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.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road focuses on a father’s relationship with his son as they journey through a post-apocalyptic America. The novel possesses common themes and binary oppositions of speculative fiction: familiar vs. unfamiliar, insider vs. outsider, isolation, and the discovery of the unknown. These are essential in speculative fiction and dystopian novels; McCarthy’s uncanny, surreal location is a vital part of the story and propels it forward.
McCarthy omits a lot of information about the past, and in the flashbacks he instead focuses on the relationship between the father and his deceased wife. This left me wondering what happened to America prior to the events in the novel. Ultimately, McCarthy uses the dialogue between the man and his son to reveal back story; however, he reveals very little of it. The man’s flashbacks are only about his wife because in that situation, that is all he thinks about.
The dialogue effectively illustrates the relationship dynamic between the boy and his father. The boy is growing up in a post-apocalyptic world and their bleak, disruptive surroundings make me wonder why they want to continue living. The lack of punctuation and the disjointed conversation are a stylistic technique that’s not often seen in speculative fiction. This emphasises that not only has the man’s country collapsed, but civilisation has as well. Memories and dreams are revealed sporadically throughout the novel and are often cut short. Backstory is usually a major part of speculative fiction; however, McCarthy has omitted a lot of information and instead focused on the collapse of language and the breakdown of speech between the father and his son.
McCarthy’s manipulation of language is an innovative way of drawing parallels to the characters’ surroundings. The fragmented, expositional sentences compare to the fractured lives of the man and his son, and these sentences align with the characters’ fragmented process of sensory perception. These references can also be made through the objects that the man and the boy have to throw away, including the boy’s flute, which represents a contemporary medium for language. When the boy and his father discard this flute, a parallel is drawn to the loss of language that now inhabits the post-apocalyptic setting of The Road.
My Score: 8/10