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Christopher Huang

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is a touching tale of the bond between a father and his son—set against
the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic America. Subtle in its characterization, the book captures moments of
lyrical and poignant beauty in a father and son’s troubled relationship even as a shroud of death consumes
the world in gloom. Its powerful imagery is heart-wrenching and sears its mark into your mind from the first
time you read the book to weeks after you’ve put it down. From the book, you would come to an
understanding of pure innocence and unconditional love of fatherhood, “each other’s world entire”. It will
reveal to you the strength of love even in the bleakest of circumstances. The initial experience of the novel is
sobering and cruel; its concluding effect is emotionally shattering. McCarthy’s novel raises the ties between a
father and a son to a higher, symbolic level.

The novel opens with the scene of America and presumably the world having suffered a catastrophic
disaster, the nature of which is unclear but faced with such loss, not important. The sun turned its back against
humanity as clouds of death enshroud the entirety of the world, fire storms smear a “cauterized terrain”, and
the ash-filled air requires veils to cover the mouth. A nameless man and his son trek to the coast in search of
food, shelter, and some sign of life. The destroyed world is long plundered, with canned food and clean water
the ultimate luxury. Almost all that survived have plummeted into complete savagery; murdering psychopaths
and “bloodcults” raiding these wastes. Most have resorted to cannibalism. “Bearded, their breath smoking
through their masks. The phalanx followed carried spears or lances…and lastly a supplementary consort of
catamites illclothed against the cold and fitted with dogcollars and yoked each to each”: a terrified glimpse of a
murdering convoy. Despite these harsh, stark circumstances, the father still refuses to abandon all belief and
endangers himself by instilling moral values in his son.

All of this is utterly chilling and realistically portrayed; the father is coughing blood which forces him and
his son on to the dangerous road south-wards to warmer, more survivable, climes. They push everything they
own in a shopping cart, fitted poorly with a motorcycle mirror to keep watch of the road behind them. The
father carries a gun on him at all times, only two bullets remain. He faces the depths of human and parental
existence; his wife, the boy’s mother has already committed suicide. If caught, the marauders will obviously
rape his son then continue to slaughter and eat them both. He plans to shoot his son but he questions his
ability to do so. But knowing the consequences they move south through the nuclear winter, “like the onset of
some cold glaucoma”, sleeping horribly under a filthy and ripped tarpaulin, setting hidden fires to make it ward
off the hands of death, exploring old houses trying to find food and water. This is the complete physical and
metaphysical hell for us and McCarthy perfectly portrays this image. He makes us ache with nostalgia for a
restored world. And in this hell, everyone is the enemy. He passionately tells his son: “My job it to take care of
you. I was appointed by God to do that…we are the good guys.” Another climatic moment of the book is when
Christopher Huang

the father finds a can of coca-cola, possibly the last one remaining on the planet; signifying the pinnacle of an
American apocalypse.

Sentence after sentence, you will read on absolutely convinced, excited, enthralled with disgust and the
fascinating novelty of it all. In one scene, the father and son stumble upon, what they thought was, an
abandoned residence; to their shock was a cellar filled with incarcerated amputees being slowly eaten. And
everywhere was the dead mummified with ash and soot, “shriveled and drawn like latter-day bogfolk, their
faces of boiled sheeting, the yellow palings of their teeth”. One night, when the father thinks that this is the
end, he weeps, not about the impending death of his son and himself but about beauty and goodness. The
father tells the boy it is better to have nightmares because when you start dreaming, you know the end is near.

The Road is a brutally astonishing work. It reinforces belief in the tender preciousness of the present. By
creating the perfect nightmare, it does not add to the cruelty and disgust of our time; it warns us about how
much we have to lose.