novel ‘will change the way you see the world.’ It is true; when reading the novel you can’t help but look around at your surroundings and wonder what it would be like in 50 to 100 years’ time. However depressing the view of McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic world may be, the metaphorical road is incredibly engrossing, presenting a series of ruined destinations, which in their emptiness and ‘dead silence’, hold an honest beauty. Rather ironically, the images of the future of the world as we know it are so pure and stark in comparison to the melodramatic visions of other post-apocalyptic novels, that they become scary in their reality. In fact, the novel has been praised by environmentalists, with George Monbiot believing ‘it is the most important environmental book ever written.’
What adds to this beauty is the relationship between the father and son. From the very first sentence we learn how protective the father is of his son, reaching out in ‘the cold of the night … to touch the child sleeping beside him.’ Their bond is a rare thing of beauty in McCarthy’s destroyed world. So is the boy’s innocence, creating short moments of escape for both the characters and the reader when he manages to find child-like frivolity on the beach, ‘running naked and leaping and screaming into the slow roll of the surf.’ The boy’s innocence is even more remarkable when we think of how this is the only world he’s ever known. He has grown up in a wasteland surrounded by danger, yet even at complete moments of horror, such as when they discover a basement full of half-dead ‘naked people’, the boy contrasts severely against the inhumanity of the post-apocalyptic world, ‘doing his little dance of terror.’
Everything in McCarthy’s novel is ambiguous. From the absence of the character’s names to the lack of apostrophes and speech marks, the text itself is as unadorned as what the world has become. The remaining people are split into ‘good guys and bad guys’, although in a world where nutrients are sparse, everyone can be seen as merely trying to survive. Objects that we think nothing of, like a shopping cart, are a lifeline in the ruined world. Even time is forgotten in order to concentrate on the present, consequently making us think of our own presence and how much we have to lose. It reinforces how death is the major issue in this novel, the characters living hand-to-mouth and therefore every moment they’re alive is a blessing. McCarthy places his novel on such a high symbolic level of significance, that yet again it holds more authority over most other post-apocalyptic novels.
His sobering and imaginative world will immerse you in dismal beauty, heroic innocence and shocking horrors. It is a book that will stop you in your tracks. It will place thoughts in your mind that you would never even dream of thinking. And if you’re anything like me, it will make you start scavenging for a bunker immediately.