Further analysis of ‘The Road’ by Cormac McCarthy

The characters are nameless. I think knowing a character’s name is of limited importance. Finding out what their thoughts are about their situation and about others, and observing their actions and reactions makes the reader care about them – or not. Name is only a very small part of identity.

We can tell that they are in danger because they are carrying ‘go bags’ and the extract tells us there is a possibility they have to ‘abandon the cart and make a run for it’. It doesn’t give us a clue as to what form the danger takes, although the fact they are watching the road begins then implies it will be on the road, and therefore likely human.

That they are ‘shuffling through the ash’ on a tarmac road through a ‘wasted country’, that there is dead vegetation along a valley with water, and that they have fashioned a cart for their possessions with a mirror on it to watch for other people, all suggests a post-apocalyptic setting.

The atmosphere of this short extract is ominous, a feeling heightened at the end with the man asking the boy if he is ok. The succinct language could indicate a practice of minimising the noise they make.

The road symbolises their journey. One cannot derive any clue from this extract as to where they are coming from, or going to, or why. ‘Each the other’s world entire’ implies it is a long journey, started some time ago by just the two of them. The lack of punctuation in the speech emphasises the solitude of the pair; they would only be talking to each other, and there would likely be no other sound.

The rhythm of the writing is quite broken with short sentences and spare descriptions. McCarthy uses few poetic devices. Some metaphor and simile: ‘serpentine of a river’, ‘gunmetal light’. ‘Shuffling’ could tenuously be considered onomatopoeia. This adds to the stark atmosphere of the scene.

We are given an impression of being on high ground in the countryside, but not which country. The presence of the man and boy with the cart, on foot on a modern road is unusual. If they were removed, the scene would still imply a catastrophic event because of the blanket of ash.

The note in the course material suggests an element of religious symbolism to the description of the river as serpentine. While I’m not convinced by this short extract that this was the intent, having read a lot of post-apocalypse fiction, I know that religious imagery and themes are fairly common in the genre. Religion gives comfort to some people and there is often at least one ‘bad guy’ looking to exploit that.

The extract makes me want to read the book and find out the answers, which I will now do!


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